Leicester 43 Bristol 15: Leicester maul weakened Bristol to reach top

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The Independent Online

Leicester will celebrate Christmas from the top of the Premiership after their crushing 43-15 victory over Bristol at Welford Road last night saw them leap-frog the West Countrymen in the table.

Visiting coach Richard Hill named four players who were yet to start a Premiership match this season, and the way the former league leaders surrendered here suggests Hill is eyeing easier pickings for his side during the busy Christmas period.

Three first-half tries from Shane Jennings, Jordan Crane and the superb Ian Humphreys saw Leicester take a commanding 22-3 lead into the interval.

Humphreys was excellent in the opening half, orchestrating Leicester's play despite Bristol's cynical approach to the fixture - there were numerous off-the-ball tussles in a tough and physical encounter.

The fly-half was influential in fellow Irishman Shane Jennings' opening try under the posts in the 21st minute, but it was his sublime shimmy three minutes later that earned him a well-earned five-pointer.

Humphreys did not appear after Pat Howard's half-time team talk due to a hamstring strain and was replaced by another Irishman, Paul Burke, who was the brains behind Leicester gaining the bonus point five minutes after the interval.

Burke chipped through with the intention of Sam Vesty gathering it up, but the Tigers' full-back was taken out off the ball leaving the whippet-like Tom Varndell to emerge from the shadows to touch down and take his side top.

Leicester's forwards completely dominated the tussle - at one point Bristol's makeshift pack was shunted a full 40 metres despite referee Tony Spreadbury playing the advantage for the home side - and it was this superiority up front that led to Jordan Crane's touchdown and Louis Deacon being on the end of a team steamroller effort in the 58th minute.

Leicester did not cross the tryline again with decisions such as flanker Tom Croft replacing Varndell on the wing a sign of how seriously the Tigers saw Bristol's meek challenge.

It was left to David Lemi to ratchet some pride back for Bristol and his double in the last quarter of the match gave the visitors something to take in to their Boxing Day West Country derby against Bath who are in fine fettle after a battling win over reigning champions Sale last night.

Leicester: Tries S Jennings, I Humphreys, J Crane, T Varndell, D Hipkiss, L Deacon Conversions I Humphreys 2, P Burke 3 Penalties Humphreys . Bristol: Tries Lemi 2, Conversions Strange , Penalties Strange

Leicester: S Vesty; T Varndell (T Croft 62), D Hipkiss, M Cornwell, L Loyd ( G Murphy 41); I Humphreys (P Burke 41), S Bemand (F Murphy 41); M Ayerza, G Chuter, J White (Castrogiovanni 3), L Cullen, L Deacon, L Abraham, S Jennings, J Crane.

Bristol: J Taumalolo (C Morgan 77); M Stanojevic, B Lima, W Pozzebon, D Lemi; J Strange, B O'Riordan; D Hilton, S Nelson, W Thompson, M Sambucetti, S Hohneck, R Martin-Redman , C Short, G Lewis.

Referee: T Spreadbury (England)