Rugby Union: Greenwood baffles Bath

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The Independent Online
Leicester 36

Bath 13

AS A metaphor for the current state of the English game, Welford Road, provided the perfect setting yesterday. A packed house, a throbbing atmosphere, an enthralling contest awash with unflinching commitment, flowing skills and rich in opportunity, all the while concealing the fact that Leicester, the flagship of the club game in England, are struggling to balance the books. Word has it that, far from showing the profit promised to their shareholders, the club are to declare a substantial loss leading to more upheaval.

None of which mattered one jot to their supporters who watched their heroes resurrect their proprietorial rights not only over their old rivals but quite possibly over the championship. Quite simply Bath were routed, despatched with a mixture of ruthless defence and swashbuckling attack.

There were all manner of early warning signals for Bath, they struggled to hold on to their own ball at the line-out and their scrummage looked distinctly shaky. It was not surprising that Bath should concentrate most of their defensive efforts in containing the Tigers forwards, little realising that the real menace was lurking further out in the shape of Will Greenwood.

Injuries have blighted this hugely talented player's career for more than a year now but yesterday he re-kindled the memories of the dashing style which first propelled him on to the big stage. Within the space of just three minutes he had scored twice and effectively destroyed Bath's hopes.

Greenwood's first try was scored after three minutes and followed Austin Healey's magnificent 60-yard touch kick. A series of forward drives convinced Bath that their opponents were determined to employ brute force rather than subtle touch in their route to the try line. They were wrong. Healey switched the attack and Greenwood took off over the line for the try. Three minutes later he was in the thick of the action again, this time waiting until he could see the whites of the Bath gum-shields before releasing James Overend with an exquisitely-timed pass. From the ruck Greenwood took the pass and chipped ahead in one almost imperceptible movement before re-gathering the ball for a spectacular try.

Good as this was, the best was yet to come and once again Greenwood had a hand in it, although this time in a supporting role. Healey, buzzing with energy and ideas, fired off a perfectly weighted kick which slipped through Adedayo Adebayo's grasp. Leon Lloyd, Joel Stransky, Greenwood and Neil Back all handled before the flanker lobbed the ball to Overend, who scored under the post. For the third time in just 21 minutes Stransky added the goal points and Leicester were ahead 21-3, the Bath points having been kicked by Mike Catt.

If some of Leicester's more quixotic moves thereafter never came off they were to be applauded for attempting them, although there was always the danger that Bath, not yet a mortally-wounded animal, would profit from the high error count.

Sure enough, Jeremy Guscott's try, though prosaic by comparison with what had preceded it, owed everything to the centre's flaring acceleration and the poor alignment of Leicester's defence. Catt's second penalty brought Bath closer than they deserved, but before half-time Stransky restored order with a penalty.

Any lingering thoughts of a Bath revival were squashed by Leicester's total dominance of the opening exchanges in the second half and Paul Gustard's try was the result of the pressure mounting on an increasingly unstable Bath defence.

Bath are not the first side to be unhinged on this ground but the gap in class must be disturbing for a side with championship aspirations. On the rare occasions when Bath were able to co-ordinate their attacks they were subjected to the indignity of Leicester's corrosive tackling which was awesome. In a word so was their entire performance which was superbly rounded off by Stransky with a try under the posts.

Leicester: G Murphy; L Lloyd, W Greenwood (J Stuart, 78), J Overend, N Ezulike; J Stransky, A Healey (Hamilton, 78); D Jelley (G Rowntree, 77), R Cockerill (D West, 68), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), N Fletcher (M Poole, 78), P Gustard, M Corry, N Back.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, J Guscott (L Moody, 77), A Adebayo; M Catt, S Hatley; D Hilton, A Long, V Ubogu, N Redman, B Sturnham, N Thomas (R Earnshaw, 66), E Peters, R Webster (capt)

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool)