Leicester 14 Toulouse 9: Tigers only just Goode enough

Limited approach fits conditions but English champions face daunting trip to France next week
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The Independent Online

In 2005 Leicester, facing Toulouse in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, switched the blockbuster to the bigger Walkers Stadium in the city. It was a dubious move, made on financial grounds, and it backfired disastrously as the French club went on not only to win the match but become the champions of Europe.

Yesterday, at the lair that is Welford Road, the Tigers did enough, just, to make the return leg in Toulouse next week interesting. It can barely fail to be more interesting than this exercise in damage limitation.

Leicester would argue they had little choice in the matter. Having lost their opening match in Pool Six, to Leinster in Dublin, they could not afford another lapse. They have been here before. Last season they were defeated by Munster, at home, in the opening tie but they then reeled off seven successive victories before losing to Wasps in the final.

Yesterday's performance was by no means a master class there was some brimstone but not a hell of a lot of fire but it was good enough to inflict on Toulouse a first defeat of the season. The main difference between the sides was that Toulouse, tactically, were all at sea. The conditions demanded a kicking game. Leicester obliged but Toulouse played as if they were giving an exhibition in the south of France.

The consolation for the visitors was that they earned a bonus point, although in the 78th minute they came close to finishing off Leicester when Cdric Heymans released Vincent Clerc with an inside pass. As Clerc raced to the posts the referee, Nigel Owens, blew for a forward pass.

Toulouse's early approach made light of the heavy pitch as they ran the ball from all over the place. In the opening minutes a smart move down the left flank created a gap for Yannick Nyanga and the flanker made serious inroads. As he approached the Leicester 22 he had options left and right. He chose the wrong one, delivering an inside pass, and the defence was able to snuff out the attack. Had Nyanga passed left, to Heymans, the result could have been a try.

Toulouse continued to threaten and a penalty in the seventh minute by Valentin Courrent was the least they deserved. For Leicester, the All Black centre Aaron Mauger was making his debut but it was a visiting player wearing the No 12 jersey that caught the eye. Florian Fritz was finding the Tigers midfield surprisingly accommodating, but one promising run ended, funnily enough, in a try for Leicester.

When the full-back, Clment Poitrenaud, under pressure from Dan Hipkiss, threw out a desperate pass, it was scooped up by Ollie Smith and the left wing raced 35 yards, unopposed, to the line. Andy Goode's conversion attempt rebounded from an upright.

When Poitrenaud then failed to take a good up and under, the Tigers enjoyed a period of pressure and, after great approach work by Frank Murphy and Jordan Crane, they were able to increase their lead with a penalty by Goode. After the stand-off failed with another attempt from the halfway line, the Frenchmen made it 8-6 at half-time, Courrent dropping a goal.

Toulouse regained the lead two minutes into the second half with a penalty from Courrent. The Tigers scrum was coming under pressure which so alarmed Marcelo Loffreda, the new coach from Argentina, that he replaced Julian White with Martin Castrogiovanni. The Italian's first act was to crash into Nyanga and the flanker, who had been outstanding, had to be replaced. He was not alone, as Mauger was taken off after 60 minutes. It was not the most memorable of debuts. The New Zealander's kicking out of hand was poor and his defence suspect. A charitable view is that Mauger was as rusty as an old nail.

It was left to Goode, who kicked virtually everything, to boot Leicester home with penalties in the 53rd and 71st minutes. The Tigers, though, are living dangerously and they cannot expect to survive in France on such an unambitious game plan.

Leicester: S Vesty; O Smith, D Hipkiss, A Mauger (S Rabeni, 60), T Varndell; A Goode, F Murphy (B Youngs, 40); M Ayerza, B Kayser (G Chuter, 69), J White (M Castrogiovanni, 52), L Deacon (J Hamilton, 40), M Wentzel, M Corry (capt), J Crane, L Abraham.

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, Y Jauzion, F Fritz (M Kunavore, 60), C Heymans; V Courrent (JB Elissalde, 76), B Kelleher; D Human (O Hasan, 70), W Servat (V Lacombe, 72), JB Poux, F Pelous (capt; R Millo-Chlusky, 55), P Albacete (G Lamboley, 80), Y Nyanga (J Bouillhou, 59), S Sowerby, T Dusatoir.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

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