Murphy flatters and deceives

Leicester 52 Clermont Auv 23
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The Independent Online

Clermont sneaked into the Heineken Cup as France's seventh seeds and were not up to the standard of Leicester's conquerors in the last two seasons: Toulouse, Biarritz and Stade Français. A potential concern for Tigers is that, apart from the sheer pace of Tom Varndell and the individual brilliance of Murphy, their back line could do with brushing up their act.

Up front, the absence of the suspended Julian White and the injured Graham Rowntree, proved little handicap. Clermont were cowed into back-pedalling at a couple of early scrums and were unable to reverse the tide. Lewis Moody on the Leicester flank also made a gung-ho contribution after completinghis six-week ban.

Murphy remains a glorious one-off. With the first quarter done and dusted, and Leicester ahead by 9-6 - three penalties by Andy Goode to two from Jean-Baptiste Dambielle - a spectator not far from the press seats remarked at the Irishman's indifferent performance thus far. In the next 12 minutes Murphy produced two flashes of instinctive inspiration which moved Leicester into clear water.

A Clermont pick-and-go attack that had initially looked threatening lost momentum and ended in a turnover. Murphy has few peers in such circumstances and from his own half he sped away, sidestepped Aurélien Rougerie and Dambielle, and generously allowed Harry Ellis to apply the finish. If must have gladdened the heart of a great full-back of another era, Serge Blanco, watching from the directors' box in his capacity as chairman of the French League.

But the setbackwounded Clermont mortally. They missed the guiding influence of Stephen Jones, the Wales fly-half nursing an ankle injury. Craig McMullen, his Australian stand-in, had an uncomfortable return to the club he served as cover during the 2003 World Cup. Goode's conversion and penalty made it 19-6; then Dambielle went to the sin bin for baulking Murphy on another clever break and Goode potted three more points. By half-time it was 29-9 after a penalty by Dambielle and a Leon Lloyd try that featured a lovely no-look pass by George Chuter.

In the first 10 minutes of the second half Leicester secured a four-try bonus point with interception scores by Varndell and Goode. Then Chuter and Leo Cullen worked the line-out forwards' favourite give-and-go trick for Chuter, the thrower, to score at the corner. Goode's conversion raised Tigers' half-century with 20 minutes still to play.

Clermont had third-quarter tries by Tony Marsh and the lumpen Argentina prop Martin Scelzo to cheer but Tigers were so in their pomp by the end that Varndell could tease Austin Healey into thinking he was about to receive a scoring pass only for it to be lobbed to Murphy instead. A more telling examination of Leicester's European ambitions will come soon enough, in the form of a trip to Stade Français next Saturday.

Leicester: G Murphy; L Lloyd (A Tuilagi, 57), O Smith, D Gibson (S Vesty, 50), T Varndell; A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey, 59); A Moreno, G Chuter (J Buckland, 67), D Morris (M Holford, 59), J Hamilton (B Kay, 51), L Cullen, L Moody, M Corry (capt), S Jennings (W Johnson, 67).

Clermont Auvergne: J-B Dambielle (S Kiole, 51); A Rougerie, G Canale, T Marsh, B Paulse; C McMullen, J Moreau; L Emmanuelli (G Shvelidze, 51), M Ledesma, M Scelzo (Emmanuelli, 75), D Barrier (P Vigouroux, 69), J Cudmore, A Audebert (E Vermeulen, 51), G Longo, S Broomhall.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).