Planet Rugby

Leicester break Scarlet hearts again

21st April 2007 16:43

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Shane Jennings

Turning point: Andy Goode watches on as Shane Jennings scores the crucial try

It will be an all-England Heineken Cup final, after Leicester Tigers ended all non-English representation by beating the Scarlets 33-17 at the Walker's Stadium on Saturday.

The Welsh troop home from a semi-final against Leicester dejected once again, although their heartbreak may this time be tempered by the fact that the Tigers were far more deserving of this victory than they had been five years ago.

But to hell with those who doubt that the club game is the future. This game raised the pulses more than any other this season so far, and barring the possibilities inherent in the World Cup, raised the pulses far more than any of the 'same old same old' internationals we get served up with eight times a year.

We have today been furnished with two magnificent spectacles by ERC's competitors, with the clubs and their fans creating feasts of rugby, good cheer, and treasured memories for us to gorge on. Those who would govern the club game from international boardrooms ought to head back to their mahogany-walled, prawn-sandwich odoured lairs, and mind their own damned business. On a day like this, it is obvious which, of the unions and the clubs, does the better job and which has the right ideas.

The match had been billed as the Tigers' power against the Scarlets' guile, and it was the power that triumphed, with the Tigers superior at the breakdown, line-out, and restart, all the contact areas it mattered most on the day.

Julian White was allowed to get away with all sorts of skullduggery at the scrum, and Alix Popham was left scrambling around at the base of it for much of the game in order to secure possession. It took the Scarlets nearly 25 minutes to win a line-out as well, and for much of the game messrs Corry and Deacon rose in the right spot at the right time to pluck Scarlet ball from the air.

Those areas yielded the points, but a word should also go to the Tigers for their defence. Having pinched the lead back with a sublime moment after Stephen Jones' conversion of Matthew Rees' try had put the Scarlets a point ahead, the Tigers sat on their defensive line as wave after Scarlet wave of attack headed their way.

Between minutes 63, when Andy Goode stretched the lead to 26-17 with his fourth penalty, and 73 when Nathan Thomas idiotically gave away field position by trying a surreptitious elbow on Geordan Murphy, the Scarlets had pretty much all of the ball, yet thump after hit after smash after bosh came in from Leicester's bullies to stop them in their tracks.

The Scarlets simply could not hold themselves in the face of the assault, and their potential dissolved into a series of knock-ons and turnovers in good positions.

As with the Dragons earlier in the day, it just seemed to take the Welsh too long to get into the game. Within five minutes the Tigers led 6-0 after first Gavin Thomas was penalised for holding on, and then Barry Davies was penalised for a truly American Football-style block on a kick-chasing Murphy.

The Scarlets had nothing to play with for the first five minutes, but when they did get some ball, they were immediately exhilarating. First the ball went wide to Dafydd James, then back it came all the way to the other side for Mark Jones, who almost skinned Tom Varndell of all people. The Tigers were caught offside, and Stephen Jones made it 6-3.

At the restart, Goode's kick hung tantalisingly in the air, and although Gavin Thomas caught it, Lewis Moody ran him over like a juggernaut hitting a feather. The restart area was never the same thereafter.

Still, the Scarlets should have been level on the quarter hour, when Geordan Murphy was sin-binned for a professional foul after Mark Jones had shot down the left. Murphy's despicable killing of the ball prevented a certain try, and even the sin-binning served Leicester well - had referee Alain Rolland not taken the time out to administer it, the Scarlets might have scored from a quick tap penalty. As it was, Stephen Jones hooked the kick horribly, and Leicester dug in again.

The game promised tries, but held them back from us. It teased. Bums were so up and down on seats that the supporting struts under the stands may need a little reinforcement work in the post-match.

Varndell might have got away for one, but his pumping thigh pumped the ball from his hands, running onto Daryl Gibson's low offload. Regan King, double-marked all afternoon by Leicester's drift defence, ought to have set Dafydd James away, but his pass was high and backward and James lost all momentum.

