Classy Tigers book final berth
May 9, 2009
Leicester's Sam Vesty looks to force an opening in the Bath defence at the Walkers Stadium
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Leicester booked a place in this season's Guinness Premiership final with a 24-10 victory over Bath at the Walkers Stadium.
Tries from Dan Hipkiss, Sam Vesty and Lewis Moody were enough to secure a deserved victory and propel the Tigers into their sixth Premiership Final next weekend where they will play either Harlequins or London Irish. Michael Claassens and Stuart Hooper touched down for second-half tries as Bath threatened a comeback but they were second best to an impressive Leicester side who as a result are still on course for a Premiership and Heineken Cup double.
These two sides had already produced three classic encounters this season with the two sides sharing their regular season clashes before Leicester ended Bath's European hopes in a quarter-final victory on this ground last month. But this meeting of two of the giants of the English game failed to hit those heights.
Less than a week after their gruelling Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Cardiff Blues, Richard Cockerill's Tigers were quick out of the blocks and were soon causing Bath problems across the park.
Marcus Ayerza crossed for the Tigers with less than five minutes on the clock but the score was ruled out for a forward pass from the impressive Geordan Murphy who instigated much of Leicester's good work in the first half.
Bath struggled to settle and were stretched again soon after by a clever cross kick from Vesty and fullback Nick Abendanon was perhaps lucky to stay on the field after tackling winger Scott Hamilton without the ball.
Dupuy missed the resulting penalty and Bath continued to weather the storm but the momentum remained with Leicester and their superiority would soon lead to the opening try from Hipkiss.
No.8 Jordan Crane took on bath scrum-half Michael Claassens to set up good field position before Hipkiss showed good strength to shrug off Abendanon and open the scores. Dupuy added the extras as the Tigers were rewarded for their patience and control of the game.
There was no let-up from Leicester who showed no sign that they had played 100 minutes of both mentally and physically draining cup rugby only six days ago. In contrast Bath, who have had an extra week to prepare lacked any kind of spark and were short of ideas and more importantly possession.
Johne Murphy went close to extending their lead after another excellent piece of work from Vesty. He capitalised on a turnover to chip ahead for Murphy who was only denied a score by Shontayne Hape who won the race to the ball.
Another try scoring opportunity went awry on the half hour when after crushing the Bath scrum the Tigers spun the ball only for a poor pass from Ayoola Erinle to bring the move to an end. Leicester continued to pepper the Bath defence and after another powerful drive from Hipkiss, Vesty spilled the ball in the tackle just short of the line.
It was another escape for Bath but Leicester would not be denied a second score before the break. Bath's Duncan Bell was penalised at the scrum deep inside his side's 22 and the Tigers opted for another scrum confident that they could cause yet more havoc.
And from the set-piece Vesty breached the defensive line all too easily before touching down. Dupuy's conversion cemented the Tigers' lead and Bath would have been grateful it was not worse as they headed into the break.
Bath tried to raise the pace in the second half in the hope of conjuring an unlikely turnaround and after a missed penalty from Ryan Davis they were rewarded for their endeavour with a try from Claasens who burrowed over from close range to reduce the arrears.
Davis' kicking woes continued with a failed conversion before Dupuy settled the Tigers' nerves with a penalty.
Leicester's indiscipline threatened to be their undoing but a warning from referee Dave Pearson appeared to do the trick but as a result Bath continued to get some joy at the breakdown. That quick ball and the subsequent pressure led to their second try from Hooper who powered over in the corner after a fine pass from hooker Lee Mears. Again Davis was unable to convert but his side were now within a score of the Tigers.
But unlike the Blues at the Millennium Stadium last weekend, Bath were unable to maintain that momentum. The ever-impressive Tom Croft went close to scoring in the corner with Abendanon delivering a crucial tackle but Bath could not raise their game as a result.
Leicester wrapped up the game with their third try as the game entered the last ten minutes. Some smart handling from Geordan Murphy released his namesake Johne who then chipped ahead before being tripped by Abendanon who was lucky again not to see yellow. But the Tigers were not to be denied as replacement Moody scooped up the loose ball before touching down.
Dupuy added the conversion to put the result beyond doubt and now the Tigers can look forward to their fifth successive appearance in the season finale.
Leicester: Geordan Murphy (capt); Scott Hamilton, Dan Hipkiss, Ayoola Erinle, Johne Murphy; Sam Vesty, Julien Dupuy; Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter, Martin Castrogiovanni, Tom Croft, Ben Kay, Craig Newby, Ben Woods, Jordan Crane.
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser, Julian White, Marco Wentzel, Lewis Moody, Harry Ellis, Matt Smith, Tom Varndell.
Bath: Nick Abendanon; Joe Maddock, Alex Crockett (capt), Shontayne Hape, Matt Banahan; Ryan Davis, Michael Claassens; David Flatman, Lee Mears, Duncan Bell, Justin Harrison, Peter Short, Andy Beattie, James Scaysbrook, Stuart Hooper.
Replacements: Pieter Dixon, David Barnes, Paulica Ion, Jonny Faamatuainu, Scott Bemand, Shaun Berne, Andrew Higgins.
Man of the Match: Ben Kay (Leicester)