Tigers a class apart: Rugby Union

Leicester 48 West Hartlepool 3
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The Independent Online
Fielding a team well below full strength and with only half a foot on the pedal, Leicester were still in a different class to opponents whose spirit and will were never enough to compensate for a woeful lack of forward control and inexcusable defensive frailties behind. Leicester now sit at the top of the table level on points with Wasps, who have a game in hand.

Even so, in a championship race which might very well come down to points difference, Leicester may feel that despite the margin of their victory yesterday, they squandered the opportunity. It was not until Will Greenwood, who together with Stuart Potter had stretched West Hartlepool's fragile midfield, broke free of his marker to score under the posts in the fifth minute of first-half injury time that Leicester could feel comfortable about their position.

The long overrun was caused by an unfortunate neck injury to the West wing Michael Wood, whose replacement by John Stabler required structural alterations in the back division. Stabler went to fly-half, the fly-half moved to full-back and the full-back switched to the wing. It was the West pack, however, which had been completely dismantled in that 40 minutes.

After Joel Stransky, who finished with 23 points from a try, four penalties and three conversions, and Chris John had swapped penalties and within seconds of Dean Richards coming on as a temporary replacement for Bill Drake-Lee, Leicester were encamped a couple of metres from the West line. A tap penalty was followed by a maul and Darren Garforth rolled off the side to score the first try.

The next stage of the softening up process followed just three minutes later and never was a try more inevitable. A scrummage within sight of the West line, a mighty heave and Austin Healey pounced for the score. Greenwood's try followed and, after Stransky had kicked two more penalties, the first bringing up his 100 points for the club in just eight games, Potter once again opened up West's midfield for Craig Joiner to score.

It had been intended to rest Martin Johnson for this match following weeks of high octane activity. But without so many of their first-choice tight-forwards it was felt that Leicester would have to play him.

In the event it was the proper decision, although Johnson appeared to be keeping something back and the outstanding forward was the No 8 Eric Miller, whose speed around the field gives yet more ammunition to those who believe that not only will he be an automatic choice for the Lions but that he could play effectively in any of the three back-row positions.

It cannot have been much fun for West but then nothing this season has been much fun for a side who are manifestly unfit to be in this company. Determination and courage, admirable qualities that they are, are not enough, but the Rugby Football Union's decision to maintain the number of clubs competing in the First Division at 12 next season is a further example of their capitulation to the shrill minority.

With the contest now a meaningless procession Leicester replaced tired young limbs with fresh old ones, Richards returning, this time for Neil Back, Aadel Kardooni for Healey and Greg Austin for Greenwood. Stransky crashed over for Leicester's fifth try and, against a fast disintegrating defence, Austin scored the sixth in the 77th minute. The Leicester supporters have been around long enough to know the difference between first and second class.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, W Greenwood (G Austin, 63), S Potter, C Joiner; J Stransky (R Liley, 25-28), A Healey (A Kardooni, 61), P Freshwater, D West, D Garforth, R Field, M Johnson (capt), B Drake-Lee (D Richards 19-23), E Miller, N. Back (D Richards, 61).

West Hartlepool: M Silva; M Wood (J Stabler, 13), L Botham, J Connolly, S John; C John, M Roderick; D Barnes, M Kennedy (A Peacock, 72), W De Jong, C Murphy (L Francis, 40), K Moseley (capt), J Ions, I Morgan, C Yeoman.

Referee: D Chapman (Yorkshire).