As eight and ninth in the Premiership table clashed at the Recreation ground in the hopes of distancing themselves from the mid-table tussle and more concerningly, lower ebbs of the league, Bath hosted Leicester as Todd Blackadder’s and Geordan Murphy’s charges went head to head for the first time in eight months.
An early break from the visitors’ left wing Jonah Holmes set the platform for a perfect to the Tigers’ trip to the West Country, seeing England star Jonny May cross for the opening score of the day in just the second minute after a delicately placed chip from May’s fellow England man George Ford over the top of an onrushing Bath defence.
Bath returned the visitor’s early score with a ferocious assault on the Tigers line after winning the ball from their own kick-off. A short-range score was ruled out by referee JP Doyle, but an offside penalty from scorer May and lineout infringements from both Leicester locks, Graham Kirchner and Harry Wells. A lost ball on their third maul attempt stunted any thoughts of an immediate return score for the home side, with a freekick at the ensuing scrum seeing Bath concede 45 metres from a promising position.
Not to dwell on a missed penalty kick from fullback James Wilson ten seconds earlier, crashing runs from a dynamic Bath pack and a sniping run from half-back Will Chudley took Blackadder’s charges back within five metres of Leicester’s line.
A brief break from left winger Ruaridh McConnochie, Bath’s forwards set the sights on another short-range effort, with Francois Louw’s 19th-minute score ruled out by Doyle after the South African hopped the attempted tackle of Genge. Fortunately, an earlier advantage would allow Freddie Burns to kick for sticks and register three points, getting the home side onto the scoreboard for the first time of the day.
Patience possession would pay off for Bath two minutes later, with Wales and British and Irish Lions legend Jamie Roberts crashing over from the set-piece. A conversion from Burns put the home side into a 10-7 lead with just under a quatre of an hour left of the first 40.
Sensing blood in the water, Bath backed up Roberts’ score a short-range urge of his own, Nathan Catt crossed for his side’s second score after a well-placed chip from Burns was followed by an impressive piece of defence, forcing the turnover from Tigers fullback George Worth and setting the platform for Catt’s eventual touchdown.
A bitter end to the first 40 would see a double blow for Bath, with co-captain Matt Garvey forced from the field with an ankle injury, while try-scorer Catt would also make his way to the touchline after tripping over the Bath physio’s medical bag, heading into the changing rooms two men down and eight points up. Bath 15 Leicester Tigers 7.
At the heart and soul of Bath’s performance, co-captain Chudley began the second-half in much the same way he finished the first, stealing a ten metre run through a disjointed Leicester defence and putting Bath back onto the front foot.
A trademark turnover from Tigers’ Kiwi openside Brendan O’Connor held Bath at bay shortly after Louw’s break down the riverside, but an error at the lineout handed possession back to the home side. A crushing error for the visitors with just 26% possession and 22% territory.
There will be some concern for both Bath and England after Sam Underhill was forced from the field in the 47th minute with an ankle injury, leaving the field after a heavy strapping session failed to mask the issue. But a ready-made replacement in fellow England international Zach Mercer saw try-scorer Louw switch from number eight to his preferred position of openside.
Hard fought territory for Leicester, at the fortune of Bath’s repetitive indiscipline at the breakdown, allowed George Ford the chance to kick three points and take Tigers five points behind Bath.
Disaster struck for Leicester, with George Ford’s 53rd-minute penalty - the first points since Jonny May’s second-minute score – immediately cancelled out by former England Sevens winger Ruaridh McConnochie racing over in the left-hand corner to put Bath back into a ten point lead after a missed conversion attempt.
Further points at the Rec this afternoon would not come until 70th minute through the boot of Ford, punishing Bath for a high tackle offence, taking the visitors within a converted try of the home side.
As with his 53rd-minute penalty, Ford’s work from the tee was ruled out by Bath’s substitute fly-half Rhys Priestland, taking the points to restore Bath’s lead after a high tackle on Tongan winger Cooper Vuna.
Ford sent his return serve to put Leicester back within seven and a losing bonus point after Louw was penalised at the breakdown for not rolling.
Leicester’s final attack of the day was brought to a premature end after the returned Burns, on for a temporary blood replacement for Rokoduguni, ripped the ball from a Tigers carrier.
A home win for Bath and a losing bonus point for Leicester in the eleventh round of Premiership action, seeing the home side rise from eight to fifth, while Leicester dropped from ninth place to tenth.
Final score: Bath 23 - Leicester Tigers 16