Johnson and Back sign off with thumping win

Leicester 45 - Wasps 10
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The Independent Online

Some things are meant to be. Leicester's supporters were all of a fret over whether this would or would not be the final act at home in the playing careers of Martin Johnson and Neil Back, and their coach, John Wells. They finished en fête, with Johnson and Back taking a slow victory march to every corner of their beloved acre, to the tune of "Simply the Best". The alternative, which was defeat and a return here on Saturday for a Premiership semi-final, was never remotely on the Tigers' agenda.

Some things are meant to be. Leicester's supporters were all of a fret over whether this would or would not be the final act at home in the playing careers of Martin Johnson and Neil Back, and their coach, John Wells. They finished en fête, with Johnson and Back taking a slow victory march to every corner of their beloved acre, to the tune of "Simply the Best". The alternative, which was defeat and a return here on Saturday for a Premiership semi-final, was never remotely on the Tigers' agenda.

Injuries and suspension had removed three Lions from Tigers' ranks - Graham Rowntree, Lewis Moody and Martin Corry - yet Wasps, who had wrested away Leicester's long-time leadership of the Premiership table a fortnight ago, played as if the 12-point gap that once existed was the truer reflection of both teams' capabilities. The final gap was five.

It's more than 16 years since Johnson first grumbled down the Crumbie Terrace for Leicester's senior team; Margaret Thatcher was still in No 10 when the great beetle-brow took on the RAF, no less, in the first of his 361 Tigers appearances. He and Back, who will be a coach here next season while Johnson takes at least a year off, have one more match to go now, the Premiership final at Twickenham on 14 May. Back celebrated with the fourth of Leicester's five tries: the flanker's 125th try for the club; his 75th in the league.

At the end, Lawrence Dallaglio clapped a congratulatory mitt round the back of Johnson's head. If the old England and Lions confrères are to meet again at HQ, Dallaglio's Wasps will need to beat Sale at High Wycombe. The reigning champions, whose solitary try by Tom Voyce was a hollow gesture in the 78th minute, are bound to console themselves they earned the title in each of the last two seasons by finishing second and winning the play-off final. It is a record which should not be ignored by those now presuming Johnson will bring down the curtain on his career with the raising of a trophy he has won five times before.

Leicester surged ahead, from an initial 6-3 lead, with two scintillating tries in 10 minutes during the second quarter by Harry Ellis and Daryl Gibson. In between they lost Henry Tuilagi, instigator of Ellis's score with a rampaging counterattack from his 22, to a double fracture of the leg. Ellis burned off the Wasps cover, no mean effort as it contained a chasing Josh Lewsey, and scored at the posts, then Gibson went in at the corner from slick service by Goode and Geordan Murphy. What Johnson and Back wouldn't have given for similar execution in the previous week's Heineken Cup exit to Toulouse.

Goode converted both tries and clipped over a dropped goal in added time for a 23-3 lead at the interval. The fly-half opened the second half with his third penalty. Leicester were unstoppable, and Murphy's interception try from 70 metres was run in with Ayoole Erinle giving up the chase long before the line. Back went over, followed by Dan Hipkiss, and Goode finished with 20 points.

And Johnson? The great man came off temporarily late on, with Tigers needing to cover for the replacement hooker James Buckland going to the sin bin, but had six more minutes back on at the last knockings. Leicester first acknowledged Wasps' two former All Blacks, Warren Gatland and Craig Dowd - one departing as director of rugby, one retiring from playing to be forwards' coach next season - before hailing Wells, Back and Johnson.

"Collectively they have given 54 years' service to this club during its most successful period," said Peter Wheeler, the chief executive. "Other players of stature will follow, but there will never be another Backy, Wellsy or Johnno." The latter had the merest break in his voice: "I'm totally overwhelmed by today. To the players of the last 16 years, and the supporters, it's been amazing, thank you." And Wheeler handed over gifts of each man's dressing room peg, mounted on wood.

Ostentatious, no. Solid, yes. Johnson and Back all over, then.

Leicester Tigers: S Vesty; A Healey (A Tuilagi, 60), O Smith, D Gibson (D Hipkiss, 63-69), G Murphy (Hipkiss, 69); A Goode, H Ellis (S Bemand, 69); D Morris (M Holford, 60), G Chuter (J Buckland, 60), J White, M Johnson (capt, Chuter, 71-), B Kay, H Tuilagi (W Johnson, 31), L Deacon, N Back

London Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, A Erinle, J Lewsey (J Mbu, 69), T Voyce; A King (J Brooks, 55), M Dawson (W Fury, 69); T Payne, P Greening (T Leota, 59), W Green (A McKenzie, 69), S Shaw, R Birkett (M Purdy, 55), J Worsley (J Hart, 59), L Dallaglio (capt), T Rees.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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