Leicester 32 Bristol 3: Howard hopes Tigers have something left in tank for play-offs

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The Independent Online

Leicester and silverware have hardly been inseparable companions over the last few seasons. Indeed, in the post-Dean Richards era, with first John Wells and now Pat Howard in charge, the Tigers have won precious little. Not since the 2002 Heineken Cup final triumph over Munster have they had a pot to put on their mantelpiece.

In what promises to be the most tumultuous end to any Premiership season, Leicester are still some way from the need to reach for the polish, but the first part of the journey was completed at Welford Road on Saturday when they disposed of an under-strength and woefully inadequate Bristol.

By scoring five unanswered tries the Tigers booked themselves a home semi-final in the play-offs, against London Irish on Sunday.

Howard's side did that while being allowed to play well within themselves, however, and the suspicion remains that they will have to play a notch or two above this level if they are to make the Twickenham final, never mind win it, against whoever comes out on top of the encounter between Sale and Wasps at Edgeley Park, which ends before the Tigers' game kicks off.

Leicester will need to be wary of Irish's attacking potential, which was seen at its most lethal against Wasps a week ago. Not many sides are capable of going to the Causeway Stadium and scoring nine tries and almost 60 points against the champions as the Exiles did.

"We respect Irish," said Howard. "They're a good team. But we are at home, and it comes down to just two games now. Someone has to win, and on our day, we are good enough to beat anybody."

Quite so. But Leicester will need to tighten up their game, cutting out the handling errors which bedevilled them against a weakened Bristol side, and be sure of protecting their possession with greater efficiency when taking the ball into contact if they are to progress.

The hooker George Chuter, who had a fine all-round game, set the ball rolling with a try from a driving maul. Tom Varndell, the league's leading try-scorer, then waltzed in for his 14th Premiership touchdown in 16 starts this season to claim the second after Austin Healey's exquisite cut-out pass left the winger with acres of space.

The fly-half Jason Strange had kicked a penalty for Bristol after the full-back Geordan Murphy opened the Tigers' account with a similar score.

In the second half, Chuter claimed his second try and the Tigers' other wing, Alesana Tuilagi, crossed for his side's fourth. The replacement prop Michael Holford snatched the last to confirm an emphatic Leicester victory. But it promises to be much harder for the Tigers next time out.

Leicester: Tries Chuter 2, Varndell, Tuilagi, Holford; Conversions Vesty, Goode; Penalty Murphy. Bristol: Penalty Strange.

Leicester: G Murphy (S Vesty, 16-26; 39); A Tuilagi (M Corry, 70), L Lloyd (A Goode, 53), D Gibson, T Varndell (H Ellis, 61); A Healey (capt), S Bemand; G Rowntree (M Holford, 45), G Chuter (J Buckland, 53), D Morris, J Hamilton, L Cullen (W Johnson, 14-20), S Jennings (Johnson, 53), L Moody, L Deacon.

Bristol: B Stortoni (T Hayes, 71); L Robinson, B Lima, S Cox, M Stanojevic; J Strange (D Gray, 64), G Nicholls (J Rauluni, 64); M Irish, S Nelson (N Clark, 66), D Crompton (capt), R Winters, M Sambucetti, G Lewis (C Morgan, 70), C Short (I Grieve, 80), D Ward-Smith.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).