Match summary – Leicester Tigers 40-23 Bath Rugby
Fine margins proved decisive as Bath Rugby were defeated 40-23 by Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Max Clark scored Bath’s opening try after seven minutes following an early George Ford penalty and Nic Dolly crossed to put the Tigers ahead.
Matt Scott and Ford’s boot saw the hosts take a 20-13 lead into half-time with Danny Cipriani’s penalties on the board for Bath.
Blue, Black and White captain Josh McNally had a try disallowed for double movement just before the interval but crossed early in the second half to keep Bath in touching distance of Leicester.
However, tries from Ford and Tom Cowan-Dickie secured Tigers victory.
Ewan Richards earned his first Premiership start for Bath while Tom Cowan and Nahum Merigan were named as replacements, eagerly awaiting their first league minutes.
The Academy trio were presented an opportunity to excel with a number of players unavailable to Stuart Hooper due to injury and international duty.
Leicester welcomed back a couple of their released England contingent with Dolly starting and George Martin on the bench.
Experienced prop Dan Cole was back at tighthead while Ford retained his fly-half jersey despite rumours of a last-gasp call-up from Eddie Jones to face Tonga.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Burns, 14 Guy Porter, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Dan Kelly, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 George Ford (c), 9 Jack van Poortvliet; 1 Francois van Wyk, 2 Nic Dolly, 3 Dan Cole, 4 Harry Wells, 5 Calum Green, 6 Ollie Chessum, 7 Tommy Reffell, 8 Cyle Brink
Replacements: 16 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 George Martin, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Kini Murimurivalu
Bath Rugby: 15 Orlando Bailey, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Will Muir, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Ollie Fox; 1 Juan Schoeman, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 D’Arcy Rae, 4 Josh McNally ©, 5 Ewan Richards, 6 Tom Ellis, 7 Richard de Carpentier, 8 Miles Reid
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 Kieran Verden, 19 Nahum Mergian, 20 Tom Cowan, 21 Max Green, 22 Max Ojomoh, 23 Ruaridh McConnochie
Bath showed their intent to pressurise Freddie Burns at full-back early on as a Cipriani bomb on the ex-England man’s head resulted in Richard de Carpentier powering through to claim a high ball.
What the visitors found when they had the ball was a Tigers defence high on confidence and on three minutes, the hosts were on the board as Ford followed to kicks downfield into touch with a successful shot at goal.
On eight minutes though Bath were full of offloading brilliance in their attempts to breach the home defensive line. From an overthrown line-out, Hooper’s side gathered possession in the tight before Ciprani’s delicious pop sent Tom Dunn crashing on. The hooker’s crafty out-the-backdoor pass allowed Ollie Fox to jink forward and his awareness saw Clark crash over the whitewash.
Leicester rallied and weren’t behind on the scoreboard for long as Will Muir was unfortunate to be sin binned for what seemed like a genuine attempt of a full armed tackle. Referee Matthew Carley, after consultation with TMO Ian Tempest, deemed the action a deliberate knock on and with the extra man, hooker Dolly was the beneficiary of a fast-moving maul.
Defensively, Bath were pretty sound with Orlando Bailey – at full-back for the first time in Blue, Black and White – sweeping up kicks in behind and Semesa Rokoduguni showed great grit and determination to swallow up the charging bowling ball Nemani Nadolo.
His efforts resulted in him leaving the field for a HIA and Ruaridh McConnochie was thrust into the action immediately, putting in an up and under which he regathered and it led to Cipriani levelling the game from the tee.
However, similarly to Clark’s try, Tigers were afforded a quick return on the scoreboard with Ford adding a simple penalty to his tally ahead of their second try. Inside centre Dan Kelly made a half-break and his midfield partner Matt Scott was on hand to collect off his shoulder and drive to the line.
Becoming the second youngest second row starter for Bath behind now Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick, Academy lock Richards was starring in the first half. A bundle of energy with real enthusiasm, the 19-year-old made a stunning run deep into Tigers territory and his efforts were rewarded with another Cipriani penalty.
Late on in the half, Bath grabbed contro. Carry after carry knocked Tigers backwards to a point where they couldn’t help but concede a raft of penalties and eventually Carley’s patience ran thin and Cyle Brink was yellow carded.
The Blue, Black and Whites, back to their full contingent with Muir returning to the field, kept hammering at the door and McNally looked to have edged over but another trip to Tempest in the truck revealed a double movement from the captain.
Comparable to the opening exchanges of the first half, Ford slotted a penalty to make it 23-13 to the hosts on 42 minutes.
Merigan was introduced for his Premiership debut shortly afterwards at the beginning of what was a 10-minute period of attacking play for Bath where Clark almost scooted in for his second.
With a penalty advantage, Jonathan Joseph spotted space in behind and delivered a cute grubber for his fellow centre to run on to and as he raced towards the sticks after gathering, he was hauled down by Ford and was unfortunately forced off through injury.
Bath went back for a penalty and maintained their dominance and finally for their rewards through the skipper. The TMO’s eye was needed once more but there was sufficient evidence to show McNally had barged his way over and Cipriani’s extras made it a three-point game.
A roar from the home crowd met the restart and it buoyed Leicester forward into a deep position in which they camped for several phases. A couple of warnings were given to Bath for illegal attempts to thwart Tigers’ maul but it was a weapon the home side used as a decoy to cross for their third score. Bath’s defensive set was excellent to stop the roll at source, but with a three-on-two on the blindside, Richard Wigglesworth missed Nadolo with a flat pass and Ford skipped in from the wing.
Positive work from Bath in response saw Cipriani move to 13 points in the match with his third penalty and aggressive defence from what was a young Bath XV on the field, even more so with Tom Cowan on for his competitive senior debut, continuing to keep them in the hunt for points.
But Leicester were a side full of confidence and when Ford made it 33-23 to put Bath out of reach of securing at least a losing bonus point, they maximised their will to secure the try bonus.
It came in the 80th minute moments after Kieran Verden had been sin binned for a late tackle. The Tigers forwards grouped in a tight formation and walked Cowan-Dickie over to finish an entertaining encounter which Bath more than played their part in.
Mattioli Woods Welford Road
5 November 2021
Referee: Matthew Carley
Half Time score: 20-13
- Tries: Dolly (9), Scott (26), Ford (56), Cowan-Dickie (80)
- Conversions: Ford (11, 27, 58, 81)
- Penalties: Ford (3, 24, 41, 74)
- Tries: Clark (6), McNally (51)
- Conversions: Cipriani (7, 52)
- Penalties: Cipriani (21, 29, 62)