The 100th anniversary of the first match ever played between Bath Rugby and Leicester Tigers ended in the most dramatic of fashions as Bath held off a second-half fight back from the visitors to clinch a 27-20 win in front of a packed Recreation Ground.
Both sides failed in their first attempts at goal, but Tigers' French scrum-half David Mele was more successful with his second, giving the visitors the early lead. On the restart, tighthead prop Dan Cole knocked on attempting to steal the loose ball. A strong Bath scrum won a second shot at goal for Ford, who made sure this one was straight and true. 3-3.
On 21 minutes, and to rapturous applause from the home crowd, Jonathan Joseph broke Tigers' hopes of a try after intercepting a Ryan Lamb pass in his own half and gliding through the defence and all the way under the posts. Ford's conversion made it 10-3.
Bath were on the attack once more when the Tigers loosehead, Logovi'I Mulipola, was yellow carded for a shoulder charge on lock Dave Attwood. It wasn't long until the dominant Bath pack won a shot at goal with another strong scrummage – Ford punishing Tigers' indiscipline with a further three points to go ahead 13-3.
Tigers were dealt a second yellow card as Tom Youngs was binned for his pack's collapse at the scrum and Ford, his boot still warm from the previous kick, slotted another three points to make it 16-3.
The first-half was drawing to a close with the visitors pressing in the Bath half. But fortunes turned, and a Tigers kick went loose under pressure from Semesa Rokoduguni and Ford cleared. Re-gathering the clearance kick, Bath spun the ball wide and inside centre Gavin Henson found Matt Banahan in space, and the winger displayed all his gas to sprint 40m to score in the corner with two defenders hanging from his coat-tails.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 21 - Leicester Tigers 3.
Shortly after the break, and back to a full complement of men, Leicester redoubled their efforts, and the TMO adjudged after some time that the scoring pass to flanker Steve Mafi from Thompstone wasn't forward. With Mele's conversion missed, it was 21-8 to Bath.
Tigers kept up the pressure, and Bath had to be completely on the ball in defence. Tigers again plunged into the Bath 22, and a foray near 70 minutes resulted in a try on the left wing for second-row Ed Slater. Mele's conversion from a tough angle sailed through the posts, and the score was now a nail-biting 21-15 to Bath as the clock ticked down.
One incredible break by replacement back-rower Alafoti Fa'osiliva provided Bath with much-needed impetus as he broke through three tackles, only for his side to be turned over. Ford's high ball seemed to be going into the hands of Tom Biggs, before the winger was obstructed off the ball. Ford's penalty from just within the Tigers half was a good one, amidst a respectful silence from both home and away supporters. 24-15.
Leicester came straight back at the home side though, and after a series of pick and goes from the forwards, the ball was spread wide to Verniki Goneva, who touched down in the corner. To the relief of the home supporters, Mele's conversion skewed left of the posts. 24-20.
Bath carried on chipping away at Tigers' resolve, hungry for those crucial extra points. It proved fruitful, as Tigers failed to roll away and, aptly, it was Ford who delivered the finishing blow in front of the posts. 27-20.
A tremendous lift from his fellow forwards gave Dominic Day the platform to receive Leicester's restart and Man of the Match Ford wasted no time in kicking the ball to touch to continue a perfect start to the season for Bath against their old rivals from the East Midlands.
Final Score: Bath Rugby 27 - Leicester Tigers 20.