Bath Rugby rounded off 2018 with a deserved 23-16 victory over Leicester Tigers in front of a capacity crowd at the Rec.
The game started in perfect conditions at the Rec with both sides trying to unnerve each other, yet it only took two minutes for the first points to be scored. It was George Ford returning to his former club, who opened up the Bath defence with a clever kick on the edge of the Bath 22. After building pressure, the fly-half sent a grubber kick through, which was collected by Jonny May, who found his way over the whitewash. Ford added the extras from straight in front of the posts. [0-7]
Just four minutes later, Bath found themselves on the Leicester line. After multiple phases in the 22, it looked like the Blue, Black and White had crossed for their first of the afternoon. Following consultation with the TMO, the score was ruled out as Bath were held up agonisingly short.
With 18 minutes gone on the clock, Bath were cruelly denied once again. This time some brilliant play from Ruaridh McConnochie and Will Chudley put Bath within touching distance of the line. Francois Louw looked like he'd provided the killer blow, but his effort was ruled out by Doyle for what was adjudged to have been jumping into the tackle.
However, with the penalty advantage Bath got on the scoreboard as Freddie Burns reduced the gap to four, as the fly-half slotted the ball straight through the uprights. [3-7]
Bath continued to dominate proceedings, only to be denied at the third time of asking by a miraculous covering tackle from Manu Tuilagi. This time James Wilson fired the ball into the 22 and some fantastic offloading from from Chudley allowed co-captain, Matt Garvey to make further ground and put Bath in scoring range. After scoring last week against Wasps, Chudley looked to add to his tally, but his reach for the line was somehow stopped by Tuilagi. Despite all of Bath’s attacking dominance, they still trailed by five points with 24 minutes gone. [3-7]
Bath continued to camp out in the red zone and three minutes later, they were rewarded for their persistence. After Mike Fitzgerald had lost the ball forward, the scrum went to Bath five metres from the try line. Chudley used quick ball from the scrum and fed to Jamie Roberts, who crashed over the line. Burns added the extras to put Bath in the lead. [10-7]
With eight minutes to play in the half, Bath extended their advantage with their second of the game. Burns put a pinpoint kick into the Leicester 22 and his chase forced the turnover to put Bath on the front foot once again. Nathan Catt was on hand to power his way over from close range to give Bath a lead of eight points.
There were no further scores in for either team in the closing moments, but the momentum was firmly with the home side going into the half-time break.
Half-time - Bath Rugby 15 -7 Leicester Tigers
The second-half started with gusto, but it wasn't until the 53rd minute until any further points were added. After Bath were penalised for not rolling away, Ford put Tigers to within five on the scoreboard from the tee. [15-10]
Bath responded immediately in what will go down as one of the finishes of the season. Louw released the ball out wide to Burns, who sent a flat pass to Max Wright and the centre in turn offloaded to McConnochie. The winger showed his power and trickery, as he fended off Ellis Genge on the touchline before finishing in the corner. [20-10]
Both teams were defending for all their worth, Tigers had made 155 tackles to Bath’s 86 with just over ten minutes to play. However, the next points went to the visitors as Ford put his side to within a score with another successful penalty. [20-13]
The points kept coming as Bath were given a penalty for a high tackle on the rampaging Cooper Vuna two minutes later. Rhys Priestland was now on the pitch after replacing Burns, and despite the low trajectory, he restored Bath's 10-point lead. [23-13]
The final points of the game went to Leicester in the 77th minute and Ford sealed his 100% kicking record. However, the capacity crowd were not left disappointed as the Blue, Black and White finished 2018 in style against their old rivals.
Full-time - Bath Rugby 23-16 Leicester Tigers
Watch highlights from the game here.
30 December 2018
Referee: JP Doyle
Half Time score: 15-7
- Tries: Roberts (26), Catt (32), McConnochie (54)
- Conversions: Burns (28)
- Penalties: Burns (20), Priestland (72)
- Tries: May (1)
- Conversions: Ford (3)
- Penalties: Ford (53, 69, 76)