Smith burns off Dragons in Tigers' rout

Leicester 34 Gwent Dragons 3
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The Independent Online

When Ollie Smith, the Leicester left wing, scorched around and through a bewildered Gwent Dragons defence to score his second try of the game, it not only clinched a valuable bonus point but it also showed that the Tigers have rediscovered their bite.

They now sit at the top of Pool One in the Heineken Cup, having scored more tries than their rivals in this toughest of tough groups. Martin Johnson made it very clear that he wants to help haul them back up the Zurich Premiership as well. They lie in 10th place and have a critical Premiership match at East Midlands rivals Northampton next Saturday, the same day an England XV takes on the New Zealand Barbarians in a money-spinning chuckabout at Twickenham.

Though not selected for that showpiece game, Johnson will be required, as the England captain, to parade the William Webb Ellis Trophy with rest of the World Cup-winning squad after the game.

However, last night Johnson - who had to rush off to London for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award with the rest of the Tigers' seven-man England contingent - when asked if he would be available for selection for Leicester, replied with what could only be a rhetorical question: "Do you mean, would I be available for an important league game, or go and watch England play New Zealand Barbarians?"

That was followed by an enigmatic shrug of his massive shoulders, which suggested that he would be making a second madcap dash down the M1 for the second week running - the Twickenham game kicks off at 5.00pm, the east Midlands derby at 2.45pm.

His presence in the Tigers line-out was certainly felt by Gwent Dragons yesterday. Although the Welsh team was not as lost as the scoreline might suggest, they still found it impossible to contain the Tigers. For all that, the Leicester victory was kick-started by a couple of blunders by the visitors. The first came when the Leicester fly-half, Ramiro Pez, messed up a fourth-minute penalty touch-finder.

The kick missed touch but the left wing, Ben Breeze, failed to gather the ball and the Leicester right wing, Neil Baxter, who had an impressive all-round match, gathered the spilled ball and raced over for the try.

Then, towards the end of the half, the Dragons' full-back, Sione Tuipulotu, allowed a pass outside to be intercepted by Leon Lloyd when Dragons were a metre from the Tigers try-line.

Lloyd raced clear and covered the 99 metres back upfield, and that was that. Except that Tigers wanted that bonus point. Smith obliged, treating Dragons to his searing pace firstly just after half-time.

Although Dragons rallied and made a huge defensive effort, Smith scored a blistering fourth try, slaying the opposition with his speed and leaving the Dragons out of puff as he eventually crossed triumphantly in the left-hand corner.

Since Pez converted all four tries as well as landing a couple of penalties, Tigers were free and clear. All the Dragons had to show for their magnificent efforts were a solitary Percy Montgomery penalty and a lot of bruises. "Every game is big but this was huge," Johnson said as he got into the people carrier taking him to London.

Leicester: Tries Baxter, Lloyd, Smith 2; Conversions Pez 4; Penalties Pez 2. Gwent Dragons: Penalty Montgomery.

Leicester: J van der Westhuyzen; N Baxter, L Lloyd, D Gibson, O Smith; R Pez (S Vesty, 79), A Healey (T Tierney, 77); G Rowntree (D Morris, 77), D West (J Richards, 40+1), J White, M Johnson (L Deacon, 77), B Kay, M Corry, A Balding, N Back (capt; W Skinner 15-26, 71).

Gwent Dragons: S Tuipulotu; G Arasa, H Luscombe, A Marinos (capt), B Breeze; P Montgomery, G Baber; R Snow (A Black, 53), P Young, C Anthony, I Gough (M Owen, 31), P Sidoli, J Ringer (R Oakley, 71), R Beattie (K Crawford, 80), J Forster.

Referee: J Dumé (France).

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