Bath Rugby ended their season on a high this afternoon, beating Leicester Tigers 38-27 at a sun-drenched Recreation Ground.
Five tries - two of which came from Semesa Rokoduguni – were enough to see off the play-off bound Tigers, in an entertaining contest in front of a capacity crowd.
Bath went into the game knowing that five of their squad – Dom Day, Ollie Devoto, Horacio Agulla, Rob Webber and Jonathan Evans – are moving on ahead of next season, and the supporters of the Blue, Black and White made it a special atmosphere at the Rec ahead of kick-off.
A light shower before kick-off made for an error-strewn opening to the game – and one that Bath made the most of almost immediately.
A sharp break from the Bath forwards presented Rokoduguni with the ball 20 metres out, and the winger, fresh from his two Army tries last week, burst through a weak Leicester tackle to dot down under the posts. George Ford made no mistake with his conversion.
The hosts then had to weather a Tigers storm, holding Leicester up after several phases camped on the Bath try line.
With conditions worsening, both sides coped well with a greasy ball in the opening fifteen minutes.
With seventeen on the clock however, the Tigers clawed their way level. After winning a penalty and kicking into the corner, Fraser Bailman capitalised from a pick-and-drive to rumble over the whitewash.
Fly-half Owen Williams’ kick clipped the upright, but fell over the bar to level the game at 7-7.
Straight from the kick-off, Bath piled the pressure back on their visitors, and through the boot of Ford from the kicking tee regained their lead.
Bath’s defence stood firm for yet more phases of hard-hitting, physical rugby – but after Tigers retained the ball from a five-metre scrum with just over ten minutes of the half remaining, Peter Betham charged through a tackle to score under the posts.
Again, Williams’s conversion was successful, making the score 10-14.
With four minutes left of the half, the Tigers breached the Bath defence once more. After committing men to the breakdown, fullback Matthew Tait found himself in acres of space just a metre out, and duly cantered over to increase the visitors’ lead.
Williams failed to convert Tait’s try, keeping the gap at nine points. It turned out to be the last piece of action of the half.
Half time: Bath Rugby 10-19 Leicester Tigers
After the break, Bath got off to the perfect start.
A surging Anthony Watson run straight through the heart of the Tigers defence meant the momentum was with the Bath backs, and when the ball found Devoto, the departing centre tore through a tackle to score. Ford added the extras with ease.
Devoto then was replaced by Rhys Priestland – and received a much-deserved standing ovation from the Rec faithful.
Leicester countered the Bath momentum shortly after through the boot of Williams, meaning the gap stood at five points with half an hour to play.
This did little to deter the Bath attack and within minutes the West Country side were back ahead. More fantastic work from Rokoduguni gained some extra metres, and when Francois Louw got the ball in hands, the outcome was never in doubt. Ford converted his try, extending the lead.
Then came the second half’s flashpoint. Tigers loosehead Ellis Genge appeared to catch Homer late after a box kick, but escaped any punishment from referee Craig Maxwell-Keys after a long look at the replay.
Undeterred by the injustice, Bath kicked on and from the resulting penalty ran in another try. Rokoduguni, at the heart of every Bath break all afternoon, powered away to arc his run into the corner, shrugging off a pair of tackles in the process.
The tight angle made for a difficult conversion for Ford, but he made no mistake.
A resolute Bath defensive effort halted the Tigers’ charge for the next ten minutes, but something had to give and after the ball was spread wide, not even the seemingly omnipotent Rokoduguni could prevent an overlap and Will Evans raced over.
The conversion again hit the upright, but Bath’s lead was trimmed to four.
With three left on the clock, Chris Cook’s opportunistic kick ahead set up a promising platform for the home side – and much to the jubilation of the Thatchers’ terrace, they got their reward.
An arrow-straight pass from Jonathan Joseph found replacement wing Jeff Williams on the left, who powered home in the corner – and after the TMO was consulted, Ford nailed his kick to give Bath an eleven-point lead.
In bright sunshine, it proved to be the final act of an enthralling game – and a fitting way to bring down the curtain on Bath’s season.
Full time: Bath Rugby 38-27 Leicester Tigers
Report by Dan Brown.