Drama never appears to be far away when England's great rivals go head to head and this epic Heineken Cup quarter-final did not buck the trend as replacement scrum half Julien Dupuy scored an opportunist try less than 50 seconds from full-time to seal a dramatic 20-15 victory for Leicester at the Walkers Stadium.
Coming off the back of a disappointing defeat in the Guinness Premiership last weekend, Bath Rugby entered this match with a renewed sense of ambition and determination. There had been a simmering intensity on the pitch when the players came on to warm up and it was obvious, almost tangible, how much the West Country team wanted to steal the victory for this match.
Earlier in the week Head Coach Steve Meehan had noted the "different feel" to the week, revealing how the team had been "considerably fresher and more excited" leading into this Heineken Cup match. This was displayed by Bath in the opening minutes of the match as they played with speed and vigour getting good possession and putting immediate pressure on their opposition.
However, the clock had counted 15 minutes and neither side had enjoyed any considerable headway and certainly had not gained the advantage of any points even though Bath made repeated attempts inside the Tigers' 22 to get close to the try line. Two strong scrums were made on the 22 metre line and whilst the deft efforts of newly fit Michael Claassens and his swift passing to fly half Butch James gave the forwards an opportunity to blast through the defence, it was Leicester who finally enjoyed the points as Bath were penalised for holding on to the ball. Sam Vesty's successful penalty kicked the hosts into a three-point lead at 19 minutes and as the visitors offended again just two minutes later, the lead was extended by a further three points at 21 minutes.
It was not for another 10 minutes before Bath were handed the chance to reduce the score divide, after a period of stalemate and exciting interplay between the backs gave them not only distance, but a chance to impose pressure on the Tigers. Even a charge made by Alesana Tuilagi failed to get through the Bath defence and Bath's South African number 10 was handed the ball at 31 minutes as a result of a Leicester offence. Frustratingly James kicked the ball wide of the posts, but it did not deter the team. Instead, Shontayne Hape responded by making a break midfield towards the tryline where he found replacement Shaun Berne in support and the centre crashed over the line for five. A successful conversation took Bath into a one-point lead at 35 minutes.
As one might expect, the Tigers wasted no time in making an aggressive comeback and Geordan Murphy made a dangerous run inside Bath's territory. The Tigers full back was met by the Bath full back however and although Dan Hipkiss, Ayoola Erinle and Louis Deacon made good attempts to finish what their captain had started, they were unable to score the five and the half-time whistle blew on 6-7 to Bath Rugby.
Bath returned from the interval with an attitude to continue much as they left off and having played just three minutes since their return, their pace put instant pressure on the Tigers and an infringement allowed James to boot the ball over the sticks for another three points. However, it was not long before Leicester had clawed back some of the deficit as a Bath offence this time handed Vesty the ball for three of his own. At 50 minutes the Tigers were biting at the ankles of Bath, with just one point between them.
Another penalty kick at 55 minutes, put Tigers back in the lead with 12 -10 to the home team but their efforts to refuse the visitors any more points could not continue for long, as unrelenting attacks by the men in blue, black and white finally enabled Maddock to cross the line for five. His move came just minutes after a strong drive from the forwards opened the way for Matt Banahan to charge within feet of crossing the line himself, but a good offload gave the New Zealand winger the space to complete the move instead.
Continuing with the same point-for-point action that had become something of a ritual in this match, no sooner had Bath crept into the lead, but an offence by one of their own handed the Tigers the chance to equalise with a penalty kick at 66 minutes and the score teetered at a nail-biting 15-all.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, the atmosphere in the Walkers Stadium raised to new, heady levels and both teams were visibly tiring. Replacement Andrew Higgins entered the fray for an injection of fresh legs and the Tigers put up a fresh offensive sending Bath back towards their own 22. Neither team was prepared to relent however and it was not until Julien Dupuy managed to skirt through the brave Bath defence that the Tigers were able to get the victory with a final score of 20-15
15. Geordan Murphy (c), 14. Scott Hamilton, 13. Dan Hipkiss, 12. Ayoola Erinle, 11. Alesana Tuilagi, 10. Sam Vesty, 9. Harry Ellis, 1. Marcos Ayerza, 2. George Chuter, 3. Martin Castrogiovanni, 4. Louis Deacon, 5. Ben Kay, 6. Tom Croft, 7. Ben Woods, 8. Ben Pienaar
16. Mefin Davies, 17. Dan Cole, 18. Jordan Crane, 19. Craig Newby, 20. Julien Dupuy, 21. Seru Rabeni, 22. Johne Murphy
15. Nick Abendanon, 14. Joe Maddock, 13. Alex Crockett, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11. Matt Banahan, 10. Butch James, 9. Michael Claassens, 1. David Flatman, 2. Lee Mears, 3. Duncan Bell, 4. Justin Harrison, 5. Peter Short, 6. Andy Beattie, 7. Michael Lipman (c), 8. Jonny Faamatuainu
16. Rob Hawkins, 17. Paulica Ion, 18. Stuart Hooper, 19. James Scaysbrook, 20. Scott Bemand, 21. Shaun Berne, 22. Andrew Higgins