Stransky's boot sees off Wasps: Rugby Union

Leicester 18 Wasps 12
Click to follow
Leicester were in seventh heaven last night: six Lions amongst their number and one momentous, life-giving League victory over Wasps in the bag. Such was the phenomenal interest in the match, with 17,000 spectators shoe-horning their way into Welford Road, that the police requested a delayed kick-off. The Londoners would have been happier had the match been held up for rather longer: another six months might have been about right.

By then, the noisiest ground in British rugby might have lost some of the extraordinary atmosphere generated for what had long been billed as a title decider. Wasps, who will play far worse than this and win, were ultimately beaten as much by the throng in the stands as by their opponents on the pitch and, as a result, their championship chances look more exposed than at any time since they hit the top before Christmas.

Leicester's Lions, full of swagger and confidence at the end of a red letter day, started as though they were already strutting their stuff on the fast pitches of the South African veldt.

Neil Back, Will Greenwood and, in particular, Derek Miller rocked the visitors back on their heels with some dynamic running from deep. A breathless opening soon resulted in a 25-metre penalty chance for Joel Stransky, awarded when Lawrence Dallaglio opted to lay the ball over a ruck, set up by Richard Cockerill. As usual, the Springbok did the necessary with barely a second thought.

Stransky doubled the score from further out after 17 minutes, and although Gareth Rees halved the deficit from near half-way following a transparent offside flirtation from Miller, Leicester looked the more cohesive unit. Back orchestrated a prolonged attack, only to find himself unfathomably penalised by Brian Campsall on the visitors' 22, and Stransky was narrowly wide with a drop goal from the best part of 35 metres.

When Rees slotted his second penalty on the half-hour the game was back in the frying pan and Leicester's humour hardly improved when Miller, perfectly fed by Stransky, ignored the most obvious of overlaps and was promptly sacked by a grateful cover defence.

Now it was the home side's turn to enjoy a stroke of fortune, Will Greenwood palming away what might very well have been a scoring pass from Nick Greenstock to the supporting Will Green. Deliberate knock-on? Not according to Campsall. The Londoners were none too impressed at the half-time whistle.

Stransky and Rees swapped penalties twice more shortly after the restart and the Leicester playmaker landed a fifth successful shot after an exhilarating passage of play from both sides.

Alex King, the Wasps' stand-off, made a classic outside break from Henderson's clever flick pass but Back, in virtuoso mood, covered sufficient ground to intercept the final delivery and launched his own runners from the depths of the Tigers' 22. Umpteen phases later, King fell off-side in front of his own posts and conceded a crucial three points.

As turning points go, it was utterly conclusive. Stransky gave his side more precious breathing space with another close-range penalty in the final quarter and for all the lung-bursting efforts of Rees, Henderson and Greenstock, the renowned Tiger barricades stayed in place.

Four points behind but with two games in hand and a very useful points advantage into the bargain, Leicester are now in the pound seats for championship glory.

Leicester: Pens Stransky 6. Wasps: Pens Rees 4.

Leicester: N Malone; S Hackney, C Joiner, W Greenwood, L Lloyd (R Underwood, 60); J Stransky, A Healey (A Kardooni, 76); G Rowntree, R

Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole (N Fletcher, 59), E Miller, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, N Greenstock, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, A Gomarsall; D Molloy, S Mitchell (K Dunn, 47), W Green, M Greenwood (D Cronin, 52), A Reed, L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby, M White.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

Bath beaten by Sale, page 28

Courage League One

P W D L F A Pts

Wasps 17 14 0 3 528 319 28

Leicester 15 12 0 3 453 226 24

Bath 16 11 0 5 567 299 22

Harlequins 15 10 0 5 572 309 20

Saracens 14 9 1 4 381 279 19

Sale 15 9 1 5 397 303 19

Northampton 16 8 0 8 360 330 16

Gloucester 15 8 0 7 344 358 16

Bristol 16 5 0 11 312 483 10

W Hartlepool 18 3 0 15 308 642 6

London Irish 14 2 0 12 313 501 4

Orrell 17 2 0 15 225 711 4