Ollie Smith gasses O’Driscoll
2nd April 2005
This is the moment. We know we can do it. We can beat these. It’s a Leinster throw in after a booming clearance by Andy Goode. Louis Deacon rises above the Irish international pair of Mal O’Kelly and Leo Cullen to steal the ball. It goes through the hands to Ollie Smith. He’s up against the Blackrock bullet. The best centre in the world, the best player in the world. He’s about to be confirmed as Lions captain. He’s Brian O’Driscoll, talisman of the Leinster challenge. He doesn’t stand a chance. He thinks he can cover the inside runner, leave a gap to his winger. He’s Brian O’Driscoll. Walloper of Wallabies, frier of Frenchies. He can give this Young Turk from Hinckley the outside no problem. I’m standing on the terrace behind the action at this end, where the old gouge in the terrace was, I can see the gap “GO! GO! GO!” Ollie is miles ahead of me. He’s gone, gone, gone. O’Driscoll is left grasping at air. The knot of Tigers on the terrace goes wild. Believing is half the battle. Half the battle has been won.
The Hand of Back
25th May 2002
Neil Back was a bastard. A tough bastard. A great bastard. But a bastard none the less. This was the triumph of his bastardness. It’s the 79th minute, though in real time it is more like 90, and the score stands 15-9 to Leicester. Munster are lucky to be this close. Johnson’s already had a try ruled out as has Freddie Tuilagi. Munster’s wing O’Neil came close, only a super human tackle by Austin Healey kept him out. John Hayes and Graham Rowntree’s scrum tussle has got the referee Joel Jutge’s attention. He’s on that side as the scrum goes down. It all happens in a blur. Peter Stringer is flapping his arms about, Corry has the ball at his feet and Healey fires the ball towards the touchline. Has Dorian West just won it against the head? No. Neil Back, that magnificent bastard, has instead. Replays show that Lewis Moody tried on the previous scrum what Back achieved to so much derision at this one. He won the ball. He “cheated”. But then, so what? He wasn’t the only the player to risk a penalty for a turnover that day. The Corinthian ideal of fair play was old hat when Tom Crumbie was knee high to grass hopper. You do what you can to win, and if you win then you’ve made the right calls. Neil Back was a bastard alright. But he’s my bastard.
Healey rolls over O’Gara
25th May 2002
This try epitomised everything that was great about Healey. He’d been in iffy form in the run up to the final, it wasn’t certain he’d start at all let alone at 10. But Deano was no mug. He knew a big game player when he saw one. And Healey knew a weak tackler when he saw one. He had Ronan O’Gara in his sights. A dummy to Rod Kafer was all it needed, O’Gara was bent out of shape showing Healey a weak shoulder and an inside track. It was a purposeful and powerful burst, the sort that got him 50 England caps on the wing, as he ghosted through O’Gara and his attempted tackle. Under the posts and after grounding the ball he flicked the Munster fans behind the goal a cheeky V sign. V for Victory perhaps?
Stimpson hits the bar then post
April 28th 2002
Llanelli. In Nottingham. It wasn’t going exactly to plan. They’ve been all over us, though have never threatened the try line. It doesn’t matter. Llanelli 12 Leicester 10. The final’s to be in Cardiff against Munster. The clock is ticking down and Llanelli are safe in Tigers’ territory. It’s a scrum just past the Tigers’ 10 meter line. Darren Garforth gives one almighty shove. Martyn Madden buckles under the pressure and referee David McHugh whistles for Garforth. We know the script from here: kick for the 22, maul it forward, ruck it centrally and have Goodey, Geordie or Stimmo drop the goal. West and Johnson are deciding where to chuck it in, when Stimpson has a different idea. “I’ve got it” he says. On the angle it is 60 meters easily, even on a short football pitch like this. Behind the refs back he steals a metre. Has he got the legs? Only one way to find out. It starts to drop, is it going to make it? Short, oh my god its short! BANG off the cross bar, its ballooning up. The Leicester fans in the Trent End are blowing it over, the Llanelli fans behind the posts blowing it out. BOFF off the post. Splodge in the mud. The crowd roar as the touch judges raise their flags. We’re going to Cardiff. Thank god for that metre.
