It was a great start to the season for Leeds director of rugby Phil Davies, whose club finished in 12th place in the Premiership table last season and only avoided relegation after Rotherham were barred from taking their spot in English rugby’s top flight and signalled that Leicester’s four-year reign as English champions could come to an end this season.
It was Dan Scarbrough who applied the killer blows against Leicester, the Leeds fullback showing great finishing ability to score a try in each half of the match, while team-mate Gordon Ross had a highly authoratative outing at No.10 having signed for the Tykes during the summer, the Scotland international kicking 11 points.
The early stages of the match saw Leeds taking on the Tigers at their strongest point, their pack, as the Yorkshiremen gave their big men the task of making life uncomfortable for Martin Johnson and co., prop Gavin Kerr and front row colleague Mark Regan making huge inroads in attack during these opening exchanges.
As Leeds made the most of their territorial advantage, Leicester looked uncharaceristically slack, their normally impregnable defensive line showing up a few cracks under tremendous pressure from the Tykes.
They managed to hold out the determined home side for most of the first quarter, until the 14th minute when Scarbrough went over for his first try.
The architect of the score was centre Braam van Straaten, the former Springbok foxing the rapidly approaching defenders in front of him with a grubber kick in midfield, allowing wing George Harder to swoop on the ball and then set off on a muscular run.
As he powered towards the Tigers’ tryline with two Leicester players desperately trying to bring him to ground, he off-loaded the pass to the supporting Scarborough who had a clear run to the line.
With Van Straaten adding the conversion, it was 7-0 to the home side and despite the early loss of Van Straaten which forced Leeds to reorganise their backline, they finished off the half 10-3 ahead, Tim Stimpson having opened Leicester’s account with a penalty kick.
Ross kicked a penalty just five minutes into the second half after another barnstorming run by Harder and the sense of self-belief amongst the Leeds team began to grow.
Things got worse for the visitors as Ben Kay found himself in the sin-bin after he was spotted throwing a punch by the referee and while Ross could not kick the resulting penalty to further stretch the Tykes’ lead, the second row’s indiscretion underlined Leicester’s loss of composure under pressure.
Leeds nearly made their extra man count in the 53rd minute, Ross chipping through the Leicester defence, Diego Albanese recouping the ball with a spectacular commando roll but the chance was eventually lost as the ball went loose over the Tigers’ tryline.
Stung by this close call, Leicester produced their most cohesive passage of play yet, stringing together a series of slick phases which opened up the Leeds defence and saw fly-half Austin Healey sprinting over in the right-hand corner. Stimpson supplied the extras to make it 10-all, setting up a thrilling last half hour.
Leeds once again took the lead with a Ross penalty right in front of the posts in the 59th minute, but it was shortlived as Stimpson again drew Leicester level with a penalty of his own in the 64th minute.
While Leicester were throwing everything into attack in a late attempt to rescue the match, it was Leeds who finished the match the strongest, Ross landing a drop goal and then a 45 metre penalty to help put the champions to the sword.
As the clock ticked over into injury time, Leeds finished off their famous victory in some style, Scarbrough once again finding his way to the tryline. Ross supplied the conversion to round off a fine performance from the home side at Headingley.
For Leeds: Tries: Scarbrough (2)Cons: Van Straaten, RossPens: Ross (3)Drop-goal: Ross
For Leicester:Tries: HealeyCons: StimpsonPens: Stimpson (2)