Tigers have title within reach
May 8, 2000
Leicester will win the Allied Dunbar Premiership title for a second successive season if they beat Bristol at Ashton Gate next Sunday.
The Tigers put league silverware within touching distance following an effortless 54-5 victory over hapless Harlequins.
Only second-placed Bath can still catch Leicester, but Andy Robinson's men would need to triumph at Welford Road on May 21 and hope that their arch rivals Bristol do them a monumental favour.
Bath kept up the pressure by seeing off Saracens 40-27, yet Leicester remained in pole position after an impressive afternoon's work.
Full-back Tim Stimpson led the way with a try and seven conversions, breaking John Liley's Leicester record for most points in a league campaign, while Dave Lougheed (2), Craig Joiner (2), Austin Healey, Jamie Hamilton and Geordan Murphy also touched down.
"Because of disruptions early on with players being unavailable before and during the World Cup, I think it would be a bigger achievement this year if we won the title," said Tigers manager Dean Richards.
"But things won't be easy at Bristol they've got flair, good players and plenty of potential."
Quins boss John Gallagher, whose team have conceded 181 points in losing their last three league matches, believes Bath could still collect a first title since 1996.
"If Leicester lose at Bristol, then Bath will be hot favourites," Gallagher said.
"Leicester made quite a few mistakes in the first-half. We cut them open two or three times, but didn't make good use of those situations."
Bath coach Andy Robinson saw his team avenge their last league defeat against Saracens on December 30 but still thinks the championship trophy will remain Leicester property.
"I believe Leicester will win the title, and deservedly so," he said, after Bath gave retiring prop Victor Ubogu a perfect farewell through tries from his fellow England internationals Matt Perry, Iain Balshaw, Mike Catt and Mike Tindall.
"But whatever the result at Ashton Gate next week, we will be up for our trip to Welford Road."
Bath now have a clear fortnight's preparation for that potential championship showdown, which should give groin strain victim Balshaw the Premiership's top try scorer this term sufficient recovery time.
Saracens must now win their remaining games against Northampton and Bristol both at home to keep alive hopes of Heineken Cup qualification.
Scrum-half Kyran Bracken should be back for the Saints clash in 10 days' time after lasting barely 20 minutes against Bath.
The injury-plagued England star suffered what Saracens chief Francois Pienaar termed "a massive knock" to his neck.
"Kyran didn't feel comfortable at all, and he asked to come off," Pienaar said.
"He has made a huge difference to us since he returned from injury last month, so the substitution was made, rather than risk him."
While Saracens must sweat on their European chances, Gloucester moved closer to a Heineken Cup spot next term after crushing bottom club Bedford 60-16.
Scrum-half Elton Moncrieff scored four tries, and then declared, "It's in our own hands to secure a Heineken Cup place."
Chris Catling, Terry Fanolua, Chris Yates and Andrew Hazell also claimed touchdowns, with fly-half Simon Mannix kicking 20 points.
Sale responded to the promise of a healthy win bonus from their new millionaire owner Brian Kennedy, and Newcastle paid the price.
The Falcons were grounded in spectacular fashion, crashing 45-17 at Heywood Road as Sale recorded only their sixth Premiership win this season.
Steve Hanley (2), Barrie-Jon Mather (2), Jim Mallinder and Matt Moore were Sale's try scorers, while fly-half Nicky Little contributed 15 points.