Tigers crowned Champs
May 13, 2001
Pat Howard and Martin Johnson lift the Premiership trophy
© Getty Images
Leicester 22-10 Bath
Leicester had nothing to prove but they did it anyway. With this comprehensive victory over Bath, who had never lost before in 10 finals at Twickenham, they confirmed what we all knew - that they are the best club-side in England at the moment by a mile.
There were fears that they would make a nonsense of this unnecessary Zurich Championship by fielding a much weakened team because they have the Heineken final next week. Not a bit of it. Dean Richards decided to use the match as a dress rehearsal and, although he must have breathed a sigh of relief when all his players came through unscathed, his team did the job as they have done so often in recent seasons.
There was cause for concern for the Lions though as Iain Balshaw left the field clutching his shoulder after a heavy fall; but the news on that one is that it's a compressed AC joint and he should be back to full fitness in two weeks.
They might have played a little more loosely than usual in the early stages but there was no shirking and when pride kicked in they had much too much for the young Bath hopefuls. Bath coach, Jon Callard hoped this would kick-off a new era of Bath success but they never really got into contention. Leicester squeezed the life out of them as they have so many opponents this season. They might not have the most exciting back division in the world but it is mightily effective in attack as well as defence. For all the pace and potential Bath only once found a way through and by that time it was far too late.
Once again Martin Johnson and Neil Back led by huge example - Bath lacked anybody of equivalent stature and will need to strengthen their pack next season if they are to make the breakthrough - while Pat Howard marshalled the forces behind superbly - how he will be missed next season.
It was not Leicester at their best - they held back a little with next week in mind - but you always felt they had another gear if they needed it.
So often this season they have eased ahead with a couple of early penalties often from long range courtesy of Tim Stimpson's lethal boot. They duly pressured Bath into mistakes but, uncharacteristically, the fullback missed twice from relatively simple positions.
The first telling surge came from Bath. Shaun Berne made a scything cross field break and when the ball was recycled Tom Voyce was just held a couple of metres short. Sadly, Berne fell awkwardly in the tackle and was stretchered off with a nasty looking ankle injury. Leicester were penalised at the ensuing scrum and Matt Perry gave Bath the lead.
It did not last long - back surged Leicester and fittingly it was Johnson who powered over from close range for the try. It looked clear cut enough but referee, Steve Lander, referred it to video official, Brian Campsall perhaps because this was the first time the fourth official had been sanctioned for a club match. The England captain looked suitably insulted and Mr Campsall needed only the most cursory examination of the replay before confirming it. Stimpson had no problem with the conversion.
The Tigers had the better of the rest of the first half with Leon Lloyd looking particularly lively but there were no more scores although Stimpson missed again from just outside the 22 in injury time.
Richards and John Wells obviously had words at half-time about the lack of a platform because the forwards reverted to their traditional driving play after the restart and it soon paid dividends. Stimpson at last found the target when Bath were offside and with just eight minutes of the second half gone they scored a second try. The forwards released at just the right moment, Geordan Murphy almost made it to the line and when Bath were penalised at the breakdown Austin Healey took a leaf out of Matt Dawson's book to catch the defence napping. Stimpson converted and now Leicester had the game under control.
Typically, the side having to play 'catch-up' made too many mistakes while Leicester played conservatively but still increased their lead. A burst down the left from Lloyd made a try for Winston Stanley in the right corner after 66 minutes.
Bath huffed and puffed without ever looking dangerous until the 77th minute when they worked the ball to Rob Thirlby in space on the right wing and he outstripped the cover to score wide out. Matt Perry converted but it made no difference. Leicester minds were already on the real prize, The Heineken Cup. This was no more than an unwanted extra irritation on the way.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September