THEIR eighth final, their eighth victory. Another notch carved on the trophy, another niche in the pages of history. Is there to be no end to Bath's domination? The team of the Eighties are turning out to be the team of the Nineties as well and Leicester, the only side sufficiently well organised to offer a serious challenge, were powerless to stop them.
The Tigers had come to Twickenham seriously confident of success, having convinced themselves that it was the Bath water, not the opposition, which had gummed up their works in the league match last month. Twickenham provided a more enticing surface for running. Unfortunately, on the day, it was Bath's runners who were the more effective with Tony Swift and Mike Catt scoring tries from two lightning thrusts. Leicester knew that before they could indulge in anything so fanciful, they would first have to subdue the Bath pack. For most of the game, they succeeded, but it is one of Bath's most enduring qualities that when one avenue is closed down, they somehow manage to open up another.
When their line-out developed a problem, John Hall became influential. When their scrummage came under pressure, they released the ball with lightning speed. And when their occasionally beleaguered pack could take no more, Richard Hill and Stuart Barnes took the strain. Barnes's kicking, especially in the first half, was an inspiration to his forwards.
Just when it seemed that the creative design team who have been responsible for so many of Bath's most dazzling moments this season had gone on vacation, they created moments of skill and subtlety. The first came when the ball squirted from Leicester's grasp and Phil de Glanville found acres of space behind the Leicester threequarters for Swift to score. And later when Callard was allowed too much room inside the Leicester 22, Catt was there to finish off the move.
Leicester will point to four missed penalty kicks by Jez Harris as the reason for their failure, but they cannot hope to achieve Bath's level of success by forward power alone. They had chances enough to win the game but ultimately it was the greater dimension which Bath brought to their play that proved decisive.
It was a furiously and often brutally contested game, in which the two packs were still grappling in undignified mauls and mounds at the end. With neither side willing to risk any movement beyond the fringes of their forwards, it was Bath who broke the pattern. Fast and deadly it was, first down the left and then, with Andy Reed and Barnes in the forefront of the charge, down the middle. Leicester were penalised for handling in the ruck and Callard kicked the penalty.
It was not the first time during the game that Leicester were caught with their hands in the ruck, and after 25 minutes Bath had opened up a six-point lead. But Leicester, urged on by the inspirational figure of Dean Richards and heartened by their increasing control in the scrums and mauls, began to come back into the game. Harris matched Callard's three penalties, the third in injury time, and by half-time, the scores were level.
Harris was given the chance to put Leicester ahead for the first time within two minutes of the restart but he missed. That effectively ended Leicester's challenge. They never gave up but one sensed the heart had gone out of them. Bath regained composure and control. They scored their tries and secured another victory which, if not the most glorious in their illustrious past, ensured that Bath have finished the season as England's undisputed champions. And there could be no better parting gift to Jack Rowell, in his final match as coach, than that.
Bath: Tries Swift, Catt; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 3. Leicester: Penalties Harris 3.
Bath: J Callard; A Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman, A Reed, A Robinson (S Ojomoh, 46), B Clarke, J Hall (capt).
Leicester: W Kilford; T Underwood, S Potter, L Boyle, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.
Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).
Jeremy Guscott, the Bath centre, has withdrawn from England's tour of South Africa because of a persistent pelvic injury. His place is taken by Leicester's Stuart PotterReuse content