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Bath toppled by Tigers comeback

Bath do not play rugby for the faint-hearted. Leading 22-9 midway through the second half, and seemingly on course for a rare victory in the Tigers' lair, the West Country side faltered, allowing Leicester to snatch an unlikely 24-22 victory in the dying moments of a thrilling match.

In a season full of dramatic finales, this was perhaps the most dramatic. The lead, although not unassailable, was commanding, but a combination of a resurgent Leicester fight back and the intervention of uncontested scrums in the final quarter, meant that Bath returned home with a solitary losing bonus point and dropped to third in the Guinness Premiership table.

Both teams opened play with the sort of energy and aggression that is especially reserved for grudge matches such as these, but after the ball travelled up and down the field by successive kicks, the Tigers were the first to put the points on the scoreboard after a Bath offence allowed Derick Hougaard to kick the ball directly between the posts from the 10 metre line after just four minutes.

Dissatisfied with the quick score grab by the Tigers, Bath invaded Leicester's territory where Butch James was ready to receive the ball from the back of the scrum and drive forward. Stuart Hooper, replacing Justin Harrison who was moved to the bench due to a stomach upset, was in a perfect position to offer support and the lock drove over the line for a try. James's conversion took Bath into the lead after seven minutes with a 3-8 score line.

The Tigers, spurned on by their lack of points, gained some ground after Aaron Mauger broke through Bath defence to offload to Matt Smith on the wing and into touch. With Bath penalised for failing to bind, Leicester were given an opportunity to satisfy themselves with three points, however Hougaard's kick went wide and Bath remained in the lead.

Refusing to drop the pace or momentum, Bath came back. Joe Maddock ignited an attack and James, sensing a defencive lapse, pushed a grubber kick through to the corner, which was chased by Shontayne Hape and Alex Crockett. Hape appeared to have overshot the ball, leaving Crockett a simple score, but the celebrations were shortlived as Hape was judged to have knocked the ball on.

Bath's pressure was relentless and dominating the forward exchanges, the men in black, white and blue tore into the Tigers' defence once more. After a powerful maul took his side within a few feet of the white line, the blue scrum cap adorned Pieter Dixon blasted through a mass of bodies to score. Referee Chris White went upstairs for confirmation, but the five points were secured and although James failed to make the conversion, Bath were in an excellent position.

The Tigers do not lose many matches at home and with 12 minutes to play in the first half, the home side were awarded a penalty and Hougaard, full of kicking, struck the ball between the uprights to drag Leicester to within six points.

With four minutes left before the break, Bath were intent on making sure they left the pitch at the half-time whistle, with a secure lead under their belts - and they succeeded., As good interplay from Andy Beattie, Hape and Peter Short took Bath dangerously close to the Tigers' territory, the attack resulted in a successful penalty kick by fly half James.

Five minutes into the second half and neither team looked set to make the points that were enjoyed in the opening half. Instead, something of a stalemate began, which meant that game time was played midfield for almost 10 minutes. It was not until Bath were penalised for not rolling away that Tigers were able to put the 'catch-up' operation into action and Hougaard booted three points.

A series of substitutions for Bath reinvigorated the side as the fresh legs of Michael Claassens and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu made light work of entering Leicester's 22. Although the west country boys managed to get to within inches of the try line, good Tiger defence stopped them and prevented them scoring. However, they could not hold them off for long as an excellent break from James, and Joe Maddock saw the pair pass back and forth down the wing, fooling the Leicester defenders and allowing Maddock to soar over the line for his sixth try of this season and taking Bath up to a 9-22 lead.

As the match entered it's concluding 20 minutes, Leicester Tigers put up an aggressive fight, in more ways than one, barraging their way into Bath's territory with successive mauls. Having been awarded a scrum mere feet away from the white line, Ben Kay threw himself down for a try. However, it was disallowed and it was not until replacement Seru Rabeni bolted towards the posts that the home supporters thought they had finally clinched their five. Three minutes ticked on before Tom Croft broke free and scored the much needed try. A failed conversion meant that whilst the Tigers may have made some headway in reducing the point divide, they still trailed 14-22 after 66 minutes.

With six minutes left on the clock, Tigers continued with their barrage of attack, playing so close to the try line, it was only the unwavering Bath defence that kept the wolf from the door. However, they could not defend against Hougaard's boot and the fly half racked up another three points for his team with a well placed drop goal which was rapidly followed by an explosive try from Croft. The conversion slipped Leicester into the lead by just two points and sealed the defeat of a dejected and disappointed Bath Rugby.

Bath Rugby

15. Nick Abendanon, 14. Joe Maddock, 13. Alex Crockett (c), 12. Shontayne Hape, 11. Andrew Higgins, 10. Butch James, 9. Scott Bemand, 1. David Barnes, 2. Pieter Dixon, 3. Duncan Bell, 4. Stuart Hooper (wearing 18), 5. Peter Short, 6. Andy Beattie, 7. James Scaysbrook (wearing 19), 8. Daniel Browne

16. Rob Hawkins, 17. Aaron Jarvis, 18. Justin Harrison (wearing 4), 19. Michael Lipman (wearing 7), 20. Michael Claassens, 21. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 22. Jack Cuthbert

Leicester Tigers

15. Geordan Murphy, 14. Johne Murphy, 13. Dan Hipkiss, 12. Aaron Mauger, 11. Matt Smith, 10. Derick Hougaard, 9. Julien Dupuy, 1. Boris Stankovich, 2. Benjamin Kayser, 3. Julian White, 4. Martin Corry (c), 5. Ben Kay, 6. Tom Croft, 7. Lewis Moody, 8. Craig Newby

16. George Chuter, 17. Martin Castrogiovanni, 18. Marco Wentzel, 19. Brett Deacon, 20. Ben Youngs, 21. Seru Rabeni, 22. Tom Varndell

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