Leicester are not exactly in free fall - they are still in the top four of the Premiership, after all - but it comes to something when they cannot win a game refereed by Dean Richards. It was not the Dean Richards, of course. This particular version was a relatively anonymous official from Berkshire rather than an iconic No 8 from deepest Tiger territory, but the very name should have been enough to reduce the Memorial Grounders to nervous paralysis. As it turned out, it was the visitors who went to pieces.
Bristol were always going to start this encounter at express pace - while Leicester felt that they could afford to rest the Martin Corrys and Andy Goodes and Geordan Murphys, the West Countrymen place every home game in the must-win category as they seek to protect their élite status - and with the back-row unit of Matt Salter, Joe El Abd and Dan Ward-Smith in full warpaint it was no great surprise that they won the early collisions to put Jason Strange in penalty range.
What was a surprise was Leicester's failure to get themselves up to speed with Mr Richards' governance of the breakdowns. Both Sam Vesty and Tom Varndell were penalised for failing to release the ball on the deck, thanks in no small part to the energetic attentions of El Abd, and when a couple of off-side encroachments in midfield were added to the tale of woe, the Midlanders found themselves 12 points to the bad inside 20 minutes. When Strange added a fifth penalty five minutes shy of the interval, Bristol had the game won by the time the sides switched ends.
Indeed, the words "sod" and "law" were stamped all over this Leicester performance, which bordered on the dire. Daryl Gibson, newly restored to fitness after a bout of concussion, dislocated his shoulder towards the end of the first half; highly rated youngsters like Ross Broadfoot and Brett Deacon made errors by the gross.
Pat Howard, their coach, was the man behind a team selection featuring 11 changes, and he did not seek to duck responsibility. He was not, however, prepared to let things go without a minor rant.
"I'm the coach, the buck stops with me and I'll cop it sweet," the Australian said. "But that performance was not good enough. It was the kind of performance that counts when we come to think about the future."
Was he talking about contract renewals, by any chance? "Part of my job is to think about the next game, part of it is to think about next season," he replied, darkly.
When some of yesterday's starting line-up knock on Howard's door for a discussion about continued gainful employment, they may find it locked and barred.
This is not a problem likely to confront Bristol's increasingly merry band of men. The tight quintet of Dave Hilton, Mark Regan, Darren Crompton, Roy Winters and Gareth Llewellyn may have a combined age of 166 - it is popularly believed that Llewellyn is already in receipt of a telegram from Her Majesty - but they were plenty good enough to deal with the Leicester heavy mob yesterday.
In addition, Ward-Smith and his fellow recruits from National League One, the wing Lee Robinson and the scrum-half Shaun Perry, won their personal contests going away. Perry, in particular, looks capable of troubling the scorers on the representative front at some point in the none-too-distant future.
Time and again, the former Coventry half-back asked questions of Leicester around the fringes; time and again, the visitors failed to come up with any satisfactory answers.
Along with the powerful Ward-Smith, he was at the heart of a remarkable 10-minute assault on the Tigers' line at the end of the first half - an attack that would have yielded a try but for the fact that when a meaningful left-wing overlap was finally created, the man on the end of it was Hilton, a 35-year-old prop from the local butchery, rather than David Lemi, a 23-year-old flier from the Pacific Islands.
All things considered, Leicester were lucky to escape as lightly as they did. Next time, they should arm themselves with the real Dean Richards.
Bristol: Penalties Strange 5. Leicester: Penalty Broadfoot.
Bristol: B Stortoni; L Robinson, B Lima, S Cox, D Lemi; J Strange, S Perry; D Hilton, M Regan, D Crompton, R Winters, G Llewellyn, M Salter (capt), J El Abd, D Ward-Smith.
Leicester: S Vesty; D Hipkiss, S Rabeni, D Gibson (O Smith, 35), T Varndell; R Broadfoot (I Humphries, 57), N Cole (S Bemand, 69); D Morris (M Holford, 57), J Buckland (E Taikaufa, 72), J White, L Cullen (B Kay, 60), L Deacon (capt), B Deacon, L Abraham (W Skinner, 59), W Johnson.
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).Reuse content