It is just about possible to imagine Andy Goode enduring worse torments than those he suffered in the third quarter of yesterday's majestic Heineken Cup contest at Welford Road, but it is stretching credulity to snapping point to believe he will ever play with greater strength of character. The Leicester outside-half cut a figure of abject misery after presenting Stade Français with what looked for all the world like a match-winning try, yet from somewhere deep within his competitive soul he found the inspiration to rediscover the best of himself at the death and guide his team home.
Ten points adrift with a little over nine minutes of normal time available to them and pretty much out of Europe's élite competition, the Midlanders had exhausted themselves tactically as well as physically. The Frenchmen had played the more structured rugby from the outset and were good value for their advantage, forged on the twin anvils of the drop-goaling prowess of Juan Hernandez and Ignacio Corleto and the opportunism of Mirco Bergamasco, who intercepted an over-ambitious pass from Goode to score at the sticks as the clock ticked past the hour mark.
That slice of public humiliation left Goode in pieces. He had already miscued a couple of penalties, thereby denying Leicester value for their temporary domination of proceedings shortly after the interval, and the following minutes were desperate to behold. His punting fell apart, he fumbled passes, he was caught in possession and comprehensively duffed up by the Parisian forwards. With their principal strategist performing as he was, Leicester could not conceivably plot a route out of the mire.
But Goode did not continue messing up. When the Stade pack interfered illegally with a clean Leicester line-out in the 70th minute, Martin Corry asked Goode to kick a dinky little sand wedge of a penalty from inside the 22. The England captain might have asked Sam Vesty or Geordan Murphy or - to hell with it - Graham Rowntree to take a shot at the sticks. Anyone but Goode. He did none of these things. He kept faith in his senior kicker, who promptly registered the three points. From there on in, everything he touched turned to gold.
Three minutes later, he spotted Murphy lurking with intent on the left wing and found him with a sublime kick off the outside of his boot. Murphy, a mountain of menace on spindly legs, flicked a scoring pass to Louis Deacon, who was lumbering down the touch-line at a rate of knots, and suddenly Leicester were back in the game. They were in it even more when Goode, his confidence as high now as it had been low following Bergamasco's try, added the extras from a position so wide and distant it might as well have been in the next county.
Was he finished? Please. In the 78th minute he orchestrated another assault on the Parisian barricades, twice running into the soft underbelly of their defence before finding Murphy again, this time with a perfectly weighted long pass off the right hand. No player in the British Isles knows how to milk an overlap better than the Irishman, and he duly unlocked the door for young Danny Hipkiss to claim the decisive score.
"There isn't an outside-half in the world who doesn't make mistakes," Goode said afterwards. "The issue is how you deal with it. You either fold, which makes you a weak player, or you get strong and put the errors to back of your mind. It's my job to lead the attack, and that's what I continued to do. Mind you, the whole team fought back magnificently in those last few minutes. It was a pleasure to be a part of that performance."
Leicester need only a losing bonus point from the game with Clermont Auvergne in France on Friday night to secure a knock-out place, although they would much rather win the game and give themselves a fighting chance of a home quarter-final. Even though they struggled to break Stade's rhythm for long periods yesterday, the potency of their scrummaging and the fathomless depths of their bloody-mindedness suggest they might do the job.
They are not completely on their game - Tom Varndell seemed short of confidence yesterday and they missed every hair on Shane Jennings' head when the Irish breakaway withdrew from the fray at the end of the first half - but they are immeasurably better placed to qualify than Stade, who may be fated never to win this title, for all the millions their backers have thrown at it. In their last two Heineken matches, Leicester have found their way out of lost-cause territory. They must have one heck of a sense of direction.
Leicester: Tries Deacon, Hipkiss; Conversions Goode 2; Penalties Goode 5. Stade Français: Try Bergamasco; Conversion Skrela; Penalties Skrela 3; Drop goals Hernandez, Corleto.
Leicester: S Vesty; L Lloyd (T Varndell, 35), O Smith, D Hipkiss, G Murphy; A Goode, A Healey (H Ellis, 52); G Rowntree, G Chuter, J White, L Deacon (L Cullen, 74), B Kay, W Johnson, S Jennings (L Abraham, 40), M Corry (capt).
Stade Français: I Corleto; C Dominici, D Skrela, J Hernandez, D Skrela, L Borges (M Bergamasco, 16); A Penaud, J Fillol; S Marconnet, D Szarzewski, P de Villiers, D Auradou (capt), M James (A Marchois, 79), S Parisse, R Martin (P Rabadan, 79), S Sowerby.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content