Stransky frees Tigers

Leicester 35 Northampton 25
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The Independent Online
WITH THE season hardly out of the blocks Leicester are already, it appears, in a league of their own. Northampton, although the most consistently over-rated of the Premiership's habitual under-achievers, are nevertheless a fairly decent side. Yet they were given a merciless roasting by a Leicester team without any obvious fault lines. It is patently obvious that the coaching alliance of Dean Richards and Joel Stransky is a dream ticket.

To the Tigers' pervasive forward power in the Richards era has been added the dynamism and adventure of the modern game and in this Stransky's mind, his hand and his foot too for that matter, can be seen. As a fly-half and architect of Leicester's all-round ability Stransky is in a class apart. His kicking from the hand and off the ground was immaculate and in broken play he was devastating, either in the engineering room where none appeared to exist or else in launching his backs in a series of lightning raids.

The quality of Leicester's support play was sublime, as was much of their running off the ball. There was no richer beneficiary of Leicester's skills than their full-back Tim Stimpson, unwanted and mostly unemployed by Newcastle last season but thoroughly at home in his new surroundings. It was Stimpson who brought the match to life and simultaneously killed Northampton's hopes stone dead in a 60-second spell in the first half.

First of all he fielded Paul Grayson's weak clearance inside his own half, charged through Northampton's flimsy defence and fed Austin Healey, who hurtled in at the corner. From the kick-off Leicester's forwards drove upfield in perfect unison before releasing the ball to Stransky who, from nothing, created a space for Stimpson to burst through, leaving Nick Beal, his opposite number, flat-footed on his way to the try line.

As early as the 10th minute, however, it was clear that Northampton's mission was as much suicidal as it was impossible. Beal, under pressure on his own line, marked a high ball but instead of seeking the sanctuary of the touchline he opted to run.

Tim Rodber was then saddled with a pass which had casualty written all over it and from the inevitably recycled possession Leicester, crisp and precise, set up Nnandi Ezulike for a try, which Stransky duly converted.

That Leicester's final margin of victory was considerably less than it should have been was in part due to the Tigers' own profligacy and to Northampton's damage-limitation tactic of giving every kickable goal, both great and small, to Grayson. The fly-half kicked six goals out of six from a variety of ranges. It is an overestimation to say that he kept Northampton in the game, but his accuracy gave them a measure of respectability they scarcely merited.

Leicester's most glaring opportunities were lost when Stuart Potter, with a two-man overlap, opted for a scissors pass and, later in the game, when Leon Lloyd, slicing through Northampton's defence with a beautifully balanced run, ignored Potter unmarked to his right.

Neil Back's try, which followed Lloyd's effort, was a timely reminder from the forwards that they had lost none of their close-supporting abrasiveness, but the warmest applause of the day was reserved for Ezulike's try-saving tackle on Craig Moir midway through the second half. Moir's interception of a loose pass had given him a 10-yard start on the field but Leicester's wing closed him down, stride for breathtaking side, and Moir was brought down five yards short.

Northampton had little to offer. Their forwards could make no impact and their back row, denied any kind of stable platform, were ineffectual. David Dantiacq, their much-heralded signing from France, appears to be something of a fair-weather friend and his reluctance to become embroiled in the defensive chores places a burden on his colleagues.

Northampton in fact defended rather well, although there were too many high tackles and their indiscipline surfaced too often. Both Andy Northey and Grayson were ordered to the sin-bin and, as the ultimate punishment, both were replaced. Budge Pountney's try three minutes from time was no form of consolation.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd (C Joiner 78(, S Potter, P Howard, N Ezulike; J Stransky, A Healey (J Hamilton 40); G Rowntree (D Jelley 7), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, P Gustard, M Corry, N Back (L Moody 78).

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, D Dantiacq, A Northey (M Allen 52), H Thorneycroft; P Grayson (A Hepher 78), J Bramhall; G Pagel, C Johnson, M Hynes (M Volland 64), J Chandler (D MacKinnon 55), R Metcalfe, G Seely, T Rodber (capt), B Pountney.

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).