Our friends in the north, who have been collectively performing in the Zurich Premiership like a brass band short on spit and polish, at least have a red-letter day to pencil into their quiet diaries. Leeds progressed to the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup yesterday, the first time they have done so, with a display that contained more grit than the M1.
Bath, the most successful cup side in history (they won it 10 times in 13 seasons between 1984 and 1996), did not look remotely like the outfit who have taken up residency at the top of the Premiership. Their passing and handling was quite dreadful and when it came to scrapping for 50-50 possession, Leeds invariably came out on top.
The Yorkshire club's gutsy display has earned them a tie in two weeks time at Sale, who put their recent problems behind them when they easily disposed of a sorry Saracens in a snow storm on Friday night. Sale, incidentally, are expected to announce next week the appointment of the former Gloucester coach Philippe Saint-André as their director of rugby. The Frenchman will work with the coach Jim Mallinder, who has just signed a new contract.
''We're going somewhere we've never been before so it was a very special result,'' Phil Davies, the Leeds coach, said. "We are one game away from a major cup final at Twickenham and representing Yorkshire on the national stage, and hopefully people will respond to that. There are 10 places between us and Bath in the league yet we dominated for long periods and the structure of our defence worked well. It was a solid performance and our preparation was excellent.''
Leeds benefited from spending two days at a training camp in the Lake District. Bath, who beat Leeds in the Premiership last week, might have been better prepared had they adjourned to Snowdonia. Instead they endured a seven-hour coach journey on Friday. "We received a kick in the pants,'' John Connolly, Bath's Australian coach, said. Leeds could not miss; in the modern parlance Bath were pants.
The centre of attention here was Mike Tindall, a key member of England's World Cup winning team who was returning from an ankle injury that had kept him out of the game for two months. He has been named in England's preliminary squad for the Six Nations match with Ireland at Twickenham next Saturday but on this form he is nowhere near ready. Indeed he was outplayed by Phil Christophers, once capped by England in Argentina. In a previous life he was a dashing wing with Bristol.
Christophers, now a centre, has dropped down the pecking order although yesterday he did his cause a power of good. He scored both Leeds' tries in a win by a goal, a try and three penalties to a goal and a penalty.
His first try came in the 22nd minute, when Martyn Wood failed to find touch and Leeds ran back with interest. Diego Albanese made headway down the left flank and his inside pass to Christophers created sheer panic in the Bath defence. Although he seemed to be surrounded by Tindall, Alex Crockett and Iain Balshaw, Christophers surged to the line, leaving a trail of blue jerseys in his wake.
Leeds also had the edge in the goal-kicking department. Gordon Ross had given them the lead in the sixth minute with a well-struck penalty after Bath had fallen offside. The West Country club had chances to respond but Olly Barkley failed to convert relatively easy penalty chances in the eighth and 17th minutes.
He finally put some points on the board after Colm Rigney conceded a penalty for taking out Isaac Feaunati, the former Leeds No 8. However Ross, who converted Christophers' try from the touchline, added a long-range penalty after 35 minutes as Leeds established a 13-3 lead at half-time.
The second try from Christophers ensured that Bath's challenge disappeared. It was an extraordinary affair. A penalty attempt from Ross looked as if it was on target when Balshaw leapt up and tapped the ball onto the crossbar. But then Tindall's clearance kick was charged down by Christophers, who gained the rebound to touch down.
Bath's only response came when Tindall, in about his only constructive moment of the match, offloaded a scoring pass to Balshaw and the England full-back went in at the posts for Barkley to convert. Even so, Leeds and Christophers had the last word when the centre's break led to Bath being penalised for handling in a ruck. Ross did the honours.
Leeds, who by and large have failed to maintain their progress of last season, are nevertheless fortunate to be bedfellows with the Rhinos, the rugby league club, rather than the football club. Not that the attendances at Headingley have been earth-shattering. Yesterday 3,740 braved the cold, but the Tykes rewarded them for their support.
Tries: Christophers 2
Pens: Ross 3
Half-time: 13-3 Attendance: 3,740
Leeds: M Cardey; D Scarborough, P Christophers, A Snyman, D Albanese; G Ross, C Stuart-Smith (A Dickens, 74); M Shelley, M Regan, G Kerr (G Powell, 58)), S Hooper, T Palmer (capt), C Rigney, A Popham, D Hyde.
Bath: I Balshaw; A Crockett, M Tindall, O Barkley, S Danielli (W Human, 50); M Catt, M Wood; D Barnes, J Humphreys (L Mears, 59), D Bell (M Stevens, 50), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt), A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 72).
Referee: R Maybank (Kent).Reuse content