Bath 26 Leicester 12: Stevens leads way as Bath torment Tigers

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The Independent Online

If Martin Johnson is the inspirational genius some people at Twickenham apparently believe him to be, his old muckers at Leicester need him a whole lot more than England do. The Tigers were a rabble for the first 40 minutes last night, just as they had been a rabble in the EDF Energy Cup final against Ospreys three days previously. They had excuses this time, but excuses do not add up to much when the chances of a play-off place are beginning to evaporate.

How Bath loved rubbing their noses in it in the opening spell. The West Countrymen are quite a force these days, expertly coached by Steve Meehan, lavishly equipped in the grunt-and-groan department – Matt Stevens really is one hell of a footballing prop – and coaxed along from half-back by two accomplished South Africans, the powerful stand-off Butch James and the livewire scrum-half Michael Claassens. Against a weak Leicester, they spent the first half playing the kind of irrepressible rugby not seen here since the days of Hall, Hill, Barnes and Guscott.

Bath were on the board after two minutes, Stevens performing a very passable impersonation of a fully grown rhino as he crossed to the right of the sticks after some forthright approach work from the outstanding Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. Jonny Faamatuainu might have scored a second had he not fumbled in grounding near the left flag, but when Lee Mears and Matt Banahan claimed a try apiece in the minutes leading into the interval, that little blemish was erased from the memory.

A far stronger Leicester side would have struggled to make sense of opponents playing all-purpose rugby with such pace and élan, and while they improved sharply after the interval with the introduction of Aaron Mauger and Martin Corry – their first significant spell of possession resulted in a score for Ian Humphreys – a 26-point deficit at the break meant this was nowhere near as important as it should have been. They cannot afford to take the liberties of old.

If there was a disappointing aspect of Bath's performance, it was that they took the second half off. They will not be proud of themselves, for it cost them a bonus point. Claassens was sent to the sin bin for fiddling around with Leicester ball on the floor, and Banahan quickly followed him for pulling back Frank Murphy off the ball. Murphy then found his way over the line as Bath, confused by a touch judge's mixed messages, stopped defending at precisely the wrong moment. It was a scrappy end to a match that had started so brilliantly.

Bath: Tries Stevens, Mears, Banahan; Conversion James; Penalties James 3. Leicester: Tries Humphreys, Murphy. Conversion Humphreys.

Bath: J Maddock; A Higgins, A Crockett (O Barkley 68), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (M Stephenson 80), M Banahan; A James, M Claassens; D Flatman (D Bell 35), L Mears (P Dixon 68), M Stevens, D Grewcock (P Short 68), S Borthwick (capt), J Faamatuainu (C Goodman 79), M Lipman, D Browne.

Leicester: S Vesty; O Dodge (J Murphy H-T, M Davies 80), A Erinle, M Cornwell (A Mauger 43), T Varndell; I Humphreys, C Laussucq (F Murphy 64); M Ayerza (A Moreno 89), B Kayser, J White, R Blaze (M Corry 8-13), B Kay (capt), T Croft, B Pienaar (Corry 47), B Deacon (J Crane 76).

Referee: W Barnes (London).