Healey’s break, Lloyd’s finish
19th May 2001
This was of course the greatest of them all. 20,000 fans travelled to the Parc Des Princes. And we were losing. Diego Dominguez had kicked 9 penalties and a drop goal to give Stade a 30-27 lead with only moments to go. How long? Nobody really knew. This is France, there was no clock. Obviously. Why would we need a clock? It’s only the European final! It’s a lineout about the half way line, just inching into the Stade half. Its slapped back on the Leicester side and Hamilton flings it towards Healey. The Stade defence is rushing up. But it isn’t in a line. There are more dog legs than a Korean buffet. Venditti is the unlucky one singled out. Healey is through the gap with only Christophe Dominici between him and the line. But he’s slowing, he’s cramping up. Not now Austin any time but now! Leon Lloyd is steaming in on his outside from his right wing position. Healey spots him and times his pass to perfection. Lloyd is now in foot race with Dominici to the corner flag. To the victor the spoils. To the victor a European title. Nobody beats Lloyd to the corner. Not today.
Ospreys’ wings clipped
December 18th 2005
This was an ugly game, Ian Evans has taken Ellis out with as vicious donkey kick after the whistle and Gavin Henson has kicked Moreno in the head after breaking his nose with an elbow. Tigers are deep in their own 22 with the clock showing 80. Down 15-10. This is going to take some doing. Ospreys have never lost a game at the “Liberty Stadium”. We need some magic, some inspiration. We need Andy Goode. I remember the two keys moments of this move differently. The first I remember the TV view, the second from my seat. The first: It’s a ruck inside the Tigers 22, the defence of the Ospreys is narrow. Tom Varndell is not in acres of space, he’s in hectares of space. Goode finds him with the cross field kick and he is haring into the Ospreys half. Stefan Terblanche is the last man back and makes his tackle. If we’re not careful we’ll lose this. Ollie Smith arrives in the nick of time. His rucking is superb, he hefts Terblanche out the way but stops himself so he can bridge over the ball and keep it in the ruck. We’re now back into my view, high up the stands on the 22 we’re attacking. The ruck is on the other touchline. Leon Lloyd is the senior back and takes charge; the ball comes out to him in the middle of the field. He finds Dan Hipkiss on his outside. Is this the moment? No. It’s another ruck. Lloyd is still bossing the play and runs a switch to set up another ruck. Hipkiss is back up and is on the blindside wing, near to us. Lloyd is still playing fly half. He goes to the line. He attracts the defenders. Hipkiss is arching his run in to support him through the contact. But Wait! No he isn’t, he’s got the pass. He’s slipped through the net. He’s round the posts and the Tigers faithful erupt. That’s why Lloyd was playing fly half, he’s a bloody genius at it. What bushel has he been hiding that under? Goode converts and Tiger have a famous victory.
11th April 2009
This is Vesty’s moment. This what he dreamed of watching Jez Harris growing up, this is what he dreamed of: The drop goal hero against the most hated of foes. Bath. Spit. He remembers 1996 and 1994 and 1989. Bastards. This one’s for Dusty, for Dosser, for Deano. Bath know it too. The scion of the club. 4th generation Tiger. His name has always been destined to be written in the stars. He lines up in front of the posts to drop for glory. The ball is whipped back and the Bath defence is on him in a second. He’s no time for the kick. The Bath defenders look pleased. Then the roar. They turn to stone. A funny sick coloured stone but stone none the less. The Leicester team is streaming into the end zone.
