Bath too good for old foes Leicester
September 14, 2013
Leicester's Lopovi'i Mulipola fends off Bath's Gavin Henson
© Getty Images
Bath continued their strong start to the Aviva Premiership season with a 27-20 victory over old rivals Leicester Tigers at The Rec on Saturday.
Former Tigers player George Ford guided Gary Gold's men to victory with the ex-world junior player of the year kicking five penalties and converting centre Jonathan Joseph's first-half interception try.
Matt Banahan also scored before the break, giving Bath a commanding 18-point interval advantage after Tigers were briefly reduced to 13 men when front-row forwards Tom Youngs and Logovi'i Mulipola received yellow cards.
Leicester, though, displayed admirable character and they fought back brilliantly through second-half tries by Steve Mafi, Ed Slater and Vereniki Goneva that ultimately secured a losing bonus point.
It ensured a pulsating climax in the 100th-year anniversary fixture between two of English rugby's fiercest rivals, but Bath did enough to make it two wins from two after they triumphed at Newcastle last week.
Leicester, ravaged by an alarming early-season injury count that ruled out star players like Manu Tuilagi, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, Geoff Parling and Tom Croft, enjoyed second-half dominance. They scored 12 unanswered points from 21-3 adrift, but Ford - son of Bath first-team coach Mike Ford - calmed Bath's nerves, edging his team over the line despite Goneva's late effort.
There was a stoppage of almost 10 minutes near the end while Bath's replacement hooker Ross Batty required treatment before being carried off after he was felled attempting a tackle. It appeared to be a serious injury.
Play resumed with just over seven minutes remaining on the countdown clock and Bath turned the screw in terms of territory, which gave Ford a match-clinching penalty chance that he gratefully accepted.
Much-travelled Wales international Gavin Henson made his first Premiership start for Bath, while former England centre Anthony Allen captained a Tigers team that included lock Sebastian de Chaves for his full debut, and Mafi replaced flanker Croft, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Worcester last weekend.
Mele and Ford exchanged penalties during the opening flurries, but Leicester's territorial dominance should have reaped far more and Bath made them pay through an opportunist Joseph touchdown after 21 minutes.
Tigers number 10 Ryan Lamb threw out a speculative long pass just inside Bath's half, but it went straight to Joseph, who sprinted 60 metres unopposed for a try that Ford converted.
The visitors had been floored by a sucker punch, but far worse was to follow during a second quarter when Bath punished woeful Leicester discipline. Prop Mulipola was yellow-carded for a shoulder charge on Bath lock Dave Attwood, yet despite referee Greg Garner's patience rapidly running out, Tigers did not learn their lesson as hooker Youngs followed Mulipola to the sin-bin.
Ford kicked penalties either side of the transgressions and although Mulipola returned just before half-time, Bath stung them with another try. Its origins came from a David Wilson tackle on Goneva and when Lamb aimlessly kicked possession away, Bath prospered as Henson sent Banahan clear and the former England wing's 40-metre run saw him brush off three tacklers for an outstanding score. Ford could not add the extras, but Bath trooped off at half-time with a 21-3 lead, leaving Leicester with a mountain to climb.
Tigers had to strike first in the second period and they duly obliged courtesy of a clever kick into space by Lamb that enabled wing Adam Thompstone to gather and send Mafi across. Bath could not release Leicester's stranglehold and sustained Tigers pressure was rewarded when Slater dived over wide out and David Mele, who had kicked a penalty, landed the touchline conversion.
It made for a tense closing 15 minutes, given how Bath must have thought they were home and dry midway through the contest, and nerves became even more frayed when Goneva rounded off a spell of concerted pressure. Leicester, though, failed to make any further inroads and Bath will head to Saracens next weekend seeking a third successive victory of their Premiership campaign.
Following the game, George Ford played down the significance of his contribution. "It wasn't about me playing against Leicester, it was about Bath against Leicester," he said. "I just wanted to come and play, and thankfully I've had four or five games in a row now, including pre-season. I will try to keep my head down, keep working hard in training and see where it takes us.
"It was a tough game. We lost a bit of intensity in the second half and Leicester came back at us. We knew Leicester would come back, and we probably didn't grasp hold of the game well enough at the start of the second half. One of their biggest strengths is how fit they are, and they were still hammering away in the 78th and 79th minutes."
It was a sentiment shared by his father and Bath first team coach Mike Ford. "I am pleased for George. There was a lot of pressure on him today, so I am pleased he has come through it and we have got the win," he said. "Listen, it's not about George, it is about the team. As a coach, to have plenty of things to work on and still win against Leicester, there are obviously quite a few positives there.
"To beat any Leicester side, a club that has been in nine successive Premiership finals, you never knock that. Having said that, the performance could have been a lot better...I just want the fans to understand that we are very happy where we are in terms of results, but we know we can get better."
Leicester coach Paul Burke admitted his side made it too hard for themsleves. "We gave ourselves a mountain to climb at 21-3 down, but we addressed a few things and I am really proud of the second-half performance," Burke said. "We created a lot of opportunities, got to the outside channels and exposed Bath. We came here to play and to score tries, and we scored three against their two. When it got to 24-20, we had the momentum in the game. Bath were kicking away a lot of ball, and I thought we rattled them."
Bath and Leicester come to blows during their clash at The Rec © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.
From Burgess to Boudjellal, Haskell to Honey Badgers and retirees to Retallick, here's the Quotes of 2014
It was another bumper year of rugby action in 2014; join us as we take a look back at some of the season's top statistics
Salary caps, Saints, sinners and scrums - Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from an eventful weekend