Tigers take a flyer on Healey

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The Independent Online

When the changes to the programme were announced, some people cheered, some said: "Oh my God." The cause of the blasphemy was the news that Austin Healey, sometime England wing, sometime scrum-half, would be trying his hand and his luck at stand-off. The ubiquitous Healey has been in most places in Leicester but never fly-half and the decision to play him in place of the young Andy Goode smacked of desperation. Under the circumstances Leicester were in a desperate situation.

When the changes to the programme were announced, some people cheered, some said: "Oh my God." The cause of the blasphemy was the news that Austin Healey, sometime England wing, sometime scrum-half, would be trying his hand and his luck at stand-off. The ubiquitous Healey has been in most places in Leicester but never fly-half and the decision to play him in place of the young Andy Goode smacked of desperation. Under the circumstances Leicester were in a desperate situation.

Last week's defeat to Glasgow in Perth meant that the Tigers had to win yesterday to maintain their chances of graduating to the quarter-finals. They did so with a second-half performance that was vintage Leicester, albeit from a different crop.

Some of the key forwards were missing and Will Greenwood, the England centre, had been dropped. But it was the decision of Dean Richards, the manager, to give Healey the pivotal role that took virtually everybody by surprise.

Asked why he had kept it a secret until just before the kick-off, Richards said: "It would not have been nice for the opposition to know. They could have exploited his naïvety. Andy had been a bit quiet recently and his kicking was not out of the top drawer. Austin is such a natural footballer and a very talented player."

Joel Stransky, who stepped down as the Leicester stand-off at the end of last season to coach the backs, had drilled Healey in the finer arts of the position although, according to Richards, the Leicester Lip, as Healey is known, wasn't exactly a fish out of water. Would the move be a long-term measure? "We'll see," Richards replied. "We've had a lot of injuries and we had nothing to lose. Our backs were against the wall."

In the first half Healey and the Leicester backs were indeed against the wall. The stand-off was outplayed. His opposite number, Tommy Hayes, an experienced New Zealander, looked as if he was in the mood to run the show. But the second half was a different story. With Leicester leading 18-16, Healey, capitalising on a drive by Martin Corry in the 61st minute, produced a classic break, jinking and accelerating past and through several defenders, culminating in a flamboyant dive over the line.

It was the decisive score as Leicester, with Tim Stimpson kicking five penalties, drew clear. The result means that all four teams in Pool 1 are now level. "If we win our next two games we'll have a good chance of going through," Richards added. "But there's some very good sides out there and Glasgow are one of them."

Glasgow began where they had left off in Perth, although there is almost a world of difference between the venues. In this group, home advantage has counted for everything. The last team to win at Welford Road were Newcastle in December 1997. Nevertheless, Glasgow built a useful lead. After Hayes and Stimpson had exchanged penalties, the Glasgow stand-off cleverly created an overlap for the right wing, James Craig, to cross for the first try in the 10th minute. There was another encouraging sign for Glasgow when the Leicester loosehead, Perry Freshwater, was penalised for bringing down a scrum and Hayes, who had converted the try, added a penalty to put Glasgow 13-3 ahead.

The lead was short-lived, however, as Leicester responded in traditional style: a line-out near the opponents' line, a clean take, a concerted, almost fanatical, drive and at the end of it all there was Neil Back to crash over.

Glasgow were still holding on to a three-point lead when, in the 26th minute, Craig came within inches of scoring a second try, his chip ahead being won by Adam Balding.

Leicester drew level four minutes after the restart when Stimpson banged over a 50-yard penalty and three minutes later they took the lead for the first time when an elaborate threequarter move created space for Dave Lougheed to go over in the left-hand corner.

At this point Glasgow still had their eyes on the high road, particularly when Pat Howard needlessly conceded another 10 yards at a penalty which Hayes duly converted to cut the deficit to two points.

Then Healey gave his impersonation of Phil Bennett and Leicester were in full cry. Stimpson proceeded to kick them further ahead although near the end Glasgow, who had shown some brilliant touches, particularly from the full-back, Glen Metcalfe, responded with a brilliant try. It was created by the centre Alan Bulloch and rounded off by his brother, Gordon. Hayes, who had been as unconvincing in the second half as he had been smart in the first, missed the conversion.

"We tried to play too much rugby," Richie Dixon, the Glasgow coach, said. "And our ball retention was not good enough. It's all back in the melting pot and we live to fight another day."

Leicester: T Stimpson; N Ezulike (G Murphy, 77), S Potter (C Joiner, 77), P Howard, D Lougheed; A Healey, J Hamilton; P Freshwater (D Jelley, 66), D West, D Rowntree (K Fourie, 77), M Corry, B Kay, L Moody, A Balding, N Back (capt) (P Gustard, 62).

Glasgow Caledonians: G Metcalfe; J Craig (I McInroy, 40), A Bulloch, J Stuart, S Longstaff; T Hayes, A Nicol (capt); D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Campbell, J White, G Simpson, R Reid, D McFadyen.

Referee: R Davies (Wales).

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