Leicester 15-26 Australia, Welford Road, November 9
Wallabies grind out win against Tigers
November 9, 2010
Australia's Luke Burgess is wrapped up by the Leicester defence at Welford Road
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Australia warmed up for their Test showdown with England on Saturday with a hard-fought 26-15 victory in their clash at Welford Road.
An early try from winger Lachie Turner and another from flanker Scott Higginbotham at the death, along with 16 points from the boot of fly-half Berrick Barnes, proved enough to see off a determined Tigers side looking to add to their impressive list of international scalps. Leicester No.10 Billy Twelvetrees offered a bumper home crowd hope of another famous win with four first half penalties and he edged his side ahead in the second half only for the Wallabies to produce a clinical late rally.
Barnes captained the second-string Wallabies but was over-shadowed by scrum-half Luke Burgess who underlined his Test class with an eye-catching display. And while no-one else emerged as a potential starter for Saturday's meeting with England, the much-maligned Australian scrum stood up to a stern test from the Tigers. Geordan Murphy skippered a strong Leicester side that also included the in-form Thomas Waldrom, winger Scott Hamilton and veteran prop Julian White but they were unable to deliver the kind of performance that accounted for South Africa this time last year.
The Wallabies drew first blood after Waldrom was penalised at the breakdown with Barnes slotting the kick with ease. The early blow did little to curb Leicester's early adventure but they were unable to breach the visitors' defence and in the end it fell to Barnes to extend his side's lead. However, this time he pushed his effort wide.
The Wallabies were soon on the front foot again and an attacking lineout inside the Leicester 22 provided the platform for their next score. The Tigers were made to pay for committing too many men in an attempt to stop the drive and Wallabies scrum-half Luke Burgess pounced on a loose ball before scything through before stepping and finding Turner on his shoulder for the game's opening try. Barnes rediscovered his kicking touch with the conversion that cemented his side's lead.
The game was not found wanting for physicality, with Tigers wing Manu Tuilagi hammering Australian counterpart Rod Davies with a crunching hit in one of several bruising encounters. But the Wallabies weathered the storm and having more than held their own at a couple of scrums were rewarded with yet another penalty - but again Barnes fluffed his effort. The Tigers' penalty count continued to rise, with lock Ed Slater the next guilty party and this time Barnes made no mistake.
Burgess almost carved another opportunity soon after with an attempted interception but he failed to claim the ball cleanly and the adjudged deliberate knock on allowed Twelvetrees to put the hosts on the board. Some sloppy play from prop Salesi Ma'afu on halfway then gifted the Tigers' No.10 another chance and he landed the long-range kick with style. And yet further pressure from Tuilagi forced another penalty - this time for offside - but Twelvetrees could only pull his latest effort wide of the posts.
A rare crooked feed call at scrum time and some poor indiscipline from the Wallabies allowed him to atone for his miss as the half drew to a close but they were not finished there. A lively Twelvetrees drew the attention of the Wallabies' defence and Ma'afu was penalised for playing the ball on the ground. The result was Leicester's fourth penalty that made it a one-point game at the break.
Leicester began the second half strongly but a combination of resolute defence and handling errors prevented them from claiming the lead and they were almost hit by a classic counter by Turner. The Wallabies winger collected the ball on half way before kicking down the line and chasing his own kick only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle from Slater.
Australia looked to capitalise on the field position and hammered away at the Leicester line, with replays suggesting that Tigers hooker George Chuter was lucky to escape with a punch on Wallabies lock Rob Simmons. A subsequent Barnes drop goal attempt was wide of the mark and he was also off-target with an earlier penalty when play was called back.
The Wallabies continued to press and Tuilagi was cautioned for taking a player out off the ball to provide yet another attacking platform. But having opted for the lineout inside the Tigers' 22, the whistle returned to haunt them with their imprecision their downfall.
Twelvetrees and Hamilton led the Leicester riposte and this time it was Australia who were forced into the penalty - this time for not rolling away at the tackle. And Twelvetrees slotted his fifth penalty of the night to give the Tigers the lead for the first time and set up a thrilling finale.
Australia opted to keep it tight as the game entered the final ten minutes and they were rewarded for their endeavour with another penalty for another challenge off the ball and Barnes rediscovered his kicking form just in time to reclaim the lead for his side.
The industry of Burgess and the boot of Barnes then combined well to take the game deep inside Leicester territory where they hoped to close the game out. Crucially, Leicester failed to find touch with the latest penalty to go their way and they were made to pay with the Wallabies driving back up field where a drop goal from Barnes gave the Wallabies some priceless breathing room.
Leicester were forced to run from deep in the hope of conjuring a match-winning try but the Wallabies pounced with a late turnover and Higginbotham raced away for a try that was converted by Barnes and which put paid to the Tigers' hopes of another memorable victory.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.