Leicester roared back to the top of the English Premiership table last night as they cantered to a 31-7 win at Newcastle. The Tigers proved far too good as they effectively won the game in the opening 31 minutes, putting four tries on the scoreboard without reply. Lewis Moody started off the try scoring as he went over in the 18th minute, with Geordan Murphy, the full-back, going over for a second touchdown five minutes later.
Toby Flood, the fly-half, had converted the first two tries and then got in on the act himself as he crashed over just short of the half-hour mark and went on to finish with a personal haul of 13 points. The impressive Moody then crossed the line for a second time in the 33rd minute to put Leicester fully in control with a 28-0 advantage. Newcastle did pull one try back after the interval as Charlie Amesbury, their full-back, touched down, but this failed to spark a revival and a penalty from replacement Jeremy Staunton with 12 minutes to go was the icing on the cake for Leicester.
They now lead the table by three points from Northampton, who had leapfrogged them at the top for 24 hours on Saturday by beating Gloucester. Elsewhere yesterday, London Irish's hopes of making the play-offs took a major dent as they suffered a surprise 23-13 home loss to Leeds Carnegie. The fifth-placed side missed out on the opportunity to move up to fourth with the setback. In the opening 32 minutes, the two sides had traded penalties. Chris Malone landed two for the Exiles, while Celron Thomas, the Leeds fly-half, landed three to give the visitors a 9-6 lead.
Leeds stretched their advantage as Luther Burrell went over for a converted score, but the Exiles were back to within three points by the interval as Peter Hewat, the full-back, touched down. The second half proved close but Leeds secured victory 10 minutes from the end as Jon Goodridge went over. In the late game on Saturday, Saracens romped to a 37-18 victory over Harlequins at Wembley.
They were inspired by a superb individual display from Schalk Brits, their South African hooker, who has been capped just three times and is out of favour with the Springboks. Brits showed his skill, pace and power to set up two tries for Andy Saull before helping himself to one in a dynamic man-of-the-match performance. "Schalk is a special player and must be one of the three best hookers in the world," said Brendan Venter, the Saracens director of rugby.
"Without a doubt he's the most talented hooker with the ball in hand and defensively. "If I was South Africa coach, there wouldn't be an issue. He's got something you can't coach. It's special." * Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies