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Bristol tame woeful Tigers

27 Dec 2005
Bristol tame woeful Tigers

Strange booted five first-half penalties as Bristol celebrated a record home league crowd of just under 12,000 through recording their fifth Premiership win since regaining top-flight status this season.

They should have won even more convincingly against an under-strength Tigers outfit, and if their finishing had matched Strange’s accuracy then Leicester could have suffered an embarrassing loss.

Leicester boss Pat Howard rang the changes, fielding just four members of Leicester’s starting line-up that took on the Ospreys in a bitter Heineken Cup clash nine days ago.

And the shadow outfit spent most of the contest chasing Bristol shadows, such was the home side’s dominance in all areas.

Howard rested skipper Martin Corry, hooker George Chuter, fly-half Andy Goode and full-back Geordan Murphy, among others, although England prop Julian White made his first appearance since completing an eight-week suspension after being sent off for fighting against Newcastle in October.

But Leicester could make little headway against a well-drilled Bristol team, for whom number eight Dan Ward-Smith and hooker Mark Regan were the dominant figures.

Tigers missed the sniping presence of injured scrum-halves Harry Ellis and Austin Healey, and Bristol were never seriously threatened as they added Leicester’s scalp to those of Bath, Sale Sharks, Leeds and Newcastle.

The victory takes them into a comfortable mid-table position, leaving Leicester supporters to reflect on a squad that perhaps does not possess the strength in depth to mount a major assault on Premiership and Heineken Cup silverware this season.

Referee Tony Spreadbury was a late withdrawal from the action, having been involved in a car accident on his way to the game, so Berkshire official Dean Richards took charge of his first Premiership match.

Bristol wasted little time making their mark, with Strange slotting two penalties inside the opening 10 minutes as Leicester struggled to assert supremacy up front.

And when Strange booted two more penalties during a three-minute spell, Bristol were 12 points clear inside an opening quarter Tigers would rather have forgotten.

The Bristol forwards displayed a far greater appetite for the set-piece battle, and with referee Richards keen to punish every minor indiscretion, Leicester could make little headway.

Tigers found themselves under siege for most of first half, with only their defensive work proving up to normal standards, but more technical indiscipline resulted in number eight Will Johnson being sin-binned six minutes before half-time and Strange struck a fifth penalty.

Leicester’s miserable afternoon continued when former Bristol centre Daryl Gibson went off injured in his first match after an eight-week absence, although Bristol, despite a healthy interval advantage, should have breached Tigers’ defence, given their monopoly on possession.

Bristol began the second period in similarly aggressive fashion, helped by Leicester’s forwards inexplicably drifting offside from the kick-off, but Strange’s first missed penalty enabled the Tigers to stay afloat.

Leicester wing Dan Hipkiss was comfortably his team’s biggest attacking threat, and a sniping run produced a platform from which Broadfoot prospered by landing a short-range penalty.

Tigers were finally up and running on a bitterly cold afternoon in the west country, and Howard attempted to generate further momentum after 57 minutes by making a double substitution as he sent on Michael Holford for Morris and replaced Broadfoot with Ian Humphreys.

Ben Kay also joined the action, taking over from Cullen, yet Leicester had left themselves with a Herculean task and they should have fallen 15 points behind again when Ollie Smith was penalised for a late tackle on David Lemi, but Strange drifted the resulting kick wide.

As in the first half, Bristol had plenty of try-scoring chances, only for a combination of committed Leicester defence and poor finishing to frustrate them.

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