Leicester Tigers recorded their second successive pre-season victory, brushing aside Cardiff Blues by 31-13 at Welford Road on Saturday and scoring three tries to one in the process.
Tigers fly-half Andy Goode enjoyed a fine day out, not only with his accurate goal-kicking, but also with his running game, whilst full back Geordan Murphy was his usual adventurous self with ball in hand. Leicester's forwards impressed as always, especially against the abrasive Cardiff pack, and head coach John Wells would have been delighted with his side's showing after their easy win over Edinburgh last Saturday.
"If you look at Cardiff had to offer, they're a much more physical and abrasive side than we played against last week," said Wells. "They slowed a lot of our ball down and their in-your-face defence made it hard for us to play rugby. We had to work hard to create the few opportunities that we did and in the end we probably could've used our other two chances better and I was also disappointed that we let them in for the try."
Goode opened the scoring in the first minute with a penalty goal from just inside his own half, and he added another three points just over five minutes later when Cardiff were caught off-sides. He then made it three penalty goals after yet another Cardiff infringement, whilst his opposite number Nick Macleod fluffed his first two attempts at goal when Tigers found themselves on the wrong end of referee Ashley Rowden's whistle.
Both teams, however, soon tested Rowden's patience when a slight scuffle ensued, with second rows Louis Deacon and Craig Quinnell earning yellow cards for their efforts. Quinnell landed a torrent of punches on his young opponent, with the former Wales star finally getting pried off Deacon by Will Skinner.
A few trips to the blood bin at round about the same time as the two sin-binnings suggested that this match was anything but a friendly and the eager Tigers supporters were quick to show their true feelings when Quinnell disappeared down the tunnel to sit out his 10 minutes.
Things soon returned to normal after the yellow cards - although there was a moment when Tigers had three props on the field after two blood bin incidents - but Cardiff made all the running, severely testing the home side's defence on numerous occasions.
One such occasion saw Cardiff scrum-half Richard Smith come close to grabbing an opportunistic score, only to be denied by a superb last-ditch tackle by Austin Healey on the tryline. Smith, who caused havoc with a well-weighted chip kick, lost the ball forward and Tigers were eventually able to clear their line via Goode.
Macleod, meanwhile, found his range with two penalties, which saw the visitors take the score to 9-6 as the first half drew to a close, but Tigers had the final say in proceedings in the first stanza when Austin Healey flopped over the line in the right-hand corner.
Goode won some valuable territory for his side with well-executed punts and good chasing from Healey and then Geordan Murphy pinned Cardiff down in their own 22. John Holtby came off his wing from the ensuing scrum in the left-hand corner to put his side on the front foot, Goode did very well to keep the ball alive after a 50-50 pass from Holtby and Healey had enough time to nip over for the first try of the day.
Goode failed with the tricky conversion, but he did add three more points before half-time when Freddie Tuilagi was penalised for tackling Geordan Murphy without the ball. Freddie, a former crowd favourite at Welford Road, took some abuse from his old supporters for the cynical act of play and his wry smile said it all. Goode's kick was sweet and sailed through the uprights, just reward for the fly-half an outstanding break in the build-up to the penalty.
Tigers went into half 17-6 up and Cardiff began the second period with a flood of replacements. Those replacements, however, did not help them as the home side racked up their second try of the day after some brilliance from that man Murphy and some excellent vision from Goode.
Murphy collected a Cardiff chip with his boot on the run, slowed down to control the ball, and put his team back on the attack. Tigers' forwards did their bit to control the ball and Goode's cross-kick to the left saw a leaping Martin Corry pluck the ball from in front of Nick Walne's nose before crashing over for the try and rapturous applause from the crowd.
Goode nailed the conversion, putting his side ahead by 24-6, but the home team soon went on the hunt for more points as referee Rowden limped off with a hamstring problem.
Hooker George Chuter, who had an industrious day out, was held up over the tryline a few minutes later as Tigers looked to extend their lead, but it took some more brilliance from Goode to get the scoreboard ticking over again.
Goode weaved a clever grubber through the flat-lying Cardiff defence, with Murphy pouncing on it under the uprights and giving his fly-half the simple conversion for a 31-6 lead.
Despite the 25-point deficit, Cardiff refused to give up, pressuring Tigers on numerous occasions as they searched for that elusive first try. It did eventually come for them, but rather fortuitously one might add, when a pass from replacement scrum-half Scott Bemand on his own goalline hit the uprights and landed safely in replacement fly-half Lee Thomas's hands. Thomas looked half embarrassed as he dusted himself off and then added the conversion, but it showed on the scoreboard.
Quite a bit of injury-time was played and the match became a bit scrappy as both side's began throwing the ball around in those final frantic minutes, but Goode did come close after yet another fine run - by this stage he had been moved to full back to accommodate youngster Ross Broadfoot - only to run out of support at the moment critique.
"Andy was one of a host of players that contributed on the day," added coach Wells afterwards. "[But] I think everybody contributed something positive to today's result; some more than others, although some players were in more influential positions on the field than others. Generally I thought it was a pretty good team effort and I can tell you that the players were very annoyed about letting in that try, which is a good sign."
