To play or not to play. Two weeks before the first autumn inter-national, against New Zealand, England's likely fly-half, Toby Flood, kicked perfectly to steer Leicester to a valuable Premiership win. He has let it be known he would like more of the same – action, that is – at Gloucester next Saturday.
Normal practice would see England players rest on the weekend before a Test but Flood has been short of matches since injuring a knee on the first weekend of the season. Martin Johnson, the nationalteam manager who was here to see something of an old-fashioned, rain-affected scrap, was due to chew it over last night with a former club-mate, the Leicester head coach, Richard Cockerill.
"It'll be Martin's call," said Cockerill. "Speaking to Floody, he would like to keep playing because he'll have played only two-and-a-half games in two months before facing the All Blacks which is not ideal, body-hardness wise and everything else. Johnno's pretty good, he talkscommon sense and I'll respect his decision either way."
Bath's former Leicester flanker and incumbent England captain, Lewis Moody, is even more in need of a run-out, after three weeks spent nursing a bruised eyeball. England have two other crocked No 7s, Steffon Armitage and Hendre Fourie (the latter having damaged ribs while playing for Leeds on Friday). Bath's head coach, Steve Meehan, said Moody would play at Harlequins next Sunday, six days before the All Blacks come a'haka-ing over the road at Twickenham.
When to rest in a cluttered season is a conundrum, and no wonder clubs go in for signings such as Leicester's Thomas Waldrom, who have no international ties, at least not for the very long run of a possible qualification for England on residency in three years' time. The New Zealander may at first glance look as if he has come to Leicestershire for the Melton Mowbray pies but like Quins' Nick Easter he is a No 8 rich in nous who knows where to be and how to dodge and steal a few metres in tight spaces.
Waldrom's skills were particularlyuseful in the pouring rain which accompanied the second quarter here, though the Bath back-rowers Simon Taylor and Luke Watson (the latter at openside in Moody's absence) had success at the breakdown. Both full-backs, Geordan Murphy and Nick Abendanon, ran the gauntlet of opponents sliding in for accidentally-on-purpose collisions.
Some might say that a repeat of these conditions would be England's best friend when they face the All Blacks. With four of this Leicester XV likely to start at Twickenham, it was intriguing to see how the Tigers fared. Ben Youngs at scrum-half was roughed up a bit by Watson and company early on but he played with an obdurate authority. Up in the murk and mire, Bath's scrum came under pressure from Dan Cole's tighthead expertise, but the visitors' lineoutwas solid and overall Meehan was delighted.
"It's our best wet-weather performance for bloody years," he said. If Olly Barkley had not missed two penalties in the latter stages of the first half, and been more decisive over a possible drop-goal two minutes into the second half, Bath might have ended a run of eight matches without a win against their great rivals.
Shontayne Hape, a possible centre choice for England, was seen mostly– and effectively – in defence for Bath. When his side occasionally made attacking ground in wide channels it was by returning clearances from Flood. The latter squirted a drop-goal over after 80 seconds and Leicester led 12-6 at half-time with three penalties by Flood to two from Barkley, from further out than his pair of misses. While Moody watched another returning Tiger, Sam Vesty, was trampled and bedraggled at fly-half. A counterattack down the left by Abendanon was held but Bath worked the ball nearer the posts.Vesty fumbled it between his legs while in a quarterback-style snap position.
Four minutes into the second half – and after Barkley's hesitation undid more good work out wide – Vesty, trapped in a ruck in his own half, conceded a penalty and received a few semi-friendly studs in his guts. Flood, who never missed, made it 15-6 and much later, when Vesty dinked a kick dead in a promising position, he raised his eyes to familiar skies.
With Cole on the prowl, Bath's front-row went down in the 49th minute and Flood made it 18-6. There was one against the head too for Leicester, after 65 minutes, by when they had been pegged back to 18-15 by three Barkley kicks. Flood kicked his sixth penalty in the 73rd minute and though he fell offside in his 22 to allow Bath a last attacking chance, it was thwarted and Leicester held on.
Leicester Tigers G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, M Smith, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; B Stankovich (M Ayerza,4), G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 55), E Slater, G Skivington, T Croft, T Waldrom, C Newby (B Woods, 75).
Bath N Abendanon; M Carraro, S Hape, O Barkley, M Banahan;S Vesty, M Claassens (M McMillan, 68); D Flatman (N Catt, 67), P Dixon, D Bell, S Hooper, I Fernandez Lobbe (B Skirving,73), A Beattie, S Taylor, L Watson (capt).
Referee A Small (London).