Preserving illusions of supremacy has been a game the English have played for generations. Don't believe it? Well, did anyone expect Bath's fall from grace after all those years of hegemony to be as spectacular or as painful as it has been? Are Leicester on the same slippery slope? Not yet, though the Tigers soon could be, unless they take corrective surgery to root out the dead wood in their ageing squad.
With the most threatening pack of forwards in the land, who underpinned their four consecutive national titles and back-to-back Heineken Cups, Leicester were able to mask their insecurities at half-back and inadequacies in midfield. Not for much longer. With a first-choice front row, combined, aged 104 and Neil Back now 34 and Martin Johnson 33, the Leicester pack's days are numbered. Further out, Tim Stimpson will soon be 30, Glenn Gelderbloom is 33 and Freddie Tuilagi is 32 in a few weeks' time. Experienced they may be, but soon some younger legs will have to be acquired if the Tigers' supremacy is to be regained.
There were younger legs on view at Welford Road yesterday, if not enough of them, though they didn't have to do anything fancy to beat a dreadfully incompetent Leeds outfit who have, therefore, ceded their fourth place in the table to the Tigers. With so much riding on the shake-up for Heineken Cup places, Leeds might yet be squeezed out of the final reckoning. If so, they will look back on this match as the day when their season blew up in their faces.
With a lengthy injury list, Leicester were there for the taking. That the Tykes stopped them scoring a try is indisputable – and not many sides manage that – but they should have put the game away when Martin Corry received a yellow card after a brawl midway through the second half. But Leeds squandered chance after chance as they fumbled and fretted their way down innumerable dead ends.
Steve Booth helped the Tigers out of the morass of mediocrity with five first-half penalties to two by Braam van Straaten and a try by George Harder, which came after Booth dropped Geordan Murphy's pass. In a rare moment of quick thinking Derek Hegarty chipped ahead for Harder to cross in the right corner. The break came at 15-11 to Leicester, and when Booth went off with an ankle injury Craig McMullen kicked what proved to be the winning penalty, sandwiched by another two penalties by Van Straaten. Leicester were content to salvage a victory.
Leicester: G Murphy; G Raynor (J Hamilton, 75), L Lloyd, F Tuilagi, S Booth (G Gelderbloom, 40); C McMullen, H Ellis; P Freshwater, G Chuter, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon (B Kay, 65), M Corry, W Skinner, A Balding.
Leeds: D Albanese (C Emmerson, 80); G Harder, T Davies (C Hall, 74), B van Straaten, W Stanley; G Ross, D Hegarty (A Dickens, 60); J Wring (G Kerr, 69), M Regan (capt; R Rawlinson, 69), M Holt, C Murphy, T Palmer, C Mather, D Hyde (I Feaunati, 3-10), A Popham.
Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).
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