Leicester lean on Howard to keep title

Martin Johnson's boys would not win many beauty competitions, but they are a whole lot prettier than Bristol. When the hard-bitten uglies in the Leicester pack found themselves comprehensively out-snarled by a seriously gruesome West Country eight at the Memorial Ground yesterday afternoon, they simply changed their stripes and played their rugby on the side of the angels. They scored three tries, each of them a thing of grace and delicacy, and retained their Premiership title more comfortably than the final scoreline suggested.

At the centre of it all was... well, a centre, fittingly enough. Pat Howard, the former Wallaby midfielder, had not missed a senior match all season, and was in no mood to see his unstinting commitment go to waste with the big prize there for the taking. He had either a hand or foot in everything: his perfectly-weighted grubber kick created the opening score for Geordan Murphy, an elusive scamper through the heavy traffic was largely responsible for Lewis Moody's try just shy of the interval and a disguised pass of sublime quality allowed Leon Lloyd to wrap it up 15 minutes from time.

Howard will succeed Joel Stransky as Leicester's backs coach next season, and if he can pass on even a small proportion of his repertoire to the Murphys and Lloyds in his care, the Tigers' back line will give the thoroughbred unit from Bath a run for their money. Dean Richards, the victorious team manager, singled out Howard as "tremendous", while Bob Dwyer, the Bristol head honcho who once coached Howard in the Wallaby set-up, acknowledged him as a "major influence". Dwyer is hardly the sort to throw cheap hosannahs around - he would rather sell boomerangs for a living than talk up an opponent - so this was praise indeed.

Richards is not the most emotional of sporting icons, but he was fairly oozing pride in the aftermath of a contest so ridiculously physical that it made hardened rugger-buggers wince at the sight and sound of muscle on sinew. "We didn't give ourselves a chance of the title at the start of the season, what with the World Cup calls on almost a dozen players," he said.

"We had a serious problem at tight-head prop either side of Christmas, and there were injuries that hurt us at the turn of the year. But the back-room staff got people back on the pitch and we turned our season by winning one or two bruising encounters away from home. I'm really extremely delighted."

The manager revealed that he and his fellow luminaries had decided, as a matter of policy, not to "pick injured" - that is to say, select a player less than 100 per-cent fit. "If you look at Northampton, where outstanding talents like Pat Lam and Matt Dawson are struggling to get through some very big games, you have to wonder whether it's helping their cause," he said.

"Mind you, I certainly think our Premiership chances were helped by our early exits from both cup tournaments. It's not impossible for a side to win more than one trophy in this day and age, but the team that does will have to be absolutely outstanding."

In truth, Leicester were less than outstanding yesterday. They spent a sizeable chunk of the first half and almost all of the second under the cosh as Bristol, swept along by the extraordinary Andy Sheridan, tore into the fray in an effort to underpin their own European credentials for next season. Had it not been for some iron defence in midfield and the occasional piece of ball-smuggling by Neil Back, the Tigers might easily have found themselves on the wrong end of Henry Honiball's boot.

As it was, Howard produced enough fireworks in attack to ease the Midlanders' path. He reacted to Back's sin-binning at the end of the first quarter by sliding the sweetest of kicks along the right touchline, where Murphy beat Spencer Brown to the punch on his way to the line. Bristol stayed in touch with three Honiball penalties, but some hard driving from Graham Rowntree two minutes into first-half injury time allowed Howard and Back to free Moody on a joyous 20-metre gallop to the posts.

After the break, Sheridan forced the visitors on to the back foot with his NFL-style rushing game - indeed, the young lock did enough to suggest that he might spend June on the high veld of South Africa with the red rose attached to his left breast. But his colleagues did not have the faintest idea how to make things happen out wide.

Leicester's final try, beautifully manufactured by Howard and Lloyd, was worth any number of the dismal maul-over scores claimed by Barry Williams, the Bristol hooker.

Had Leicester gone pear-shaped yesterday, they would have been forced to put their title on the line against Bath at Welford Road this weekend. That game no longer matters, but it will not stop almost 18,000 adoring supporters turning up to toast another triumph.

Bristol: Tries Williams 2; Conversions Honiball 2; Penalties Honiball 3. Leicester: Tries Murphy, Moody, Lloyd; Conversions Stimpson 3; Penalties Stimpson 3.

Bristol: L Best; D Rees, E Simone (N Burrows, 55), M Back, S Brown; H Honiball (G Bowen, 81), A Pichot (G Baber, 70); P Johnstone, B Williams (J Evans, 80), P Lemoine (L Gerrard, 74), G Archer, A Sheridan, M Salter (C Short, 70), A Vander, D Ryan (capt).

Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, L Lloyd (C Joiner, 77), P Howard, D Lougheed; A Healey, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill (P Freshwater, 74), R Nebbett, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden (B Kay, 42), L Moody (P Gustard, 78), N Back, M Corry.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week