RUGBY : Leicester produced one of the great upsets in tour history by humbling world champions South Africa 22-17 with a fearless display in front of a record crowd at Welford Road.
Leicester produced one of the great upsets in tour history by humbling world champions South Africa 22-17 with a fearless display in front of a record crowd at Welford Road.
A Tigers XV shorn of five England players and eight others through injury and unavailability was expected to provide cannon fodder for a rampant Springbok squad, who arrived for the start of their European tour on a golden run which included a 2-1 defeat of the British and Irish Lions and a commanding Tri-Nations series.
But Leicester opened up a surprise 16-8 lead in the first half on the back of sure kicking from their 20-year-old scrum-half Ben Youngs, and a superb try from Argentina winger Lucas Amorosino. And the Guinness Premiership champions were able to weather a belated Boks response late in the game.
Within 10 minutes the Springboks had the first try of their tour. An apparent obstruction from an up-and-under went unnoticed, and Ruan Pienaar gathered to send a perfectly weighted grubber kick which fell into the hands of Jongi Nokwe. Pienaar missed the conversion.
Youngs kicked a penalty to cut the deficit to five, but a second score appeared inevitable when full-back Earl Rose beat two opponents and kicked into open space until Johne Murphy rushed back to mop up.
Then the match turned after 27 minutes on an uncharacteristic moment of carelessness from the Springboks, seized upon by two of Leicester’s young starlets. Teenage centre Manu Tuilagi, the latest member of his family to gain exposure at the top level, was allowed to run through unchallenged, and off-loaded with Amorosino in support. Amorosino still had much to do from just inside the 22, but he jinked past two tacklers to go in under the posts. Youngs converted from in front to open up a two-point lead at 10-8.
The infringements racked up for a frustrated South Africa, allowing Youngs to kick two further penalties, the first a fine goal from dead on halfway. Pienaar repaired some damage with three points to end the half, but Leicester still held a useful lead at 16-11.
That was restored to eight points two minutes after the restart when Youngs profited from South African hands in at the ruck to kick a fourth penalty.
After Youngs found the posts again from the 10-metre line, Pienaar had to kick from very wide out to bring the deficit back to eight.
Pienaar had nerves jangling when he reduced the gap to five from in front of the posts, setting up a five minute period of intense South African pressure.