5 years ago
15 November 2008, 12:00am
This 25-21 victory was not a match for the faint-hearted. If Bath Rugby are to lift the Guinness Premiership title for the first time in a decade, they will not want to do so in the heart-stopping fashion in which they defeated the Tigers at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.
Having opened up a commanding 20-3 first half lead, Bath were cruising. Yet in a highly-dramatic second half, Leicester came storming back. The Tigers appeared to have sealed an unlikely victory in the dying moments, only for Butch James to step up and seal a dramatic win and maintain Bath's advantage at the top of the table.
For James, the try capped a solid return to action after a two-week break to rest weary muscles after nearly two full years of continuous rugby. The Springbok came out with all cylinders firing, kicking the first of the game after six minutes when Leicester conceived a penalty from a lineout offence.
It was the kick-start that Bath required against their old adversary, but the buffer did not last long as Leicester's forwards formidably drove their way towards the Bath line. Bath recovered, but under immense pressure Scott Bemand could not get the ball away and the home side offered Derrick Hougaard the chance to go for goal. The South African needed no second invitation and the scores were level.
One of Bath's qualities this season has been their ability to remain calm under pressure and the black, white and blues, came storming back in the form of livewire hooker Pieter Dixon, who showed a great turn of pace to sprint fully 40 metres for a try that roused the Rec crowd. As the South African sucked in the air after his efforts, James calmly slotted over the conversion to give Bath a deserved 10-3 lead after 16 minutes.
Bath continued to apply the pressure and after Duncan Bell, Shaun Berne and the returning Daniel Browne propelled the home side into dangerous territory, Leicester concede a penalty once more and James extended the lead with his second penalty.
Bath versus Leicester encounters have always enjoyed an 'edge' and true to form tempers flared with a liberal dose of handbags on view and when play resumed it was Bath who weathered the bout better, creating the opportunity for Browne to cross for the home side's second try on the stroke of half time. James, fresh and kicking beautifully, duly kicked the conversion and Bath went in at half time with a handy 20-3 advantage.
Having failed to get out of first gear in the first half, Leicester started the second period with much more conviction. No doubt the players received a 'hair drying' from their coach, but whatever was said it certainly did the trick as the Tigers responded with two penalties in swift succession from Hougaard.
Bath had the advantage on the board, but on the pitch the pendulum had swung as Bath struggled to claim quality possession. Meehan threw on fresh legs in the form of Andy Beattie, Aaron Jarvis and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu in an attempt to halt the slide and the home side responded with a steadying period, despite not showing the fluidity of the first half.
It was to be the briefest of respites. Sniffing the glimpse of a chance of another victory at the Rec, the Tigers upped the pressure and launched series of late raids on the Bath line using the heavy artillery of a pack primed for the close quarter encounters. Leicester are not best known for pretty rugby, but nobody could accuse the perennial champions of being anything other than effective and after a sustained period of pressure, Johne Murphy went over in the corner. The five points were bolstered 10 minutes later when replacement hooker Mefin Davies barraged over the line for the try that put his team in contention.
The Rec crowd fell silent as Geordan Murphy, not a renowned goal kicker, stepped up to take the conversion. The Ireland international made no mistake and Leicester had a dramatic 21-20 lead with three minutes on the clock.
Yet, like so many of these epic encounters, there was a sting in the tail and showing great resolve. Bath launched one final attack in the last 20 seconds and James, kicking to the wing, found Crockett, who passed back inside to James for a dramatic try. James did not get the conversion, however the delirium was such, it barely seemed to matter.
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