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Healey, Corry, Murphy
Cons: Goode 2
Pens: Goode 4
For Cardiff Blues:
Try: L Thomas
Con: L Thomas
Pens: Macleod 2
Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy (Ross Broadfoot, 67 minutes), 14 Austin Healey, 13 Leon Lloyd, 12 Daryl Gibson (Ollie Smith, 57 minutes), 11 John Holtby, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Harry Ellis (Scott Bemand, 57 minutes), 1 Darren Morris (Graham Rowntree, 57 minutes), 2 George Chuter (James Buckland, 69 minutes), 3 Julian White (Graham Rowntree, 16-19 minutes), 4 Louis Deacon (Martin Johnson, 57 minutes), 5 Ben Kay (captain), 6 Brett Deacon (Henry Tuilagi, 20-25, 57), 7 Will Skinner, 8 Martin Corry.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Craig Morgan, 14 Nick Walne, 13 Jamie Robinson (captain, Shaun James, 69 minutes), 12 Tristan Davies, 11 Freddie Tuilagi, 10 Nick Macleod (Lee Thomas, 41 minutes), 9 Richard Smith (Dean Dewdney, 41 minutes), 1 John Yapp (Gareth Williams, 41 minutes), 2 Andrew Lewis (Gareth Williams, 5-13 minutes), 3 Ben Evans (Kenneth Fourie, 41 minutes), 4 Craig Quinnell, 5 Robert Sidoli, 6 Nathan Thomas (Mark Lewis, 65 minutes), 7 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 8 Nathan Thomas.
Yellow card(s): Craig Quinnell (Cardiff Blues, 18 minutes), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers, 18 minutes).
Wells happy with second pre-season win
Leicester Tigers head coach John Wells was delighted with his side's 31-13 victory over Cardiff Blues on Saturday, but even more pleased with the fact that Tigers' second successive pre-season win would have done wonders for the players' confidence.
"I'd like to think that having got two pretty decent results, both home and away, that there's a lot of confidence in the squad," said Wells. "Sure, there's a lot of work still to be done, but I'd rather go into next week's Sale game having won games and playing with some confidence."
Whilst happy, Wells refused to get too carried away ahead of the 2004/05 season: "In the past we were walloped in pre-season games, but yet we'd go on and win the Zurich Premiership and the Heineken Cup that same season."
On the whole, Cardiff presented a far stiffer challenge than Edinburgh and Wells declared himself happy with his side's unbeaten record before the season proper.
"The things that worked well for us this week weren't allowed to work for us this week - simply because of the strength of Cardiff's defence," he said. "It makes us a little clearer as to what we have to work on at training this week; the line-out went really well for us today and the scrumming was a bit iffy at times, but a game like this exposes the good and the bad.
"They've got a lot of quality internationals in their squad. In many ways I'm delighted that we actually had as much daylight between them and us at the end of the game. They had some early opportunities to score some points and obviously that one in the second, which they took, but apart from that our line was pretty solid. Perhaps we blew a two or three chances once we got behind them, but like last week if we can turn those breaks into points we'll be on that next step up the ladder.
"With the exception of Backy, everybody now has had at least one full game under the belt and in some cases two. It was noticeable today, especially in Julian's case for example, that he was quite tired towards the end, but today would've done him the world of good as it got rid of some of the rustiness. It's the same for the other guys that perhaps haven't played a lot of rugby of late."
Back, who has a hamstring injury, is in doubt for Sunday's Zurich Premiership opener against Sale Sharks, but Wells is hopeful that Will Johnson - a late withdrawal from the starting line-up after picking up a foot injury - will be fit.
The game against Sale at Edgeley Park kicks off at 1.30pm.
Robinson: 'Tigers will be competitive'
Cardiff Blues skipper Jamie Robinson believes that Leicester Tigers will be a force to be reckoned with next season - in England and Europe. Robinson was talking after his side's 13-31 loss to Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday.
"They showed towards the end of last season that when they get it together they're one of the top sides in Europe," he said. "They've kept a lot of the same players this season, which is always important, and their approach was very professional today."
Robinson, who had a solid outing in his second game in charge of Cardiff, pin-pointed Leicester's line-out as their major strength, although he was impressed with their overall showing on the day.
"They were very competitive around the rucks and on the floor," he said. "They also did their basics very well and when you do that you'll always be very competitive."
Whilst the Blues pushed Tigers hard at times, in the end they were unable to cope with the skill and pace of Leicester's backline, most notably fly-half Andy Goode and full back Geordan Murphy.
"Those three tries were great bits of individual skills," said Robinson. "We've got a new defence and it's working well, but you can't stop that. With players like Geordan Murphy and Leon Lloyd in their ranks you always have to be aware that they're going to attack you."
A familiar face - for Tigers supporters - in the Cardiff line-up was Samoan star Freddie Tuilagi, who joined the Welsh franchise during the summer.
"Freddie's pretty relaxed off the field, but he turns it on come match day - which is all you can ask for," said Robinson. "Last year you guys all cheered him on, this year you're booing him! But that's they way he plays the game, he gives it his all."
Even without Freddie, Tigers still have some Tuilagis in their ranks, with No.8 Henry getting a run against the Blues and new additions Alex and Andy also arriving in Leicester this year.
Said Robinson: "Henry's massive - he's a great impact player!"