Johnson bloodied but triumphant

Leicester 28 - Gloucester 13
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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson has witnessed the scars of battle in almost every corner of the rugby world, though most have been borne by his opponents. As a testament to a furious contest between two warrior packs, Johnson completed this particular tour of duty with a deep scar running up from the top of his nose to his hairline. Many stitches were needed to keep the flesh from widening further than clinically-acceptable limits. It was not a pretty sight.

Martin Johnson has witnessed the scars of battle in almost every corner of the rugby world, though most have been borne by his opponents. As a testament to a furious contest between two warrior packs, Johnson completed this particular tour of duty with a deep scar running up from the top of his nose to his hairline. Many stitches were needed to keep the flesh from widening further than clinically-acceptable limits. It was not a pretty sight.

Johnson does not do pretty, but he does do effective. Against Gloucester, in a contest which was concerned as much with pride as who of the two might go joint top of the Premiership with Sale, Leicester prevailed with a mighty physical performance.

While the plaudits will be for Alesana Tuilagi, who scored two tremendous tries after coming on for Dan Hipkiss in the 54th minute when only seven points separated the Tigers and a fully-fired-up Gloucester, it was Johnson who maintained a stream of quality possession which eventually did for the outgunned Cherry and Whites.

Before the match began, much was made of the absence of Leicester's Harry Ellis and Andy Gomarsall of Gloucester, the chief protagonists in the scrap for the national No 9 jersey as England open their programme of autumn internationals against Canada at Twickenham on Saturday. We will know today if either or both will be fit, or if the England head coach Andy Robinson will have to start praying that Newcastle's Hall Charlton does not fall down the stairs during the week. Gomarsall has a back problem and it might be a couple of weeks before he recovers. The prognosis for Ellis, who has a sore Achilles tendon, is more optimistic.

With a full Premiership programme taking place while the Test season unfolds, those who can cover the loss of key players will prosper. Both of these sides were lacking several players on Saturday, but up front, where it really counted, Gloucester's lock Alex Brown and the Tigers hooker George Chuter were the only notable absentees. It made no difference to the commitment of either team.

Leicester just shaded a thunderous first half, their try coming from Seru Rabeni, who beat Henry Paul's ineffectual tackle to race 40 metres to the posts. Andy Goode converted and landed a single penalty, while Paul redeemed himself with two for Gloucester. After that, it was all about Tuilagi and the majestic, bloodied Johnson.

Leicester: Tries A Tuilagi 2, Rabeni; Conversions Goode 2; Penalties Goode 3. Gloucester: Try Paul; Conversion Paul; Penalties Paul 2.

Leicester: S Vesty (R Broadfoot, 81); D Hipkiss (A Tuilagi, 53), S Rabeni, D Gibson, T Varndell; A Goode, S Bemand; D Morris (G Rowntree, 60), J Buckland (R Cockerill, 74), J White, M Johnson (capt; B Deacon, 27-39; Moody, 80), B Kay, H Tuilagi (Deacon, 65), M Corry, L Moody (N Back, 71).

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua (N Mauger, 71), H Paul, J Bailey; B Davies, A Page; C Bezuidenhout, C Fortey, P Vickery (G Powell, 79), A Eustace, M Cornwell (A Balding, 57), P Buxton, A Hazell (J Forrester, 54), J Boer (capt).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).

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