Much to the disgust of the Tiger-scarved diehards who have been watching club rugby at Welford Road since the year dot - generally accepted as the era in which Martin Johnson first appeared before a disciplinary tribunal, Neil Back killed his first ruck and the cauliflower-faced Graham Rowntree realised he had no future as a male model - Leicester intend to switch out the lights on their spiritual home and move down the road to the local football stadium. The "let's stay put" brigade will discover the logic of the decision this coming Sunday, for the existing venue is nowhere big enough to cope with demand for its next production.
Leicester versus Wasps: the re-match. The words should be scrawled over every billboard in Heineken Cup land and illuminated by at least 50 per cent of the National Grid. Everyone, but everyone, should be present - lifelong union aficionados, little old ladies, sports enthusiasts of all persuasions. It beggars belief that the game will revisit the heights scaled and conquered by yesterday's classic confrontation between the two outstanding sides in England, but anything half as good will be well worth a month's salary. For the love of God, just be there.
The Midlanders scored three blinding tries in the opening 20 minutes, then spent the next hour hanging on for grim life as the champions resuscitated themselves with the oxygen provided by Mark van Gisbergen's near-faultless marksmanship. At the death, Wasps were all over the visitors like a rash, and would have won the game with a penalty try had the referee, Nigel Williams, been just a little less tolerant. As it was, he warned Johnson that one more misdemeanour at the breakdown would be one too many. Somehow, the Tigers resisted the final assault while staying on the right side of the law.
There was a distinct whiff of a fume from the Wasps hierarchy. Lawrence Dallaglio, who could not conceivably have given more of himself to the cause or played a better captain's innings, was less than ecstatic that the Leicester loose forwards were permitted to slow up quality possession with such regularity, and while his coach, Warren Gatland, insisted that the match had been far too good to be decided by a refereeing decision that might have caused interminable ructions, he was transparently of the opinion that the Tigers had enjoyed the rub of the green.
On the other hand, Leicester scrummaged their opponents so far into the Buckinghamshire dirt that the Wasps set-piece ended up somewhere near the earth's core. Indeed, Rowntree and his fellow England prop, Julian White, were the difference between the two sides, with White in particularly destructive mood. The big Devonian's fuse is sufficiently short to make Johnson's temper seem positively Gandhi-esque. However, he kept himself in check yesterday, reducing Craig Dowd, a 60-cap All Black front-rower, to a small pile of human dust. "I think it's fair to say we had some problems in that department," admitted Dallaglio. As a statement of the obvious, it was world class.
Even without Leicester's three-try burst in the opening quarter, Wasps would have struggled to rise above their deficiencies in the tight. Three times, the Leicester props forced their opponents to disengage under pressure; three times, Andy Goode punished them to the tune of three points. The last of those penalties put the visitors 34-31 ahead after 78 minutes, and when the Tigers scrummaged strongly on their own ball some 90 seconds later, the outside-half had ample time and space to complete the scoring with a drop goal.
For all that, Wasps delivered handsomely in terms of pride and spirit. They were barely at the races when Lewis Moody capitalised on excellent work from his centres, Daryl Gibson and Ollie Smith, following a calamitously misjudged line-out throw by Phil Greening in the opening minute, and looked even more off the pace when Geordan Murphy and Martin Corry crossed for further tries - the first from a straightforward extra-man move featuring Leon Lloyd, the second from Austin Healey's clever diagonal punt into the wide open prairies. Yet from 15-0 and 22-6 down, the Londoners made a match of it.
Van Gisbergen kicked quite beautifully all afternoon, even though his torpedo-style ball placement and high-velocity technique left him precious little room for error. By the interval, he had worked his side back to within half a dozen points by landing four penalties and the wide-angled conversion of Josh Lewsey's try in the right corner, completed in the absence of Harry Ellis, whose naked aggression made him seriously unpopular both with the likes of Dallaglio, who tried to flatten him on more than one occasion, and with Mr Williams, who packed him off to the cooler early in the second quarter.
But Leicester flatly refused to fall behind. The argument was levelled twice, at 25-all and 31-apiece, and there were moments during the last knockings when the Tigers were stretched to the very limit, but their scrummaging safety net was always there to catch them on the fall, and they knew it. "It's a big worry for us in terms of the next game," said Gatland. The only greater concern? How to get the whole rugby world into a stadium with a 16,000 capacity.
Wasps: Try Lewsey; Conversion Van Gisbergen; Penalties Van Gisbergen 8. Leicester: Tries Moody, Murphy, Corry; Conversions Goode 2; Penalties Goode 5; Drop goal Goode.
Wasps: M van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, A Erinle, S Abbott, T Voyce; A King, M Dawson; C Dowd (A McKenzie, 65), P Greening (B Gotting, 58), W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor.
Leicester: G Murphy; L Lloyd, O Smith, D Gibson, A Healey; A Goode, H Ellis; G Rowntree, G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon, L Moody, M Corry, N Back.
Referee: N Williams (Wales).Reuse content