Bath Rugby staged a late comeback to seal a hard-fought 33-31 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at the Recreation Ground.
Tom Hardwick put Leicester into an early lead with a penalty after 10 minutes, and the visitors extended their lead with the first try of the evening soon after. Freddie Burns looked to create an opening from his own half, but his kick was charged down and chased by three Leicester attackers. Jonah Holmes managed to gather the loose ball and make his way over the try line at the second time of asking, despite the defensive efforts of Tom Homer, who looked like he’d stopped the winger short of the line. 0-10.
Burns quickly bounced back with two quick-fire penalties to put Bath within four points on the scoreboard with nine minutes remaining in the first half. However, two minutes later, Leicester hit back with another try through Adam Thompstone. Hardwick gave his forwards the perfect platform for an attack, with a kick to touch that landed five metres from the Bath try line. The visitors used the catch and drive to good effect, and Thompstone found himself under a pile of bodies over the line. 6-17.
Two minutes before the interval, Burns produced a moment of brilliance to reduce the deficit against his former side. Inside the Tigers’ 22 and with penalty advantage, the fly-half collected his own kick over the top of the defence to touch down and score. His conversion took Bath to within four points.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 13-17 Leicester Tigers
Bath pulled back another three points a couple of minutes into the second-half, with the ever-impressive Burns continuing his 100% record from the tee. 16-17.
But the topsy-turvy nature of the game continued, as 60 seconds later Leicester once more extended their lead with a well-worked try. A burst from centre Jordan Olowofela into the Bath 22 was halted, but the centre managed to find the on-rushing Jonah Holmes in support, who ran in to score. 16-24.
Bath weren’t giving up without a fight and Matt Banahan came agonisingly close to a score himself. The home side worked patiently through a number of phases before the centre powered over the line. However as he reached for the whitewash, the ball was dislodged from his grasp. Bath maintained the pressure though, and the near-capacity crowd were treated to another three points from Man of the Match Burns to take it to a five-point ball game with half an hour to play. 19-24.
The score kept going back and forth and it was Leicester who scored next, securing their bonus-point try through Ben White who latched on to an offload from Harry Simmonds to give his side a 12-point advantage going into the last 20 minutes. 19-31.
The game started to turn in Bath’s favour when replacement Zach Mercer continued his strong start to the campaign with a try after 65 minutes. The home side - who were dominant at the scrum throughout the 80 minutes - piled on the pressure at the set-piece deep in the Leicester 22. Against the head, the pack drove Leicester back and James Phillips did enough to cause Fred Tuliagi to lose control at the base. Mercer was on hand to pounce on the loose ball and score, and Burns’ conversion ensured that Bath would go into the closing stages needing just a converted score to secure victory. 26-31.
A frantic last 10 minutes followed and the pack were once again on hand to deliver the crucial blow. With play five metres from the Leicester line, Bath earned penalty after penalty at the scrum. Joe Maksymiw was shown a yellow card for persistent infringements at the set-piece, and the man advantage paid-off when Greg Macdonald signalled for the penalty try to give Bath a two-point lead with a minute to play.
The Blue, Black and White closed out the final stages and after contributing 21 points, it was fitting that Burns was the man to kick to touch and bring an end to the game.
Final score: Bath Rugby 33-31 Leicester Tigers