Tigers left with food for thought

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The Independent Online

Leicester are back where they believe they belong, at the top of the Zurich Premiership. For the moment they share top spot with Saracens, but if they are to improve on this they will have to come to terms with the fact that unless they can do something about their goalkicking, they might not be there when we come to business at the end of the season.

Leicester are back where they believe they belong, at the top of the Zurich Premiership. For the moment they share top spot with Saracens, but if they are to improve on this they will have to come to terms with the fact that unless they can do something about their goalkicking, they might not be there when we come to business at the end of the season.

If it was business as usual for the champions, then according to Newcastle's director of rugby, Rob Andrew, Leicester had no business being allowed to play they way they did. "I didn't think we had done away with the sin-bin for this game," said Andrew.

"The sin-bin is there to stop teams killing the ball. Leicester are the most streetwise team in the league, and credit to them for scoring four great tries. But if that's the way referees are going to allow teams to slow the ball down, then we may as well give up on trying to play rugby."

Andrew had a point, even if the penalty count suggested that Newcastle infringed almost as much as the Tigers.

"Criticising the ref is just sour grapes," said Dean Richards, Leicester's director of rugby. Andrew's outburst was not the only thing on Richards' mind. Leicester are still deep in the midst of a half-back crisis. Richards was acutely aware of the problem in this area before they clinched the Premiership trophy last May.

After attempts to bring in cover over the summer proved fruitless, Richards has since been rocked by two new blows.

Jamie Hamilton, his first-choice scrum-half, succumbed to a broken jaw in pre-season and then last week at Wasps, the outside-half, Andy Goode suffered a broken leg.

But the Tigers do have Mr Versatile, Austin Healey and Mr Determined, Martin Johnson. However, they let the Falcons get away to a stunning start, with Jonny Wilkinson banging over two penalties and converting a sumptuous try from Stuart Grimes.

Leicester recovered, despite missing a total of seven kicks at goal. Healey got them going with a quick penalty on the far left of the posts, kicked square to his right for Geordan Murphy to stroll in unmarked at the other corner.

Johnson and Healey combined for the second, to put Leon Lloyd in. Tim Stimpson then succeeded with one penalty, to tie it at 13-13, but Wilkinson got a third enabling Newcastle to lead at the turn- around.

Although Wilkinson managed two more penalties Leicester, with tries by Dorian West and Winston Stanley and a conversion by Geordan Murphy, were too strong and went on to set a new record of eight successive away league victories.

Newcastle: Try Grimes; Conversion Wilkinson; Penalties Wilkinson 5. Leicester: Tries Murphy, Lloyd, West, Stanley; Conversion Murphy; Penalty Stimpson

Newcastle: R Cook (P Massey, h-t); L Botham, T May (A Chilten, 75), J Leslie, V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, H Charlton; G Graham (I Peel, 75), M Howe (C Balshen 32, M Ward, 66 ),M Hurter, S Grimes, D Weir (capt), R Arnold (J Jenner, 70), A Mower, R Beattie.

Leicester: T Stimpson (A Newmarch, 44); G Murphy, L Lloyd, P Howard, W Stanley; A Healey, J Grindal; D Jelley (G Rowntree, 62), D West, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), B Kay (P Short, 64), P Gustard, N Back, M Corry.

Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).

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