Johnson pays the price of infamy in Tigers' romp

Leicester 40 Bristol 6

David Llewellyn
Sunday 09 February 2003 01:00
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A landmark match and result for Leicester Tigers and Martin Johnson. The home side ended an evil losing streak against Bristol – an appropriate way to mark their captain's 300th senior appearance for them. Unfortunately it was also the setting in which Johnson picked up his third yellow card of the season.

But two sparkling touchdowns by Leicester's Geordan Murphy (both converted by the full-back for good measure), provided the base for a six-try rout and a welcome bonus point as the Tigers stepped up their work rate to ensure a top-three finish in the Zurich Premiership.

It was much more like the Tigers of old. They fired up front and flew at Bristol from the back. It was not all one-way though, and in the end Leicester did well to prevent Bristol breaching their line.

As for poor old Johnson, he will have to do something about his profile – it is clearly just too high for some referees to resist chipping away at it. In this case, Robin Goodliffe overreacted in sending the England captain to the sin bin.

In the nanosecond that Johnson had to react to Michael Lipman's burst, the Leicester captain adjudged that the flanker had touched the ball and made a grab for him. He was wrong, but it was an honest mistake. It is to be hoped that at an appeal the referee will be honourable enough to admit his own mistake in showing the yellow card. A penalty was punishment enough.

As things stand, if no appeal is lodged, then Johnson will serve an automatic one-match ban, which would mean him missing the Powergen Cup semi-final against Gloucester next month.

Afterwards Johnson said: "The guy touched the ball and I went to tackle him. I was a little disappointed to go off. I thought it was harsh. It was a borderline penalty." Leicester's director of rugby, Dean Richards, added: "I don't think any other player would have got a yellow. I think he is refereed differently from other players." Johnson is certainly in a different class from other players. Ollie Smith's 73rd-minute try, earning the bonus point, would not have happened without some quick-wittedness on the part of his captain, who kick-started a faltering move.

And overall it was a team performance that will have pleased Johnson. There was cohesion and coordination between forwards and backs and no little character and discipline during a tough third quarter, after Josh Kronfeld had scored shortly after the start of the second half.

Rod Kafer and replacement wing Steve Booth scored the others, but none matched the opening two by Murphy, who showed himself to be in top form in the run-up to the Six Nations.

Leicester: G Murphy; L Lloyd (S Booth, 69), O Smith, R Kafer, F Tuilagi (T Stimpson, 69); S Vesty, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, D West (G Chuter, 76), F Tournaire (D Garforth, 63), M Johnson (capt), L Deacon (A Balding, 63), L Moody, M Corry, J Kronfeld (N Back, 63).

Bristol: J Williams (L Best, 79); D Rees, M Shaw, D Gibson (capt; Best, 17-24), P Christophers; F Contepomi (S Drahm, 76), A Pichot; A Sheridan (E Bergamaschi, 79), P Johnstone (S Nelson, h-t), D Crompton, S Morgan, A Brown, M Salter (C Morgan, 71), R Beattie, M Lipman (R Oakley, 65).

Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).

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