The contrast in performance from first half to second could not have been more marked, but considering Bath had 14 men unavailable through injury or international honours, they deserved to stay top of the Premiership through the victory earned by the unglamorous cauliflower ears up front and the faultless boot of Chris Malone.
The back line may have malfunctioned, none more so than when Spencer Davey ignored a two-man overlap in the 55th minute, but in mitigation they were inexperienced and playing out of position. The forwards however were muscular and dominant and Leeds were too often reduced to conceding penalties to stop them. Frequently they entered rucks and mauls from the side - seven times in the first half that the referee spotted - and Matt Salter suffered when he was sent to the sin-bin in the 52nd minute for dragging down an impressive Bath rumble.
The match was evenly poised at his dismissal, but from stuttering and lethargic Bath capitalised on their numerical superiority with added fire and brimstone, Matt Stevens barrelling his way upfield and some precision kicking from Mike Catt at fly-half. His first performance since limping off at Leicester on 29 November looked to have come too early during the first half, particularly as he felt a twinge in the warm-up five minutes before kick-off, but from the resumption he was efficient and commanded territory.
However, his body language suggests he doubts his recovery, as he subconsciously massaged his legs during pauses in play. The breakthrough came when Isaac Feaunati clambered over the line to score in the 62nd minute, seconds before Salter's return. Bath now held the lead for the first time at 19-13 and it was just reward for the pack. It looked a lot better three minutes later when Gordon Ross hit the post with a simple penalty kick. The change in momentum was exemplified by Andy Beattie catching the rebound, charging to the 22 before presenting the ball cleanly and then watching the resulting kick sail past the Leeds 10-metre line. Instead of being a penalty ahead Bath kept their six-point lead and gained territory that Malone capitalised on with another kick in the 71st minute. Playing in an unaccustomed role at full-back, Malone's kicking of 17 points on a blustery day ensured the endeavour of the forwards was not wasted.
John Connolly, Bath's head coach, was pleased. "Winning the Premiership is still our main target," he said. Mike Tindall could start next week in the Powergen quarter-final at Leeds. If he does return it will be three weeks ahead of schedule and will boost Bath's championship hopes, especially with Matt Perry needing an operation on his groin.
Bath: C Malone; W Human, A Higgins, S Davey, A Crockett; M Catt, M Wood; D Flatman, J Humphreys (capt) (L Mears, 62) , D Bell (M Stevens, 49), J Hudson, R Fidler, A Beattie, M Lipman (D Barnes, 23), I Feaunati.
Leeds: M Cardey; D Scarbrough, T Davies, A Snyman, P Christophers; G Ross (D Hodge, 75), A Dickens; M Holt (M Cusack, 64), R Rawlinson, G Powell, P Murphy (S Hooper, 64), T Palmer (capt), M Salter, D Hyde (S Morgan , 67), C Rigney.
Referee: D Rose (Birmingham).Reuse content