Planet Rugby

Tigers take trophy number two

12th May 2007 16:14

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Leicester Tigers produced their most impressive performance yet to take the second trophy of the treble they are chasing, beating Gloucester 44-16 at Twickenham on Saturday to claim the Guinness Premiership title.

Gloucester made a decent fist of it for the first half hour, but the Tigers found another gear just before the break that yielded fifteen unanswered points, and had the Cherry-and-Whites walking off for half-time huffing and puffing as though at the end of a Test match.

The sheer physicality of this Leicester team was too much from start to finish, and it was used unashamedly, with Pat Howard's tactic of sending Seru Rabeni and Alesana Tuilagi up the middle reaping rich rewards.

If Gloucester stuck big men in the middle to counter the two Pacific Islanders, the Leicester forwards simply ran through the other gaps. Every time Gloucester plugged the leak, it sprang somewhere else, and eventually the men in red were forced merely to staunch the flow and limit the flood damage.

That damage was still a massive seven tries to one defeat despite Gloucester's efforts, and London Wasps, who must face Leicester's monsters next week in the Heineken Cup final, might like to bear in mind that having taken a convincing 39-9 lead, the Tigers sat back rather three-quarter-heartedly for a quarter of an hour before mauling Lewis Moody over for a fittingly brutal final strike.

Previous league meetings between the sides this season produced a 27-27 draw at Welford Road and a 28-24 success for Gloucester in the Kingsholm return, yet Leicester had no intention of following that nerve-wracking script and they effectively had the final sewn up by half-time.

Gloucester confirmed a major blow just hours before kick-off when their skipper Marco Bortolami failed to recover from a knee injury suffered during the semi-final victory over Saracens seven days ago.

Will James replaced him in the second-row, partnering South Africa-bound England tourist Alex Brown, with flanker Peter Buxton taking over as skipper, but Buxton also lasted only 15 minutes, leaving the field with a suspected broken wrist. Gloucester looked short of a leader thereafter, but it would have made little difference in the end.

It was a nervy beginning for the champions to be. First Seru Rabeni and Dan Hipkiss made a hash of catching the restart, and then Frank Murphy saw his first attempted clearance kick charged down for Gloucester to nick a 5m scrum.

A spell of pressure from the Cherry-and Whites culminated in a fifth-minute penalty from full-back Willie Walker, and Gloucester had the early lead.

Leicester's response was to unleash, for the first and not the last time, Tuilagi and Rabeni, with

Tuilagi's charge from a clearance sending Hipkiss into the Gloucester 22.

Rabeni made ground the other side as the Tigers probed, and eventually Murphy had enough momentum in front of him to be able to dart around the side of a maul and open the try scoring, even if there was more than a whiff of looseness about the grounding itself.

Goode slotted the conversion, and although Walker booted a second penalty midway through the first half, the Tigers had the bit between their teeth, with the forwards enjoying more and more ball, and growing momentum.

By contrast, Gloucester's charges were fewer and further between and the ball given to Ryan Lamb was unforgiveably slow from Peter Richards, even when his forwards did produce. It made the release of the Gloucester backs an unlikely event. The opposition was neutralised, and Leicester's gunners went on the rampage.

As the interval approached, two tries in eight minutes left Gloucester floored.

A poor clearance from Richards, and slick work between Tuilagi and full-back Geordan Murphy proved sufficient to leave Gloucester's defence in disarray, and Tuilagi smashed through weak tackling down the left wing for a try before Goode's second penalty strike made it 15-6.

Moments before the break it was Rabeni who did the damage, bursting through the centre and feeding Corry inside for another score, with Goode converting to make it 22-6.

At least Gloucester came out firing for the second period, with Walker completing a penalty hat-trick, but Leicester quickly ran in their fourth try to sew things up.

Gloucester's defence again was found wanting, slack tackling from James and Walker this time allowing Goode to coast over for a clinching try, hoisting Leicester 18 points clear at 27-9.

Six minutes later, it was weak tackling again, this time from Ryan Lamb who slid ineffectively down Tuilagi's legs as the big Samoan stormed through the centre for his second, this one under the posts.

Shane Jennings scored a classic Leicester try just after the hour, peeling off the back of a ferocious maul just as Neil Back once did. The Tigers will miss Jennings when he leaves, for the flanker once again showed off an impressive array of skills including a couple of fine kicks for territory.

Lamb picked off a long pass by Goode thrown for fun more than for game-winning and had just enough left in the tank to get home shortly afterwards, and for ten minutes, the Tigers rocked a bit as Gloucester searched for further consolation.

But a couple of penalties let Leicester back into the Gloucester left-hand corner, and one more driving maul, one more instance of the utter superiority of Leicester's pack over Gloucester's, had Moody touching down to break the 40-point mark.

It was unstoppable. Wasps be warned.

The scorers:

For Leicester:

Tries: Murphy, Tuilagi 2, Corry, Goode, Jennings, Moody

Cons: Goode 3

Pen: Goode

For Gloucester:

Try: Lamb

Con: Walker

Pens: Walker 3

Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Seru Rabeni, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Ollie Smith, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 Martin Corry (captain), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Lewis Moody, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Julian White, 2 George Chuter, 1 Marcos Ayerza.

Replacements: 16 James Buckland, 17 Alex Moreno, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Brett Deacon, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Sam Vesty, 22 Tom Varndell.

Gloucester: 15 Willie Walker, 14 Iain Balshaw, 13 James Simpson-Daniel, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Mark Foster, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Peter Richards, 8 Luke Narraway, 7 Andy Hazell, 6 Peter Buxton, 5 Alex Brown, 4 Marco Bortolami (captain), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Nick Wood,

Replacements: 16 Mefin Davies, 17 Christian Califano, 18 Will James, 19 Jake Boer, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 Jack Adams, 22 Jon Goodridge.

Referee: Dave Pearson

Touch judges: Wayne Barnes, Paul Dix

Television match offical: Geoff Warren, Matt Peters

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