5 years ago
27 September 2009, 12:00am
Nicky Little calmly stroked over the 78th minute penalty that earned Bath a share of the spoils - and then dashed off to Manchester where his wife was preparing to give birth to their child.
It was quite an eventful evening all round for the Fijian fly-half, having received a yellow card in the 49th minute for a late challenge on Tigers skipper Geordan Murphy. During his 10 minutes in the sin-bin Little was no doubt wondering why a 'spear tackle' by Anthony Allen on him just minutes earlier did not attract a similar sanction.
It certainly puzzled Head Coach Steve Meehan who said: "That was an automatic yellow card, no doubt about that. I'll have to have another look at the other incident where Nicky was yellow-carded but certainly the Allen one was a dead certain yellow card."
Little, 33 earlier this month, was again an influential figure, kicking five penalties and distributing the ball effectively when Bath were really taking the game to the visitors.
Meehan observed: "He's a pretty experienced player, with a reasonably boot on him - and quite physical for a No 10. So in his last two matches he's been very good for us. It's something that some of the younger fly-halves in the club can learn from as well.""
Little's teammates worked hard to stop Leicester scoring while the fly-half was off the field early in the second half and celebrated his return by summoning a huge eight-man shove to earn a penalty near their own line. It was a significant moment as the Tigers had opted for scrums from successive penalties. David Flatman, on the field for only five minutes at that stage, took the individual plaudits.
Unfortunately the last quarter was not so impressive, as Meehan pointed out: "I think the last 20 minutes showed why we ended up in a draw. We didn't control the ball coming out of our half, missed some opportunities to get a penalty, not to put it into touch for a lineout, some high balls went against us and there were various other bits and pieces.
"But there was some good work from the guys, the level of intensity was higher again than last week so we are heading in the right direction it's a little bit frustrating. If we can go to Harlequins next week and sneak a win there, then after five games, two wins and a draw would be a reasonable return with a whole heap of rugby left in front of us.""
With the Rec filled to its new 11,700 capacity for the first time, Bath began promisingly, winning turnovers and earning penalties. Matt Banahan slipped fairly easily into his fresh role of outside centre, releasing Jonny Faamatuainu on the right wing with an offload out of the back of his hand. Duncan Bell, looking more sprightly than ever, carried the move on but Leicester regrouped only to present Little with his first penalty.
His placekicking duel with Jeremy Staunton punctuated the first quarter, the 9-6 scoreline hardly reflecting the fast and furious approach of both sides. Leicester, without a try since the Guinness Premiership final, finally broke their duck on 24 minutes when hooker Mefin Davies scored in the left corner under the clubhouse, Staunton adding the conversion.
Bath regrouped and began to ratchet up the pressure, with Bell again prominent in the open spaces. But it was Shontayne Hape who made the telling break and Banahan who eventually crashed through the tackles of the two Murphys for a try just short of half-time. Little could not convert but it was enough to give the home team a 14-13 lead at the break.
Allen's tackle soon after the restart may or may not have warranted a yellow card but Little landed the kick. Soon after, his late hit on Murphy was spotted by the Referee's Assistant but Staunton's kick clipped the outside of the post.
Murphy, dangerous throughout, needed lengthy treatment before resuming but did himself an even greater mischief shortly afterwards, chasing his own kick. The Irishman's headlong dive in the in-goal area only resulted in a clash of heads with Joe Maddock and, more seriously, a momentary dislocation of his shoulder.
While Little champed at the bit in the sin-bin, his 14 teammates found themselves increasingly under siege and were relieved to escape a particularly sticky spot near their own line when the Tigers front row of Ayerza, Davies and Castrogiovanni were manoeuvring themselves for a possible penalty try.
But once the danger was averted and Little returned to the fray, the Tigers really had their tails up and a fine Dan Hipkiss break would surely have led to a try in the left corner had Geoff Parling not fluffed his pass to Johne Murphy. And when the home backs fell offside just 30 metres out from the posts, Staunton hooked hi s kick badly.
The visitors' second try still came as a nasty shock because it originated with a high kick just inside the Leicester half. The loose ball was snapped up by replacement scrum-half Ben Youngs who displayed pace and awareness to dart across the field and free Hipkiss on the right. Banahan stretched out a long, tattooed arm in an attempted tap tackle but the centre sped to the line for a try converted by Staunton.
However, Leicester failed to secure the ball at the restart and, having surrendered possession, fell offside from the ruck. Little gratefully accepted the lifeline.
Bath Rugby: Abendanon; Maddock, Banahan, Hape, Cuthbert; Little, Claassens; Barnes (Flatman 55), Mears (Dixon 67), Bell (Jarvis 67), Short (Hooper 55), Grewcock, Faamatuainu (Beattie 75), Salvi, Skirving. Replacements (not used): Bemand, Davis, Stephenson.
Scorers: Try - Banahan. Penalties - Little (5).
Sin-binned: Little (dangerous tackle, 49).
Leicester Tigers: G Murphy (Smith 52); Hamilton, Allen (Hipkiss 45), Mauger, J Murphy; Staunton, Grindal (Youngs 61); Ayerza (Stankovich 67), Davies, White (Castrogiovanni 49), Blaze, Kay (Parling 61), Newby (B Deacon 78), Moody, Crane. Rep (not used): Duffey.
Scorers: Tries - Davies, Hipkiss. Conversions: Staunton (2). Penalties: Staunton (2).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
Bath Rugby's Man of the Match - Duncan Bell
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