Tigers stutter until Lions take control

Leicester 45 Wasps 15
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The Independent Online

It was not until the Tigers unleashed their Lions tourists after 64 minutes' play yesterday that this game was given the jolt that it and the near 14,000 crowd had been crying out for.

Until then it had been a mish-mash of mistakes and messy handling. True, they had their noses in front, but only just. Kenny Logan was punishing them with his kicking and had just knocked over his fifth penalty to drag a spirited but rather loose Wasps team to within four points of robbing Leicester of their phenomenal home ground record in the League – they have not lost in the competition at their Welford Road fortress since Newcastle stole away with victory on 30 December 1997.

But once the champions introduced the Lions' captain Martin Johnson, Austin Healey and Neil Back they discovered a new-found purpose and focus and really turned on the style.

They surged upfield almost from the moment the trio trotted on. During the next 16 minutes the Tigers scored no fewer than 26 points, Geordan Murphy's superbly taken second touchdown earning them the bonus point for running in four tries.

During that spell they lost their No8, Peter Short, to the sin-bin, but Wasps failed to capitalise on their temporary superiority in numbers, unlike the Tigers, who ran in two of their late tries after Wasps lost flanker Rory Jenkins to a yellow card.

Tim Stimpson may have had an off day with his goal-kicking – he landed just two out of half a dozen attempts before handing over to fly-half Andy Goode, who promptly converted the last three tries – but there was nothing wrong with the rest of his game. In addition to his two tries the full-back proved sound in defence and dangerous going forward from deep.

Johnson looked like a spring chicken as he charged into the thick of things, invariably emerging with the ball whether he had taken it in or not. Healey was at his sniping and tricky best. His tap penalty and subsequent pass to Goode saw the outstanding Murphy released for the first of the final batch of four tries.

A few minutes later it was Healey again who found the Irishman and Murphy cut inside, and then inside again, beating a tackle or two on the way and got that vital try for the bonus point. Centre Glenn Gelderbloom rounded off another period of pressure before Stimpson smashed his way over, taking two Wasps with him to complete the rout.

That scintillating finish erased memories of their defeat a week ago up at Newcastle and was a staggering contrast to the first hour or so. Not that Leicester's stand-ins were bad, but they did seem to fall foul of the Irish referee Alan Lewis far more often than their opponents. And maybe nerves, bearing in mind that ground record, did not help, especially after Logan had kicked Wasps in front in the 13th minute.

But a Stimpson rarity (his first penalty) and Goode's drop-goal restored normal service, until the whistle went for yet another infringement and Logan levelled matters. Stimpson's first try looked to have set things right once more but by the interval the long faces of the home side bore witness to Logan's mastery of the awkward blustery conditions which were playing merry hell with Stimpson's metronomic right boot.

But all the while that Leicester struggled to put some shape to their game they still looked the side more likely to achieve victory. And on the evidence of this performance they also look more likely to retain a couple of their titles as well. Wasps on the other hand were careless, lacked cohesion and ideas and have a lot more work to do.

Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy (S Booth, 76), G Gelderbloom, R Kafer, F Tuilagi; A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey, 64); G Rowntree (capt; D Jelley, 31-35 & 79), D West (G Chuter, 79), D Garforth (R Nebbett, 79), L Deacon (M Johnson, 64), B Kay, P Gustard (N Back, 62), P Short, L Moody.

Wasps: P Sampson; J Lewsey, F Waters, M Denney (capt), K Logan (S Roiser, 76); M Leek, M Wood; D Molloy (W Green, 57), T Leota (D Macer, 69), C Dowd, S Shaw, J Beardshaw, R Jenkins, J Worsley (M Lock, 54-58), C Allan.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).