Tigers Pay Dearly as Johnson's Fuse Blows Yet Again

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ACCORDING to Leicester manager Dean Richards, Martin Johnson is being persecuted for his recent troubles. If so, then the last nine days will be nothing compared to the persecution which the natives will be arranging for him at Lans-downe Road from four o'clock on Saturday afternoon.

Another card and another sin-binning did about as much for the England lock's short-fused reputation as it did for Leicester's prospects of ending the season in a Cup final at Twickenham for the 10th time in 20 years. In a perverse way, their 15-13 defeat by Richmond at the Madejski Stadium served only to underline Johnson's massive importance, an observation which will not have gone unnoticed on the other side of the Irish Sea.

For all their daring and courage, Richmond would surely never have achieved their mightiest win of the professional era had Johnson been allowed to stay in command of his Tigers for the full 80 minutes instead of 70. A wonderfully raw Tetley's Bitter Cup quarterfinal was won and lost during the 10 minutes the Lions captain spent in the sin-bin at the end of the first half.

Ironically, he had been sent there by World Cup referee Steve Lander notforanything remotely like the stamping against Scotland the previous week but for what he will report as a professional foul, kicking the ball out of the hands of Richmond's mercurial Argentinian scrum half Augustin Pichot.

'There had been persistent infringements before then and that was the final act as far as I was concerned,' said Lander, one of the RFU's three fully professional referees. 'Martin knew exactly what he was doing. He was breaking down an attacking position illegally and deliberately.' As Johnson prowled on the touchline, Richmond went for the kill by ruthlessly exploiting Leicester's disadvantage. Before Johnson could rejoin a grippingly fractious fray, Ben Clarke's unfancied team had outmuscled an underpowered Leicester pack to score both their tries, Clarke burrowing over for the first from the open side of a scrum and Wales hooker Barry Williams rolling off a driving maul initiated by Clarke for the second.

For good measure, Samoan stand off Earl Va'a kicked the conversion which ultimately made all the difference, the outsiders hanging on somehow in the face of the Tigers' ferocity as epitomised by surely the best specialist No.8 in the country, Martin Corry. His 72nd-minute try gave Tim Stimpson the chance to tie the score, only for the ball to come back off the far upright.

Richmond, squeezing through amid almost unbearable tension as Stimpson shanked what would have been the winning drop goal with the last kick in the fourth minute of injury time, go into the hat at Twickenham today for the semi-final draw along with Gloucester, Wasps and Newcastle. …