Leicester Tigers secured their ninth Guinness Premiership victory of the season by beating Gloucester at Welford Road to maintain their dominance at the top of the table.
England team manager Martin Johnson would have been a relieved man as star fly-half Toby Flood came through the clash without injury, as did lock Louis Deacon. Indeed Flood was given an easy ride as Leicester’s pack dominated their opponents throughout the afternoon.
It was a sixth successive Guinness Premiership victory for the Tigers. And, during a break from the Six Nations, head coach Richard Cockerill was able to call up not just Deacon, who skippered the side, and Flood, but Italian powerhouse Martin Castrogiovanni at prop.
Gloucester had won half a dozen games in all competitions since December 27th and began with the conviction they could get a seventh. Within five minutes, the Cherry and Whites were 6-0 ahead as Welsh fly-half Nicky Robinson slotted home two penalties.
But the early initiative was chipped away as Leicester’s pack gave scrum-half Ben Youngs an easy time to supply set-piece ball to Flood. Castrogiovanni, aided by loose-head Marcos Ayerza and veteran Welsh hooker Mefin Davies, had visiting front row Nick Wood, Olivier Azam and All Blacks star Greg Somerville continuously in trouble. And the mistakes came from Gloucester as a result, giving Flood three penalties which he calmly took with pleasure.
Leicester tightened their squeeze, although they had to wait until nearly the half-hour mark to step foot inside the Gloucester 22, and the visitors were struggling to make much of an impact. Flood dropped the ball with the line at his mercy but wing Lote Tuqiri finally got the opening try when centre Anthony Allen fed Flood for a neat inside pass to the Australian.
The Tigers fly-half converted and, at 16-6, it seemed a long way for Gloucester to recover in the second-half. That victory route seemed to have disappeared for Gloucester when they went 23-6 down within three minutes of the re-start, as Geordan Murphy crossed and Flood converted.
But, just as Leicester may have thought the victory was assured, Gloucester gave themselves a lifeline. Centre Jonny May, who was a late replacement for the in-form Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, stepped inside the home defence after a neat move across the backs to score near the posts. And they had a chance to draw even closer on the hour but a scoring pass went astray.
Normal service, however, was resumed almost immediately as Leicester tightened up and, with number eight Jordan Crane continually at the fore, Gloucester were forced back to defend again. Flood sealed the win as Gloucester infringed just outside their 22 for Flood to boot his fourth penalty, while he also converted a try from scrum-half Ben Youngs towards the end.