Rugby Union: Miller tears Cup from Bath's grip

Bath 28 Leicester 39
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Leicester didn't so much erase the memory of last year's Cup final defeat by Bath as obliterate it. In doing so they wiped out their opponents, whose two tries in the final 10 minutes gave them a measure of respectability but could not conceal the fact that the golden age of Bath's rugby has been dimmed.

Others are now better equipped to carry the mantle as England's champion club. Leicester, who appear the most likely to usurp the Cup holders of the last three years, have everything in the right place. Their tight forward play remains the bedrock upon which the team functions, but to this they have added guile and pace.

In young Eric Miller they have the sensation of the season who is no fly-by-night. Admittedly he and the dynamic Neil Back, now returned to his best form, were hugely assisted by the fact that Bath went into this match without a specialist open- side flanker and therefore surrendered the 50-50 ball time and again.

But Miller's contribution at the line-out was equally important to a side previously so dependent upon Martin Johnson for their ball supply. Miller won so much ball, a lot of it from Bath's throw-in, that Leicester's backs had a superb platform from which to operate and their five tries established a record for the club in a competitive fixture against Bath.

Bath's failings, which have surfaced on occasions throughout this season, were cruelly exposed again. Although the spirit remained willing until the very end, the days when Bath could turn a game by the sheer force of their fellowship or by an act of individual brilliance, have gone. There is now a very real possibility that, for the first time since 1988, Bath will finish the season without a major trophy.

The result turned on a five-minute spell on either side of half-time. With six points separating the sides, Mike Catt, who had set up a fine attacking position with a slashing break down the right touchline, then lost the ball in a crushing tackle on the fringe of the maul and with it went Bath's chance of taking a lead they scarcely deserved.

Two minutes into the second half, Back spotted a gap behind the Bath defence and with a deft chip and forceful chase scored the try which put clear space between the sides. Joel Stransky, who has yet to come to terms with the conditions and was occasionally wayward with his kicking from the hand, had few problems aiming for goal. He finished with 14 points from four conversions, a penalty and a finely judged drop-goal from yet another clean take by Miller at the line-out.

Leicester's sense of enterprise, which had deserted them against Brive in the European Cup final, was much in evidence yesterday. Will Greenwood, one of a number of players not at present in the England side but almost certain to win selection for the Lions, is the key. His ability to stay on his feet in the tackle and his instinctive knowledge of where and when to time his runs are priceless assets. Apart from scoring Leicester's first try in support of his co-centre Stuart Potter, who had crashed through some frail Bath defending, he made a try for Steve Hackney with a gloriously swift realignment in the angle of his run and a touch of acceleration, which enabled him to get the pass away to his wing. His second try again owed everything to his lightning reflexes, this time as he picked up the ball off his toes after Johnson had broken upfield.

Bath stayed in the game until half-time through the dogged determination of their forwards and as a result of Jon Callard's goal-kicking reliability, which yielded two penalties. In addition Adedayo Adebayo, who was by some distance Bath's most penetrative runner, scored a try. Had he enjoyed the support lent to Leicester's wide runners then Bath might have gained more profit from him. As it was Bath's best rugby was delayed until the final 10 minutes when Phil de Glanville and Jeremy Guscott scored tries to bring Bath closer than they deserved. The Cup, however, which they have come to regard as their own, has been ripped from their grasp.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo (C Harrison, 80); M Catt, I Sanders; D Hilton, F Mendez, J Mallett (V Ubogu 68), M Haag (G Llanes, 57), N Redman, D Lyle, S Ojomoh, E Peters.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, W Greenwood, S Potter, L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole, J Wells (D Richards, 70), E Miller, N Back.

Referee: C Thomas (Wales).