Battling Leeds seal Powergen title
April 16, 2005
Leeds skipper Mike Shelley lifts the Powergen Cup
© Getty Images
Leeds 20 - 12 Bath
Leeds recorded a stunning triumph over adversity as they ended Bath´s immaculate Twickenham cup final record and gave their troubled season an astounding unexpected triumph.
The Tykes´ hard-earned victory - achieved despite losing England internationals Iain Balshaw and Phil Christophers to first-half injuries - saw them secure prized qualification for next season´s Heineken Cup.
But Leeds will only be able to take their place among the European elite if they avoid relegation from the Zurich Premiership this term. The Tykes´ Premiership fate - they are currently bottom of the league - hinges on their final two league games against Harlequins and Bath later this month.
In the meantime though, Phil Davies and his Yorkshire heroes can reflect on the day they sunk Bath and were crowned Powergen Cup winners.
Balshaw, selected for the Lions tour to New Zealand this summer, lasted less than four minutes before he departed nursing a thigh injury, then centre Christophers was hurt and featured for barely 20 minutes longer.
In Scottish international fly-half Gordon Ross though, Leeds had an assured and accomplished match-winning presence.
Ross kicked two penalties and booted conversions of first-half tries by centre Chris Bell and wing Andre Snyman - the South African claimed a 70-metre interception effort - and Bath were sunk, despite four Chris Malone penalties.
The Tykes, watched by several members of the Leeds Rhinos rugby league squad, did not score a point after half-time, but their defence proved water-tight under pressure. Bath, who were devoid of attacking ideas or invention, suffered their first cup final defeat after winning 10 finals from 10 attempts between 1984 and 1996. Balshaw proved an early threat to Bath, but his cup final lasted under four minutes before injury struck.
The England full-back suffered a thigh muscle injury, rather than a repeat of the knee problem sustained during last month´s RBS 6 Nations clash against Scotland, and he limped gingerly away from the action.
Lions supremo Sir Clive Woodward will inevitably be concerned by yet another fitness setback for Balshaw ahead of departure to New Zealand next month.
Balshaw´s career over the past two years has been stalled by repeated injury setbacks, and he was replaced by Tykes´ Argentinian wing Diego Albanese, with wing Tom Biggs moving to full-back.
Malone booted Bath into a ninth-minute lead, but Leeds were not knocked out of their stride by Balshaw´s departure, and Ross levelled the scores with a superb 50-metre strike. Neither side could make their mark early, although the Bath pack threatened dominance, while Leeds inevitably took time to recover from Balshaw´s unfortunate early exit.
The game had a stop-start nature to it, and as the opening quarter neared its conclusion, both teams required a flash of inspiration. Leeds continued to acquit themselves well though, and they edged ahead on 19 minutes when Ross again found the target from long-range, this time landing a 45-metre penalty.
Bath looked as though they could take charge at any time up-front, but Leeds proved adept at frustrating their opponents through sheer commitment and effort.
The Tykes suffered another major injury blow 13 minutes before the break, when Christophers went off to be replaced by Craig McMullen, yet they continued to claim the initiative.
And Bath were stung on 30 minutes, when the outstanding Ross kicked inventively into space, allowing Bell to catch it on the full and power over for an exquisite try that Ross converted. Malone kicked a second Bath penalty following a blatant trip on him by Biggs, and the West Country outfit looked to finish the half with a flourish.
Malone completed his penalty hat-trick in the 37th minute, and Bath enjoyed their most dominant spell of the game before Leeds stuck a devastating blow. Bath launched an attack, but Malone´s ill-conceived pass was intercepted by Snyman, who sprinted away for a try that Ross improved, leaving Bath on the rack and trailing 20-9 at half-time.
Bath, realising their cup dream was slipping away from them, began the second-half by dominating territory and Malone´s fourth successful penalty on 46 minutes brought them back to eight points adrift.
Leeds, perhaps sensing victory was on the cards, appeared to lose concentration at key times, and they were lucky not to be punished when Malone´s fifth penalty attempt bounced back off an upright.
Bath had become an increasing threat, securing far more quality possession than in the first-half, but their lack of composure was glaringly obvious. Centre Andrew Higgins knocked on under no obvious pressure as Bath launched an attack just inside Leeds´ half, and Tykes were able to clear their lines.
Bath could have few complaints, and Leeds knew that the cup would be theirs, provided they kept doing the basics well and made their tackles count. Bath threw everything at Leeds as the final entered its closing quarter, and only some superb defence - including a brilliant possession steal from Tykes number eight Alix Popham - kept their line intact.
Snyman then stunned Perry with an all-enveloping tackle, and Leeds had weathered a prolonged Bath attacking storm as they inched towards halfway. Malone missed another penalty as the tension mounted, yet Bath lacked the creative ability to unlock the Leeds defence.
The Tykes, despite not scoring a point in the second period, had done enough though, and referee Dave Pearson's final whistle sparked scenes of wild celebration.
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