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Tigers hound out stubborn Perpignan

06th December 2008 19:03

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Toby Flood v Catalans

Left for dead: Toby Flood on his way to Leicester's first try - and check Philip Burger's leggings!

Pool Three of the Heineken Cup is wide open, after Leicester Tigers beat Perpignan 38-27 at Welford Road on Saturday in a scrappy but strangely enthralling encounter.

One thing's for sure, next week will not be for the faint of heart. There were all manner of simmering tensions at the end, as Perpignan proved a little point in defeat by scrumming Leicester into a penalty try with the final move of the game. It preceded a post-match dust-up in which all involved made abundantly clear that there is a second leg of this tie to come, and that the opposition had better bring their A-game and suitable stocks of adrenaline.

It started so tamely as well. There was lots of kicking - not much of it effective - quite a few penalties and little open rugby. Perpignan's scrum was regularly destroyed, so the Tigers opted sensibly to keep it either up the jumper or far far away from their end of the pitch.

Toby Flood landed two penalties as Catalan indiscipline - which probably cost them the game although it was nowhere near the levels of October in Swansea - and then opened the scoring proper with a dazzling solo try and conversion after 19 minutes.

Finally, that shook the visitors from their mental slumber. David Mele's kicks began to hit danger zones where his chasers could rough the Tigers cover out of it. The chasers squeezed out two penalties of their own for Mele, and then Maxime Mermoz took the ball off the back of a line-out on his own 22 and accelerated the length of the pitch for a brilliant individual try. Mele levelled the scores with the extras.

It had been Leicester's turn to switch off for the preceding quarter of an hour, it seemed. They woke up quickly enough, using the three minutes in between Mele's conversion and the half-time whistle to regain the lead with a try from Mauger, who stepped through the Catalan defence following a break by Dan Hipkiss.

The second half was much better. Leicester's pack once again got the upper hand and gave Flood two penalties to build up another 13-point lead at 26-13. Perpignan once again regrouped and upped their game. Ovidiu Tonita was the beneficiary, rumbling on from a ruck and showing great strength to get in at the corner, with Mele converting.

The game hung in the balance, then Philip Burger - clad in some ridiculous leggings - helped it turn once and for all by spilling a high ball and giving the Tigers a scrum 10m out. The Tigers eight geared up and gave it a fearsome shove, taking the Catalans all the way to the line for Jordan Crane to dot down. Flood blemished his kicking record with the extras.

Leicester entered a purple patch of forcing turnovers and generally bossing their visitors about with no respect whatsoever. Frustration grew in the mauve shirts, and as a result, the defence lost its shape, giving Matt Smith a clear run to the line on an overlap for that crucial fourth try.

With nothing to lose, Perpignan rallied, and showed the watching Dan Carter that his future team-mates can actually play some rugby. Mermoz was at the heart of most things good, with his pack tirelessly supporting any break or half-break. An exhilarating 50m move involving Burger, Mermoz and Farid Sid nearly broke the Leicester defence. Mermoz got to within 5m before being tackled - Hipkiss was yellow-carded for killing the ball - and Perpignan took the scrum at the penalty.

Beaten but not unbowed, they forced the scrum to collapse three times before Nigel Owens ran out of patience, with Nicolas Durand - a career-long Perpignan player among a host of bought-in stars - slamming the ball down on the line anyway and raising a fist to the supporters in a show of defiance, sparking no little ire in the process.

The conversion was kicked out of the ground from in front of the posts; a confrontation followed. Ben Kay could clearly be seen shouting: "it's over now, it's over now." Leicester go to Perpignan in eight days. Over? Not a chance.

Man of the match: Lewis Moody is back. England needs him.

Moment of the match: Maxime Mermoz's try. As good an individual try as you could wish for.

Villain of the match: Perpignan's mauve shirts are bad enough, but leggings? LEGGINGS? Hang your head in shame Philip Burger.

The scorers:

For Leicester:

Tries: Flood, Mauger, Crane, Smith

Cons: Flood 2

Pens: Flood 4

For Perpignan:

Tries: Mermoz, Tonita, penalty try

Cons: Mele 2, Durand

Pens: Mele 2

Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Matt Smith, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Martin Corry, 3 Julian White, 2 Ben Kayser, 1 Marcos Ayerza.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Marco Wentzel, 19 Brett Deacon, 20 Julien Dupuy, 21 Seru Rabeni, 22 Johne Murphy.

Perpignan: 15 Philip Burger, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Christophe Manas, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Julien Candelon, 10 David Mele, 9 Nicolas Durand, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Jean-Pierre Perez, 6 Ovidiu Tonita, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Rimas Alvarez Kairelis, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Sebastien Chobet.

Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17 Bertrand Guiry, 18 Gerrie Britz, 19 Olivier Olibeau, 20 Farid Sid, 21 Jérôme Porical, 22 Kisi Pulu.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

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