Healey has the final say

Zurich Premiership: Tigers win through in injury time, Bath are stunned away, and the Exiles prove a point
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The Independent Online

A brave new dawn, same old landscape? Not quite. The sponsorship of the Premiership has gone to the gnomes of Zurich and, although it's very early days, the title could yet again go to the giants of the Midlands, but they cannot afford to live this dangerously.

A brave new dawn, same old landscape? Not quite. The sponsorship of the Premiership has gone to the gnomes of Zurich and, although it's very early days, the title could yet again go to the giants of the Midlands, but they cannot afford to live this dangerously.

For a curtain-raiser, the contest between the Tetley's Bitter Cup holders and the Premiership champions had a phenomenal finale. After looking second best to the Tigers for most of the match, Wasps, before a crowd of 6,378, brought Loftus Road to its feet and Leicester almost to their knees.

In the final quarter, Wasps transformed themselves and changed the complexion of the game, scoring 16 points, turning a 6-17 deficit into a 22-17 lead. Leicester may have had the inclination to respond but surely they did not have the time. When Kenny Logan landed his fifth penalty, it was in the 80th minute.

However, in the fourth minute of injury time - a generous allowance under the circumstances - Leon Lloyd made a half-break at centre and Austin Healey picked up the loose ball, stepped inside and from 20 yards sprinted through a gap the size of Cheddar Gorge to score under the posts against a wrong-footed, not to mention broken-hearted, defence. The try levelled the scores and Tim Stimpson's simple conversion secured the precious four points for Leicester, under the new Premiership scoring system, with the last kick of the match.

Wasps, without Lawrence Dallaglio, who has a groin injury, and more importantly stand-off Alex King, who has had a shoulder operation, will feel aggrieved but Leicester, despite being knocked out of their stride, just about deserved victory.

Forget last week's defeat to Cardiff, the Welsh champions, in the so-called battle of Britain. This was the real thing and the consensus before the start of the season was that Leicester would again be the team to beat. For a long spell they did nothing to dispel that impression.

Neither side were at full strength and neither of them had made much of an impact on the transfer market. There was a familiar, gnarled old look about the Tigers' pack while Wasps had signed Matthew Leek from Saracens as cover for King. In the August sunshine, on a firm pitch and with some very useful runners in their back division, you would have thought that Wasps would have concentrated on keeping the ball in hand and running it at every opportunity. After all, conditions in winter will dictate a whole new ball game.

Instead they were annoyingly spendthrift, with Martyn Wood and Leek aimlessly kicking away possession. That was when Wood wasn't spending an eternity looking at the ball at the scrum and ruck. Whatever the reason for this tactic, it backfired.

It was a long kick to Stimpson that triggered Leicester's first try in the ninth minute. The ball was recycled during a series of attacks that ended with Neil Back slipping a pass to Healey a yard from the Wasps line. Despite the suspicion of a fumble, the referee Ed Morrison allowed the score, and the conversion by Stimpson, who had earlier exchanged penalties with Logan, put the Tigers 9-3 ahead.

After 15 minutes the Tigers lost their stand-off, Andrew Goode, with a leg injury, bringing James Grindall to scrum-half with Healey switching to stand-off. In the end, of course, it all worked perfectly. There was a feeling of déjà vu as Leicester went through their traditional repertoire.

There was the suffocating efficiency of their forwards, the sharpness and inventiveness of Healey and the sheer physicality of a renowned defence. In the young lock Ben Kay they even had a player in Martin Johnson's mould. At one point Kay not only engaged in a wrestling match with Wood but delivered a couple of punches in the process.

The Tigers went further ahead when Healey sparked a move that ended in left wing Winston Stanley, a new recruit from Canada, rounding Rob Henderson to make it 3-17. When Will Green was stopped just short of the posts, Logan kicked his second penalty to make the score at half-time 6-17.

Then came the revolution and the catalyst was Henderson who chipped ahead in midfield, regained possession and released Josh Lewsey, who had the pace to leave the Tigers for dead as he crossed at the posts. Logan's conversion and two penalties seemed to seal it but, not for the first time, Austin "The Lip" Healey had the last word.

Wasps: J Ufton; J Lewsey, F Waters (M Denney 65), R Henderson, K Logan; M Leek, M Wood; D Molloy (A Le Chevalier 66), P Greening, W Green (capt), A Reed (M Lock 78), S Shaw, J Beardshaw (R Birkett 59), J Worsley; P Volley.

Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, L Lloyd, P Howard, W Stanley; A Goode (J Grindall 15), A Healey; D Jelley (G Rowntree 62), D West (R Cockerill 66), D Garforth (R Nebbett 66), M Johnson (capt), B Kay, P Gustard (A Balding 66), M Corrie, N Back.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).