Leicester set an unwanted record as they laboured to an unconvincing win over Newcastle in front of Welford Road’s biggest-ever crowd.
The defending champions’ barren spell without a try extended to four hours and 19 minutes after they failed to cross their opponents’ line for the third successive game in a stuttering start to their title defence. The try-less period, stretching back to last season’s Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham, is now 42 minutes longer than Leicester’s previous worst barren spell 10 years ago.
It was poor entertainment for a 24,000 crowd, 10,000 of whom were seated in the impressive new £14 million Caterpillar Stand, and Leicester again had to rely on the boot of former Ireland fly-half Jeremy Staunton, who kicked five penalties, for all their points.
Staunton had contributed all of Leicester’s 27 points in their first two games and he continued to monopolise the scoring for a side lacking cohesion and direction. He found the target with his first penalty after just three minutes when Newcastle drifted offside in defence, though the score was cancelled out within two minutes when Rob Miller, promoted from the bench after Jimmy Gopperth failed a morning fitness test on a foot injury, equalised for Newcastle.
Staunton added two more penalties in a three-minute period midway through the first half and another from long range with the last kick of the half but missed a golden opportunity to extend Leicester’s lead six minutes into the second half. Newcastle dropped a scrum and were then marched back a further 10 metres by referee Andrew Small for dissent but Staunton pushed his kick left of the target.
Miller punished the lapse when he slotted a 53rd-minute penalty after Leicester went offside in front of their own posts but Hall Charlton fumbled the restart kick which gave the Tigers a promising attacking position. Anthony Allen and Staunton both went close and England flanker Tom Croft thought he had broken the stalemate when he ploughed over only for the try to be disallowed because the ball deflected off the referee.
Staunton also got over the line only for the try to be disallowed by the television match official for a knock-on which allowed Newcastle to clear their lines.
Leicester made a raft of second-half substitutions but it was left to Staunton to restore their nine-point cushion with his fifth penalty when James Hudson was penalised for a high tackle on Allen. Clumsy handling prevented Leicester from creating further scoring opportunities and they were relieved to take four points from their first home game of the campaign.