What’s happened? Dupuy has happened. The Bath defence is so quick on to Vesty he never passes the ball, slipping through the fringe defence and grateful for Nick Abendonan’s turnstile defence he’s under the posts. Sept points. Always in the shadow in of others in France in Leicester he’s found the limelight. He couldn’t look more French if he had a string of garlic cloves around his neck a Gauloises between his lips and a wife on one arm a mistress on the other. He couldn’t be a bigger Leicester hero if he’d been berthed on the Crumbie.
JC kicks us to Edinburgh
3rd May 2009
We’ve bottled it. 14 points up “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” ringing in the Welsh ears and we’ve blown it. Jamie Roberts has destroyed us, he’s going on the Lions tour and you can see why. We hang on into extra time, JC tries an outrageous cross field kick which Tom Croft takes to within an inch of the line. Who does he think he think? Forwards don’t kick we all know that.
It comes down to penalty kicks, the first time since the 1981 French Championship, though no one remembers that at the time. Cardiff get first shot. To begin with it’s all going swimmingly, Vesty, Dupuy and Geordan Murphy have slotted kicks as have Blair, Robinson and Halfpenny. Disaster. Johne Murphy the Naas winger has hooked it left. His John Lilley inspired technique has let him down. Tom James the Cardiff winger has his kick for the first ever Welsh final. I couldn’t even look. People talk about heart in the mouth moments, but in reality it’s more like stomach hanging half way out your arse. Relief. He’s shanked it wide right and I haven’t shat myself either. Scott Hamilton the unflappable Kiwi is not flapped as he buries his kick into Glanmor’s Gap. Richie Rees squeaks his in the bottom right corner. What’s happening now? Tigers have sent flanker Craig Newby up. Lions tourist Harry Ellis is available, surely as a back he’d be better? It matters not, his slow and rhythmic style ticks another over. It was probably the best kick so far. Martyn Williams is up for the Blues. Pontypridd’s finest is considered a footballing flanker, surely he’ll have no problem? He looks nervous, shifty like a golfer with the yips. He snatches at it. It’s missed. I’m going wild in the stands. This is it boys! Lion Harry Ellis will slot it and we’ll be heaving into Edinburgh before you know it. Wait. That’s not Harry Ellis, its Jordan Crane! Blonde hair slicked back with sweat, the baby blue scrum hat left back on half way. He lines it up. The contrast with Williams couldn’t be more different. This is a man who knows his place. He trusts his skills. Pandemonium in the Leicester end, across the aisle in the Cardiff block its rock bottom, dejection. As he finishes his kicking stroke JC celebrates, is he yawning? Is it some bizarre red Indian pow wow gesture? He’s enveloped by Scott Hamilton. We don’t care and drunk on victory (as well as the beer) we celebrate the night away in Cardiff.
Much later we find out JC kicked in his school team ahead of Shane Geraghty and Ryan Davies. No wonder he was confident.
Varndell’s try sinks Stade
April 1st 2007
I can still see this try in my mind’s eye. Hipkiss, who never passes, has the ball going towards the Alliance & Leicester stand, he steps one man and is left with two defenders in front of him and Tom Varndell on his right hugging the Crumbie touchline. Bergamasco straightens his shoulders for just a second. BANG. The pass, and Varndell with it, is gone. He’s destroyed him taking 10 meters before Bergamasco can blink or think. Made him look an April Fool. Under the posts, Goodey converts and Tigers have their 1 point lead they never lose.
Tiger’s pack, O’Connell’s folly
20th January 2007
It’s 8-6 to Tigers. 60th minute. Tomas O’Leary’s kick through has got Munster a penalty 5 meters out. Penalty for the lead or Try for the win? Try to crush the soul and the spirit? Try is what O’Connell wants. Scrum down he tells Joel Jutge. Scrums, Jutge, Munster and Leicester, what could go wrong? Heave 1, and it’s down. Heave 2, and it’s up. Heave 3 and Julian White monsters Marcus Horan, splinters the Munster pack and the moment is lost. Soul intact. Spirit higher than ever. 7 minutes later Ollie Smith seals the win and Thomond is demolished both in fact and mythology.