Torn-apart Tigers escape with a bonus
Perpignan 24 Leicester 19
This may have been Leicester's 100th Heineken Cup match, but not even all that experience could salvage this contest against a Perpignan side that suddenly rediscovered their game after months of woeful underperforming.
Hung, drawn and quartered at scrum-time like rarely before and sent running every which way by Perpignan's mercurial backs, Leicester were spared a real thumping by Perpignan's complete inability to function in the line-out and the Catalans' failure to consistently deliver the killer pass.
It should also be added that referee Alan Lewis was infinitely more lenient than some would have been in the first half when Leicester's scrum was blown to the four winds by a Perpignan front row who are as good as any in France, especially when the massive Cameroon lock Robins Tchale -Watchou is lending his 20 stone weight to the cause. Expect France to start taking a serious look at this giant, who was rightly voted man of the match.
The result, although disappointing for Leicester, is by no means calamitous and indeed a bonus point on the road in Europe is never to be sniffed at.
However, this was a strangely muted performance, given the landmark nature of the occasion. The Welford Road faithful will expect much better next week when the officialdom had better get right on top of the forward exchanges because they won't be for the faint-hearted. Leicester will be looking for retribution and Perpignan's tails are up again.
It had all started so quietly as the crowd, and seemingly some of the players, dozed their way through a cagey opening 20 minutes on a perfect winter's afternoon, Toby Flood nudging three penalties over against a brace from Jerome Porical.
Then a mental switch flicked as the Perpignan front five realised they could do a number on their opposite numbers. That in turn generated a degree of confidence in their back division and it was game on.
How Tigers suffered. Seven times the trio of Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter and Dan Cole were penalised in the first half as one of them either went to ground or popped up like a champagne cork and frankly they got away lightly. On just one occasion Perpignan got penalised as they sent Tigers spinning and wheeling backwards only for referee Lewis to find fault.
The denoument was a long series of scrums on the Tigers line as half-time approached. Twice Leicester were penalised as they groaned under the pressure while at four other scrums Lewis ordered a reset as it became very messy. Finally, with Perpignan driving forward once more, the two hookers popped up and the Irish official chose to yellow-card both Tincu and Chuter, which in anybody's books seemed harsh on Perpignan. Cue a near riot from the crowd. Justice of sorts was done from the very next scrum -- a Perpignan put-in -- when they attacked of the base, recycled and Nicolas Laharrague hoisted a fine cross-field kick for Adrien Plante to score a fine try.
After the break it was mainly Perpignan, and Martin Castrogiovanni found it no easier in the front row than Dan Cole, who he had replaced, though by now Lewis had grown weary of whistling and tried to let it flow.
Delightful Perpigan handling threatened to cut Leicester apart, especially after Porical sprinted in for a superb try, but Leicester dug deep and replied instantly with a cracking try of their own.
Geordan Murphy finished off after excellent approach work from Scott Hamilton. Briefly they threatened one of the more unlikely wins of their Heineken lives but Perpignan remained positive and were rewarded with two late penalties from Porical to deliver the morale-boosting win a big club so badly craved.
Scorers --Perpignan: Plante, Porical tries; Porical 1 con, 4 pens. Leicester: Murphy try; Flood 1 con, 4 pens.
Perpignan: J Porical; A Plante, D Marty, J Michel, J Candelon (F Sid 70); N Laharrague (F Cazenave 66), D Mele; P Freshwater (J Schuster 51), M Tincu (G Guirado 60), N Mas (capt) (K Pulu 70), O Olibeau (G Britz 60), R Tchale Watchou, B Guiry, O Tonita (J Perez 61), D Chouly (H Tuilagi 61).
Leicester: G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, M Smith, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni 48), L Deacon, G Skivington, T Waldrom, C Newby, J Crane.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)