Goode extended Leicester's lead with a penalty for Easterby going into a maul at the side, but the Scarlets, realising that just throwing it about a bit might not be enough, showed their meaty side too, with Vernon Cooper and Easterby developing a promising position before the latter knocked on.

Barry Davies saw a long penalty bounce back off the padding on an upright, but the game was settling a little with Leicester's fourteen men sitting back and soaking up the pressure.

Finally, five minutes before the break, the master of ceremonies blessed us with a try. Goode, whose running of Leicester's show was artful at times, got the ball wide after a spell of heavy pressure, wriggled through some dire tackling from Thomas and Rees, and scrambled over the line for the opener, converting the try for good measure.

At 16-3 the Tigers were sitting pretty but within two minutes the Scarlets had the tonic they needed. Out the ball came left after more good work by Easterby, and Regan King got his long pass measure right this time to send Mark Jones in at the corner. Stephen Jones made it 16-10 with the touchline conversion.

A new Scarlet tactic entered the fray at the start of the second half: Dwayne Peel twice had kicks off the base of the scrum charged down, one of them nearly costing five points, and Mark Jones also saw a kick nearly batted away. The kicking from the Scarlets soon ceased.

Something else batted away, rather more forcefully, was the head of Alejandro Moreno by Deacon Manu in retaliation for a slap by the former, which saw both sent to the bin. Manu might have got off lightly, the replays showed all manner of blows from all angles coming from his fists.

With the props off, the Scarlets took the lead. Just for once, they got the right blend of direct running and ball-spreading, and the move culminated in Matthew Rees going in at the left-hand corner, with Stephen Jones again converting magnificently from the touchline.

A new Tigers' tactic then entered the fray as well, and it immediately nicked back the lead. Andy Goode chipped over the Scarlets' blitz defence into space, and Shane Jennings, whose sterling endeavour in the mud produced turnovers for his team all afternoon, latched onto the bouncing ball and turned Davies like a winger before diving under the posts.

Goode tried the chip three more times, and each time it caused panic for the men in red, until Davies cottoned on to the correct positioning and shut the avenue of attack off. The damage was done though.

Goode then slotted a fourth successful penalty from 48 metres, leaving Llanelli with it all to do, but the Tigers' defence held firm. Thomas' indiscretion on Murphy conceded field position, and Leicester's pack got a final hurrah, driving a maul deep into Scarlet territory and hammering away at the line before Louis Deacon leapt over a maul and sealed the deal.

Man of the match: Andy Goode orchestrated, Martin Corry inspired, and Alesana Tuilagi drove for Leicester. For the Scarlets, both locks played well outside of the line-out, as did Gavin Thomas and Alix Popham, and Dwayne Peel coped admirably considering his lack of protection. But for his match-turning burst of pace and contribution in the loose and at the bottom of rucks all game, Shane Jennings grabs the accolade.

The scorers:

For Leicester:

Tries: Goode, Jennings, Louis Deacon

Cons: Goode 2

Pens: Goode 4

Drop goals:

For the Scarlets:

Tries: Mark Jones, Rees

Cons: Stephen Jones 2

Pens: Stephen Jones

Drop goals:

Yellow cards: Murphy (Tigers, 14, deliberately killing the ball), Moreno (Tigers, 45 fighting), Manu (Scarlets, 45, fighting)

The teams:

Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tom Varndell, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Daryl Gibson, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Martin Corry (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Lewis Moody, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Julian White, 2 George Chuter, 1 Alex Moreno.

Replacements: 16 Gavin Hickie 17 Michael Holford 18 Leo Cullen 19 Brett Deacon 20 Frank Murphy 21 Sam Vesty 22 Seru Rabeni.

Llanelli Scarlets: 15 Barry Davies, 14 Dafydd James, 13 Regan King, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Mark Jones, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Alix Popham, 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Scott MacLeod, 4 Vernon Cooper, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Iestyn Thomas.

Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 John Davies, 18 Inoke Afeaki, 19 Nathan Thomas, 20 Liam Davies, 21 Ceiron Thomas, 22 Matthew Watkins.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

By Danny Stephens

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