Leicester 32 Bristol 14: Mauger try a bonus for Tigers in match played in minor key
Sunday 20 April 2008
Martin Johnson's appointment as England team manager may have vested power over the national side in the county of Leicestershire but at club level life is more of a fret. It was the Tigers who turned the pre-teen "Johnno" on to rugby when his family moved to Market Harborough but, though Leicester remain contenders for the play-offs after this victory over an under-strength Bristol, they need other results to help them along.
Even before Johnson's anointment, the Tigers were influential with England through their chief executive, Peter Wheeler, who is a Premier Rugby Ltd representative on both the 14-strong Rugby Football Union management board, which was part-implicated in moving Brian Ashton aside, and the new Professional Game Board. As things stand, Johnson is also a PRL man on the PGB.
Since Johnson, who lives a few miles from Welford Road, retired in 2005 he has collaborated with Wheeler on projects such as coaching in China and supporting Japan's unsuccessful bid to host the 2011 World Cup. The big man may have been away from rugby for a while, as he put it, but never too far from Leicester or Wheeler.
The latter returned from a business trip just in time to see the reigning champions' third fixture in eight days. The Tigers finished sixth and fifth in 2003 and 2004 and a similar outcome this time would leave them out of the play-offs and without a trophy under a head coach, Marcelo Loffreda, who arrived last November. This five-try win put them fourth overnight and they have Newcastle away and Harlequins (Dean Richards et al) at home still to play.
A defeat against Bristol – who, with nothing to play for, have given five players the rest of the season off – would have made an unthinkable hat-trick after losing the EDF Energy Cup final to the Ospreys and Tuesday's league match at Bath. The visitors had useful contributions from Andy Blowers and Dan Ward-Smith in the back row – Ward-Smith's pace reminded us why he looked an England No 8 until his injuries in 2007 – plus a hefty 19-year-old centre, Luke Eves. But Bristol were mauled all over Welford Road and when the home backs' passes stuck there were tries for the taking.
After five minutes, the former All Black Aaron Mauger scored his first try for Leicester on his 12th appearance, taking a pass from Alex Tuilagi towards the right wing after Dan Hipkiss had danced a half-break on the left. The classy Mauger's struggles since arriving after the World Cup epitomise Leicester's season. Andy Goode's penalty made it 8-0 then Martin Corry's line-out take in the Bristol 22 established a maul from which the flanker Ben Herring scored.
Leicester were three tries to the good after 26 minutes. Corry set up Goode, whose no-look pass sent Tuilagi away to deliver a scoring pass to Tom Varndell. With Goode's conversion it was 20-0 at half-time.
Bristol had a spell of possession early in the second half and from a scrum 10 metres out Ward-Smith broke to the short side and Shaun Perry, the scrum-half, scored. Ed Barnes converted but Leicester were soon up the other end, Goode converting a penalty try after a couple of collapsed scrums on the Bristol line.
That secured a bonus point and a welcome boost for Leicester after collecting a measly 12 points out of a possible 35 in their previous seven Premiership matches. Goode nipped over in the 70th minute for a try, Leicester emptied their bench to refresh tired legs and Bristol completed the scoring with a try for the replacement scrum-half, Graeme Beveridge, which was converted by Barnes.
Leicester: G Murphy (I Humphreys, 63); T Varndell, D Hipkiss, A Mauger (A Erinle, 59), A Tuilagi; A Goode, H Ellis (F Murphy, 72); M Castrogiovanni (M Ayerza, 68), M Davies (B Kayser, 73), J White, M Corry (capt), B Kay (R Blaze, 70), T Croft, J Crane, B Herring (B Deacon, 66).
Bristol: L Arscott; L Robinson, N Brew, L Eves, D Lemi; E Barnes (J Strange, 70), S Perry (capt; G Beveridge, 70); A Clarke (R Hogan, 70), S Linklater, P Bracken, M Sambucetti, S Hohneck (N Budgett, 59), I Grieve (R Prosser, 63), D Ward-Smith, A Blowers (A To'oala, 53).
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).
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