Rugby Union: Swift's timely flight

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The Independent Online
Bath. . . .14

Leicester. .6

THE problem with the weather is that it has no sense of occasion. Having been given ample notice of the League's biggest day out, it could surely have done better than this.

Snow overnight and pelting rain throughout the match had rendered the pitch close to unplayable and reduced this most important of games to a muddied, muddled lottery. The spectators had been queueing from early morning for seats in the grandly named East Stand, which offered no shelter.

But this was not about the spectators nor, for that matter, was it about providing a spectacle worthy of the occasion. It was simply about winning and Bath cannot have viewed this waterlogged pitch with any less relish than Rory Underwood, dragooned into playing at full- back in place of the injured Wayne Kilford.

This was no day for regular full-backs let alone occasional ones. Underwood must have been sweating buckets at the prospect but if there was any scent of vulnerability in the air then it escaped Bath, who soon discovered more profitable avenues of attack.

Surprisingly, Bath chose to confront their opponents in those areas where Leicester were thought to be strongest - the scrums and mauls.

With the skids well and truly under them in both phases, Leicester had few points around which they could muster to launch their counter- offensives. So severely savaged were they in the scrums that they were frequently forced to concede penalties, a couple of them easily within Jon Callard's range. Bath could even afford the luxury of carrying one of their most influential members, Stuart Barnes, who seemed incapable of exerting any control in conditions favouring those with his low centre of gravity.

It was not until the last 10 minutes that Leicester's makeshift full-back, Rory Underwood, found himself underneath a Barnes bomb and even then he had time to make the mark.

There was an explosion of sorts, however, after just two minutes when Richard Hill took belligerent exception to Adel Kardooni's attentions at a scrummage, elbowing his opponent in full view of the referee.

Jez Harris, with a relatively dry ball, took full advantage of Hill's indiscretion and three points in the conditions might even have been sufficient. But it was soon obvious that Leicester would require more to save them and to keep them in the title race. Time and again Bath sent them slithering backwards.

They even had the temerity to attempt a series of handling moves, all of them closely supported by their mobile and aggressive loose forwards. In the lineouts, too, Bath profited from tidier possession supplied by the tireless Nigel Redman and Andy Reed.

Bath's material reward came in the shape of Callard's two first-half penalties, one for off side, the other against the embattled Darren Garforth, and from the all-important try which, in the conditions, was given additional value.

A poorly supported Leicester move behind their ponderous forwards, imprudent in the extreme, broke down in midfield. Phil de Glanville fly- hacked through and Leicester were forced to kick for touch. Tony Swift, quick to grab the ball as he was to seize the opportunity, threw in to Ben Clarke. Inter-passing between Swift and Catt put Swift over the line but firmly in Martin Johnson's grip. But Swift wriggled free and for the second time in two weeks made a vital contribution to Bath's cause.

Leicester's hopes were now as completely obliterated as the letters on their backs. A change of jerseys at half-time brought no change in the pattern of the game nor in Leicester's fortunes.

So much of their success this season has revolved around their command and domination in the tight exchanges at the scrums and mauls. But Bath had clearly done their homework and produced their most authoritative display of the season up front. Callard and Harris exchanged penalties but Leicester's machine, which has been operating so smoothly in recent weeks and which might have taken the two frontrunners all the way to the chequered flag, stalled a couple of laps from home and Bath, with a four-point lead at the top of the table and a comfortable points differential of 24, need only one point from their remaining two matches to retain the trophy for the fourth year in a row. As a welcome by-product they have also seized the initiative and the psychological advantage for next month's cup final.

Bath: Try Swift; Penalties Callard 3. Leicester: Penalties Harris 2.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman, A Reed, A Robinson, J Hall (capt), B Clarke.

Leicester: R Underwood; T Underwood, S Potter, L Boyle, S Hackney; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, A Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, B Drake- Lee, D Richards (capt).

Referee: D Leslie (RFU).

(Photograph omitted)