Tigers prove their own worst enemies
Biarritz 23 - Leicester 8
Sunday 31 October 2004
Heavy-legged and almost totally lacking in inspiration, Leicester got precisely what they deserved from their sojourn to France's far south-west: not a sniff of so much as a bonus point, and consequently a severe setback to their chances of progressing from the strongest of the Heineken Cup pools.
Mortally wounded by a double whammy of tries early in the second quarter, Leicester had enough ball after the interval to warrant a measure of optimism that they would fight back from a 20-3 deficit. But possession without penetration is nothing, and a solitary scrambling try by Seru Rabeni after 48 minutes was the Tigers' only return from all their pressure.
The final 15 minutes or so were excruciating to watch. Waves of Leicester attacks foundered as comprehensively as the surfers routinely tossed into the white waters of the nearby Atlantic. In the midst of a series of penalties kicked to touch for line-outs, there was a case for a yellow card against the Biarritz replacement Christophe Milhères for stealing round the side of a maul. Otherwise Leicester's utter failure to strike up their old standard - the rolling maul - left them singing a version of the Basque blues.
It was not as if Biarritz turned on a riot of handling and running; nor did the Stade Aguiléra offer the kind of hothouse atmosphere associated with European ties in this part of the world. It was more like a summer fête, and the home side hit just enough winning numbers on the wheel of fortune.
Leicester had not previously experienced much difficulty winning in France, bringing home the jambon from Pau, Toulouse, Perpignan and Béziers over the years, but even that level of achievement would never have survived the self-inflicted wounds perpetrated by the Tigers here.
The early exchange of a penalty goal each between Andy Goode and Dmitri Yachvili should have settled Leicester to their task. Instead a succession of poor kicks from hand by Goode and Geordan Murphy gave Biarritz's runners Philippe Bidabé and Jimmy Marlu more encouragement than was in any way healthy.
Worse still, Leicester conceded four penalties in the first half for petty offences: all the more unacceptable when the offenders - Julian White, Lewis Moody and Ben Kay - ought to have known better, or at least known enough to keep their swinging arms and sly tugs hidden.
This lack of discipline from three prime candidates for forthcoming England duty must have made worrying viewing for the national team coach, Andy Robinson, taking his place among the shirt-sleeved crowd. In the Biarritz back row, Serge Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy, who have had the rough and the smooth at England's hands in the World Cup and Six Nations in the last 12 months, were in the form to feast on les rosbifs. And when the other member of the breakaway trio, Steve Malonga, smashed Will Johnson off the back of a scrum in the 25th minute, it paved the way for the first Biarritz try. With the resulting turnover, Damien Traille was only half-held by Goode and got his pass away to his fellow centre Federico Martin Arramburu, who scored at the posts despite Neil Back's attempt at a cover tackle.
Four minutes later the position worsened for Leicester. Bidabé added impetus to a Biarritz raid, and Leicester were outflanked when Marlu ran on to Nicolas Brusque's deft grubber. Yachvili added the extras to both tries, then dropped a goal as the last act of the first half.
Back was his usual self in terms of snaffling ball on the floor; otherwise the likes of Moody, clearly still feeling his way back from injury, and Kay were a great distance off their World Cup-winning best. Yachvili kicked a penalty in the 44th minute and although that signalled an end to Leicester getting the wrong side of the referee, the Tigers' only scoring succour came five minutes later. Goode and John Holtby hacked their way towards the left corner, making the most of a fumble by Bidabé, and Rabeni finished off.
There was no better illustration of the visitors' collective failings than after 66 minutes, with Moody held up on one wing by the excellent Malonga, and Back spilling the ball when the attack switched to the left. What had begun with a pre-match display of Basque dancing became a stumbling Tigers two-step as proceedings wound down with every imaginable way of blowing an attacking position. Martin Johnson was barged out of a line-out, a separate maul was pulled down then Arramburu brilliantly got beneath Sam Vesty's dive to prevent a rare move of quality involving Goode, Daryl Gibson and Murphy bearing fruit. Wasps must be buzzing all the more after this.
Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabe, F Martin Aramburu, D Traille (T Lacroix, 60), J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan (Avril, 75), B August (J-M Gonzalez, 62), D Avril, J Thion (capt), D Couzinet (O Booyse, 59), S Betsen, I Harinordoquy, S Malonga (C Milhères, 68).
Leicester: G Murphy; J Holtby (A Tuilagi, 44), S Rabeni (M Cornwell, 80), D Gibson, S Vesty; A Goode, H Ellis; G Rowntree, R Cockerill (J Buckland, 49), J White, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, L Moody, W Johnson (H Tuilagi, 44), N Back (B Deacon, 70).
Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).
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