Bath 12 Leicester 19: Goode makes the best of a bad thing

European quarter-finalists serve up a turgid appetiser for bigger challenge to come
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The Independent Online

Not every Twickenham alickadoo is scratching his head over England's future. There is a group of boffins engaged with researching player burnout, and they ought to snap up a DVD of this match quick-smart. Every knock-on, collapsed scrum and backs move which petered to a standstill screamed of whatever the opposite is to "positive mental attitude". However you slice the season, it occasionally throws up something indigestible.

Leicester scored the only try, through Leon Lloyd, and possessed just enough quality to gain the bragging rights before Saturday's rematch in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals. Brian Ashton, the Bath head coach, did not look for excuses in defeat; he merely stated the obvious about shoehorning a Premiership match between the conclusion of the Six Nations' Championship and the knockout rounds in Europe.

"There was a massive lack of intensity," said Ashton. "We kicked the ball when we were on the front foot, which I think is soft-option rugby." For their part, Leicester had lost five of their seven away matches in the Premiership before this and had no intention of completing an unwanted West Country treble also comprising Bristol and Gloucester. They also survived a stint in the sin-bin for Lewis Moody which spanned half-time.

In truth, once the teams had settled, it was never credible to conceive that Leicester might lose. They were proficient at the line-out - where the long throw negated Bath's Steve Borthwick and Danny Grewcock - and the scrum. They also looked nifty with the rolling maul. Joe Maddock and Andy Higgins were elusive and dangerous in Bath's midfield, but they were not well supported.

There were umpteen England internationals on show, though Olly Barkley was not among them. The Bath fly-half or centre hopes for a comeback for the European tie at the Walkers Stadium, but by then his lay-off with a dislocated thumb will have run to 10 weeks. The fans of Bath appear lukewarm on their prospects, having reportedly returned more than two-thirds of their 8,000 tickets.

As for England, Ashton says he is willing to help coach the national side; he told this newspaper the same thing a year ago while he was the national academy manager. Those who favour a promotion for John Wells, currently with the academy, might recall that when the bluff former flanker left Leicester last summer he was described by his club as "England's next forwards coach".

Bath's pressing concern is relegation. They were quickly forced on to the back foot by two penalties from Andy Goode, Leicester's incumbent England fly-half. After 22 minutes, Geordan Murphy, the only non-Englishman in Leicester's back line, dallied in a South Pacific triangle of a chip by Bath's Australian fly-half, Chris Malone, and a pincer tackle by Maddock and Salesi Finau, respectively a New Zealander and Tongan. The resulting penalty for Murphy failing to release was kicked by Malone, and he added another to level the scores at 6-6.

Leicester's try was a reward for persistence. They looked to have blown it as the ball landed in the mitts of a clutch of tight- forwards, but a maul towards the posts, followed by Goode's long cut-out pass, ushered Lloyd in at the right-hand corner. Goode converted and it was 13-6 in the Tigers' favour on the half-hour.

Malone collected three easy points to punish Moody's blatant pick-up at the side of a ruck, and a yellow card was inevitable. But Leicester maintained parity through their 10-minute spell short-handed, with Goode kicking his third penalty just before the interval.

The only scores thereafter came very late on: a penalty apiece for Goode and Malone. By securing a losing bonus point Bath moved three wins ahead of Leeds and closer to survival. The more imminent challenge in Europe looks more daunting, with Ashton on a search for verve in the next six days.

Bath: M Stephenson (N Abendanon, 75); J Maddock, A Higgins, S Finau, D Bory; C Malone, N Walshe (A Williams, 75); D Flatman (T Filise, 62), L Mears (P Dixon, 75), D Bell, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock (P Short, 62), A Beattie, G Delve, M Lipman (I Fea'unati, 77).

Leicester:: S Vesty; L Lloyd, O Smith, D Hipkiss (M Cornwell, 50), G Murphy; A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey, 80); G Rowntree, J Buckland, J White, B Kay, L Deacon, L Moody, M Corry (capt), S Jennings (W Skinner, 80).

Referee:: C White (Gloucestershire).

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