Healey lip silences Gloucester

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The Independent Online

Dean Richards publicly wrote off his side's chances of retaining their Allied Dunbar Premiership title even before last season's league race had reached a conclusion, and the Leicester manager has been banging the same drum throughout the current campaign. The great Tiger-striped icon is an honest enough bloke, but it is beginning to look as though he has been pulling a few legs with his "can't be done" refrain. There is a way to go yet, but the Welford Roaders certainly played with the glint of silverware in their eyes in front of 14,000 adoring supporters last night.

They had to withstand a fiery assault from Gloucester early on; the initial exchanges had the half-violent, half-comic flavour of an old-fashioned bout of tag wrestling. But once Leicester's heavy artillery started ploughing upfield and creating some space for Austin Healey to exploit, there was no denying them. The visitors' faltering Premiership challenge is now over. Northampton and Bath have still to enter the Tigers' lair.

The revered Cherry and Whites of the Jurassic era - the Burtons and Blakeways and Teagues - would have relished the conditions, which reduced the playing surface to the consistency of a river bed. But the Gloucester pack has changed its character down the years; the big-hit merchants are still there in the mountainous shapes of Steve Ojomoh and Phil Vickery, but the age-old canine qualities have all but disappeared. The visitors were struggling for ball as early as the second quarter and Leicester, well aware of their superiority in the grunt and groan department, capitalised in full.

Four penalties from Tim Stimpson and a sugar-sweet drop goal from Healey left the Tigers with a 15-3 interval advantage that scarcely reflected the extent of their forward dominance. Martin Johnson, a human tractor with a Rolls-Royce engine, was at his most smotheringly effective at set-piece and maul and there were equally striking contributions from Adam Balding, a serious talent if ever there was one, and Martin Corry in the back row.

Yet it was the faultless technique and big-match temperament of Healey that really flummoxed the West Countrymen. He handled the oval-shaped bar of soap that passed for a ball with the confidence of a player at the height of his powers, and he mixed up his kicking game like an English Michael Lynagh. Additionally, the Leicester Lip was at his most talkative, constantly advising his opponents of the precise extent of their limitations.

Byron Hayward brought Gloucester back to within nine points with a second penalty shortly after the break, but it was no more than a whistle in the wind. Johnson moved up a gear in response and dragged the rookie Balding along with him. The latter grew more energetic as the game went on and the pressure they exerted brought Stimpson three more penalty opportunities, two of which he accepted.

Those successful kicks took Leicester out of sight at 21-6 and although Hayward bundled his way over from a tapped penalty and added a magisterial conversion from the right touchline, the clock was already ticking down. In typically hard-nosed fashion, Leicester marched straight back into the opposing 22, squeezed a few tender West Country parts with some fierce driving and earned Stimpson a seventh penalty from in front of the posts. The champions will take some stopping.

Leicester: Penalties Stimpson 7; Drop goal Healey. Gloucester: Try Hayward; Conversion Hayward; Penalties Hayward 2.

Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, L Lloyd, P Howard (W Greenwood, 70), D Lougheed; A Healey, J Hamilton; G Rowntree (D Jelley, 69), R Cockerill (D West, 69), R Nebbett (J Akurangi, 69), M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden (B Kay, 76), A Balding, N Back, M Corry.

Gloucester: T Fanolua; R Jewell, J Ewens, C Yates, B Johnson; B Hayward, E Moncrieff; T Woodman (A Deacon, 74), N McCarthy (J Djoudi, 64), P Vickery, R Fidler, I Jones (M Cornwell, 64), A Eustace (E Pearce, 64), K Jones (capt), S Ojomoh.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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