Jaco sets eyes of Tigers on glory

Gwent Dragons 20 Leicester 26

This match spoke with a strong South African accent, and the most eloquent contribution to the debate was delivered by Jaco van der Westhuyzen. Jaco, who played full-back for the Springboks in the World Cup and looked very useful indeed, has been converted by Leicester in the last fortnight into an even more useful stand-off.

The conversion thus far has been so successful it looks like saving Leicester's season. The Tigers were going nowhere until the Jaco of all trades switched to No 10 last week, scoring a try in a 49-7 demolition of Ulster. Last night he scored two more in an impressive victory.

By scoring four tries the Tigers received a bonus point which put them at the top of Pool One, above Stade Français, whom they meet in the group's decisive match at Welford Road on Friday.

For the home side Percy Montgomery, formerly the Springbok full-back, contributed 14 points, but these won't keep his team in the competition as Leicester recorded the first away victory in the group. "The Heineken Cup came a bit too early for us,'' said Mike Ruddock, the Dragons coach.

In the meantime the regional side have undergone another name change. No longer are they to be known simply as the Gwent Dragons, which was a meaningless moniker in the first place, but the Newport Gwent Dragons, and this, in time, will probably be abbreviated to Newport. "I'm prepared to put my support behind NGD until 2006,'' said Tony Brown, a director of Dragons Rugby Ltd. "Hopefully this will help to bring some stability.''

Brown is the local benefactor of the old Newport club who, now playing as semi-professionals, are top of the Premier League. You can bet your bottom dollar that Brown is behind the signing of Bobby Skinstad, the one-time Springbok wonderboy who is now installed in an apartment at Cardiff Bay, which may or may not remind him of Cape Town. The No 8 could have gone elsewhere but didn't want to commit himself beyond a season.

"The old Newport fans are beginning to transfer their support and loyalty to the Dragons,'' claimed Brown, "and I hope that the signing of Bobby will give them something extra to shout about.'' Nevertheless, it is a short- term signing, and arguably a short-sighted one.

Skinstad was not eligible yesterday for the Dragons - everybody in the crowd chants "Newport, Newport'' - but Jaco was, and it took him only five minutes to make his mark, selling a dummy in midfield to burst clean through for a try at the posts.

This was in response to a drop goal from Lee Jarvis, and when Montgomery kicked the first of his three penalties, the Dragons were trailing by only a point. However, after 27 minutes Jaco's chip to the right-hand corner, after a brilliant run by Leon Lloyd, resulted in a smart try for Henry Tuilagi.

Montgomery made it 9-12 before Martin Johnson was given a lecture for dragging down a maul. It was relatively harmless compared to Nathan Brew's high tackle on Harry Ellis, after which Sam Vesty failed with a penalty from a comfortable position.

The ease with which Leic-ester had scored their tries suggested that the Dragons would have been satisfied to reach the interval 9-12 behind.

The Dragons' preferred method of attack, least until the end, was head down. The Tigers, on the other hand, were full of running. They looked menacing virtually every time they moved it wide and benefited from holding a distinct advantage at the line-out, despite the absence of Ben Kay, who failed a late fitness test on a knee injury.

After Johnson's brother Will and Ian Gough were shown yellow cards for tussling, Jarvis dropped his second goal to level at 12-12, but whenever they needed to respond, Leicester were able to do so.

In the 55th minute Lloyd, always dangerous, released Steve Booth, who sprinted towards the posts. When he was grounded short, Leicester recycled, moved left and Dorian West crashed over.

In the absence of Vesty, who had gone off shortly after half-time with a groin strain, Booth took over the goal-kicking duties. The wing converted West's try and also added the points to Jaco's second touchdown in the 70th minute.

In between, Montgomery added another penalty and, in the 80th minute, rounded off the Dragons' most ambitious move. By finishing within seven points, the home side picked up a bonus point, but it is unlikely to count for much.

Skinstad is expected to make his debut at Rodney Parade in the Celtic League against Leinster on 6 February. For their part, the Tigers will be as pleased as punch that they snared, in mid-season, a less celebrated Springbok.

Gwent Dragons 20 Leicester 26
Try: Montgomery; Tries: Van der Westhuyzen 2, West, H Tuilagi
Pens: Montgomery 3
Drops: Jarvis 2; Cons: Vesty, Booth 2

Half-time: 9-12 Attendance: 8,319

Gwent Dragons: P Montgomery; N Brew, H Luscombe, S Winn (A Marinos, 61), B Breeze; L Jarvis (C Warlow, 71), G Baber; A Black (R Snow, 63), S Jones (P Young, 53), C Anthony, I Gough, P Sidoli, R Beattie (J Ringer, 56), M Owen, J Forster (capt).

Leicester: S Vesty (L Myring, 44); S Booth, G Gelderbloom, L Lloyd, F Tuilagi; J Van der Westhuyzen, H Ellis; G Rowntree, D West (J Richards, 78), D Morris, M Johnson, L Decon, W Johnson, H Tuilagi (M Corry, 74), N Back (capt).

Referee: J Jutge (France).

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