Tigers ease past Scarlets
Strong second-half performance gives big boost to Leicester's Cup hopes
Last Updated: 15/01/11 9:05pm
Boost: Leicester's Thomas Waldrom
Leicester gave their Heineken Cup challenge a vital boost on Saturday night after easing to a 32-18 victory over the Scarlets in their Pool Five match.
The contest had been billed as a battle between the flair of the Scarlets with ball in hand versus the might of Leicester's defence and it was ultimately settled in favour of the latter as the Tigers pulled away in the second half.
Nigel Davies' side started the stronger and led 10-6 at half time, with Morgan Stoddart scoring for the Scarlets. However, the Welsh region might well be left ruing further opportunities for both Gareth Maule - a late stand-in for the injured Regan King - and Simon Gardner that went begging.
As when the two sides met in the competition in October, Leicester turned the screw in the second half as Alesana Tuilagi, Ben Youngs and replacement Steve Mafi all crossed, with Sean Lamont grabbing a late consolation.
The meeting between the current Premiership leaders and the side standing second in the Magners League was reflected at kick-off by an electric atmosphere in the Parc-y-Scarlets.
With the crowd behind them, the Scarlets made a fast start but the visitors absorbed the pressure well before putting together their first break of note in the fifth minute.
With George Skivington winning a line-out that stemmed from a Scarlets penalty, the likes of Youngs, Craig Newby and Marcos Ayerza stretched the home defence before the move broke down.
Leicester's pack was already asserting itself and pressure in the scrum won a penalty in the 10th minute, which Toby Flood converted. Another followed six minutes later, after Alesana Tuilagi's break down the left was ended abruptly by Rhys Priestland's shoulder.
Any thoughts the visitors might creep further in front in similar fashion were ended just two minutes later, however, when the Scarlets took the lead with a fine counterattacking try.
It came as a result of Jonathan Davies' break down the left, with his pass left teeing up Stoddart to cross in the corner - fending off Alesana Tuilagi first - with Stephen Jones converting.
The Tigers responded by putting together 10 phases' worth of pressure inside their opponents' 22 but despite their forays on the left flank, it came to naught.
Instead, Davies burst forward again after 27 minutes but, with Rob McCusker and Gardner then bulldozing through the Tigers' midfield, Maule's attempt to cross did not meet with the satisfaction of referee Alain Rolland.
Consolation came with a Stephen Jones penalty soon after and the Scarlets again came good just before half time, although Gardner was not perhaps the man to finish off the overlap that they created on the right.
Although Stephen Jones missed a penalty on the stroke of half time - Martin Castrogiovanni's mouth on this occasion landing the Tigers in trouble - they still held the edge.
Flood and Stephen Jones traded penalties in the opening minutes of the second half, although the England number 10 could not find the target with a difficult effort after 48 minutes.
His side were back in front soon after, though, with the evening's second try coming following a break by Anthony Allen which Skivington took through to midfield.
The ball was then worked left via Thomas Waldrom and George Chuter's quick hands, before Scott Hamilton set Tuilagi up to skid over in the left corner.
Flood could not convert but Leicester put daylight between themselves and their opponents on the hour when Waldrom chucked the ball left to Youngs from a ruck and the scrum-half headed arrow-like to the left-hand corner.
Again Flood missed the extras but he found the target with a 68th-minute penalty that left the Scarlets needing two tries.
Another Flood three-pointer came with 10 minutes to go, but with the spark by now having largely departed the Scarlets, Mafi's late try was followed by a consolation score for Lamont.
The Tigers were unable to create a bonus-point try, therefore, and the result puts them level with Perpignan on 17 points at the top of the pool, two points clear of the Scarlets.
While the Scarlets play Perpignan in the final round of matches next weekend, the Tigers host Treviso at Welford Road.
A bonus point victory there should be enough to see them progress either as group winners or one of two best runners-up, although Perpignan will top the pool if they claim a five-point maximum.