Hamilton ignites home fires and breaks Neath's hearts

Leicester 36 Neath 11

David Llewellyn
Sunday 19 January 2003 01:00

The announcement before the kick-off that 6,000 tickets for the Heineken Cup final had been snapped up by Leicester fans seemed a trifle premature.

Those 6,000 were not even the official allocation for the finalists. But by the end of a riveting and keenly fought contest when it was announced that quarter-final tickets were on sale, not only did the queues quickly form, but Tigers were playing like defending champions.

Neath, though, gave it a real shot and could leave Welford Road with heads held high. They battled to a standstill and never once did they shirk their responsibility for providing entertainment in what was a pulsating tie.

It was faster and more furious than the autumn meeting between the pair, which had finished 16-16. On that occasion Neath's tackle count back in October was 159 compared with Tigers' 59, a statistic which told its own tale.

This time Leicester made their intent plain from the outset, not letting Neath have a look at the ball until Geordan Murphy dabbed it into the muddy Welford Road turf some 70 seconds later. And although Tim Stimpson missed the conversion from wide on the left, he did not miss with his opening penalty a few minutes later.

A sell-out crowd – Welford Road's first for a Heineken Cup pool match – sat back expecting an avalanche, but Leicester appeared to do the same. Certainly, after Stimpson's second penalty Neath were given time and room to muster their forces for an assault in their opponents' half. Shane Williams, who had earlier looked a trifle shaky when put under pressure by a Murphy kick through, made amends by steaming around the defence for try.

When Shaun Connor knocked over a straightforward drop-goal and the gap closed to three points the Tigers looked vulnerable, their normally teak-hard defence seemed flabby, their lines of running wayward.

Their recovery coincided with the appearance of Jamie Hamilton coming on for the injured scrum-half Harry Ellis. When Tigers stealthily worked their way up to the Neath line Hamilton got the ball, looked left, then right, then went right through to touch down under the posts. Stimpson's conversion and his third penalty put Tigers back in control.

The third quarter saw each side swap a penalty apiece and contribute some entertaining rugby but it was in the final period that Leicester really turned it on. They pressed hard and fast and although Neath initially defended valiantly, they finally crumbled as the Leicester pack enforced their collective will.

Tigers swung it left, Murphy hit a wall, but Josh Kron-feld was on hand to power through and Stimpson thumped over the touchline conversion.

Three minutes later Kronfeld slipped a scoring pass to lock Ben Kay and the Tigers were uncatchable, although Neath kept them out for the final 10 minutes.

Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, L Lloyd, R Kafer, S Booth; S Vesty, H Ellis (J Hamilton, 23); D Jelley, D West, F Tournaire, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, W Johnson (J Kronfeld, 69), A Balding (L Moody, 69), N Back (L Deacon, 80).

Neath: A Durston; G Morris, J Storey, D Tiueti, S Williams; S Connor, P Horgan; D Jones (A Millward, 78), B Williams, A Jones (P James, 78), A Newman, G Llewellyn (capt), B Sinkinson, R Phillips (S Martin, 79), S Tandy (A Mocelutu, 42).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

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