Bath 43 Leicester 25: Berne's hot Bath singes Tigers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Strewth, as they might say Down Under. Two of England's heavyweights, coached by Aussies who went to the same school and grew up in the same suburb, slugged it out on a balmy afternoon in the West Country to dramatic effect. The difference between Steve Meehan and Pat Howard is that the former is only the acting head coach of Bath, although the sooner he gets rid of the Equity card the better.

This was Meehan's first home game in charge and it could hardly have produced a more sensational result. Bath opened the season with a defeat at Gloucester while Leicester disposed of the champions, Sale, in ominous fashion. The Tigers, Meehan said beforehand, were red-hot favourites here. Who was he trying to kid? At the end of an exhausting affair that lasted nearly 100 minutes, Bath got home by a goal, three tries and seven penalties to a goal, a drop goal and five penalties.

There seems to be something about Bath that reduces Leicester to mediocrity. The last time they met, in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup at the Walkers Stadium, Bath edged it in a tryless match even though they were down to 13 men in the dying stages.

This was a very different encounter. For one thing it was nip and tuck until the final quarter, when Bath brilliantly outflanked one of the best defences in the business to not only secure a notable victory but gain a bonus point by virtue of scoring four tries.

What a finale, what a match. Meehan has taken over from Brian Ashton, who has joined Rob Andrew's crusade at Twickenham, and the England backs coach would have loved the tries Bath produced in the closing minutes. It was another Australian, Shaun Berne, who played a massive role in the final dissection of the Tigers.

Berne, switched to centre to accommodate Chris Malone, yet another Aussie, at stand-off, delivered a master class in giving and taking a pass at precisely the right moment. The conditions begged for such an approach yet for the most part the game was dominated by the goal-kicking contest between Olly Barkley and Andy Goode. On a day when four yellow cards were issued by the referee Dave Pearson - to Danny Grewcock for Bath and Louis Deacon, Martin Castrogiovanni and Dan Hipkiss for Leicester - they were presented with plenty of potshots but ultimately the Tigers paid a heavy price for their lack of adventure.

While Tom Varndell hardly received a pass, Bath scored an absolute cracker when Berne ran from his own 22 and a smart interchange of passes ended in the full-back Nick Abendanon touching down in the left corner. Abendanon had the pace to withstand the challenge of Varndell.

The Rec was rocking and there was time for an encore. In the 84th minute Berne and Andy Higgins combined to send Joe Maddock in on a clear overlap, again the result of perfectly timed passes. The upshot, apart from a surprisingly heavy defeat for Leicester, was five precious points for Bath. When they are in this mood few teams will enjoy any recreation at this ground.

The start of the match had been as eventful as the end, Steve Borthwick, the Bath captain, galloping over for a try in the sixth minute (Barkley and Goode had already exchanged penalties) after Lee Mears and Isaac Fea'unati had driven down the middle.

Three minutes later Scott Bemand broke on the blind side of a scrum, sold a dummy and was over from 25 yards.

Although Goode landed a penalty from Grewcock's yellow card, issued for killing the ball, Leicester were unable to exploit their advantage because Castrogiovanni, who only started when Alex Moreno pulled up in the warm-up, joined the England lock in the bin. When Sam Vesty dropped a stunning goal from the right-hand touchline it was 16-14 to Leicester and at half-time they were 22-17 up.

And then Leicester gave an impression of falling apart. Goode missed a simple penalty and when Louis Deacon got his yellow, Bath immediately struck, kicking the resultant penalty to touch and from the line-out forming a rolling maul, at the bottom of which was the try-scorer, the outstanding Samoan Fea'unati. When Barkley added a penalty in the 61st minute Bath had the lead for the fifth time, and this time they were on an irresistible roll.

Bath: N Abendanon; M Stephenson (A Higgins, 61), S Berne, O Barkley, J Maddock; C Malone, N Walshe (A Williams, 80); D Barnes, L Mears (R Hawkins, 80), D Bell, S Borthwick (capt; R Fidler, 64),D Grewcock, P Short, I Fea'unati (C Goodman, 80), G Delve.

Leicester: S Vesty; S Rabeni, D Gibson (D Hipkiss, 55), M Cornwell, T Varndell; A Goode, S Bemand (G Murphy, 66); M Castrogiovanni (M Ayerza, 70), G Chuter (J Buckland, 66), J White, J Hamilton, B Kay (B Deacon, 40), L Deacon, M Corry (capt), L Abraham (H Tuilagi, 58; M Smith, 75).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).