Bath vs Leicester Tigers match report: Matt Banahan hat-trick leads West Country side to Premiership final as they run riot

Bath 47 Leicester Tigers 10: Three tries from the giant wing plus scores for George Ford, Anthony Watson, Peter Stringer and Kyle Eastmond secured Twickenham spot

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The Independent Online

Once upon a time Bath were perennial elite finalists but it has not happened since 2004. Here, however, they made up for lost time by putting Leicester to the sword in as emphatic a fashion as they did back in September when they scored 45 points against the Tigers without reply. This may have been their eleventh successive play-off but this time, even when Bath were reduced to 13 men around half-time, Leicester were never in the hunt.

Bath’s defence simply absorbed the weight of one-dimensional Leicester pressure and, with ball in hand, appeared on a different planet. Matt Banahan, the former England wing unconsidered for the coming World Cup., scored three of his side’s six tries, benefitting from the splendid service of Jonathan Joseph and, inevitably, the orchestration of the player of the season, George Ford, which carried Bath to their Twickenham finale against Saracens.

Within 100 seconds Bath shredded the meanest defence in the Premiership. Leicester arrived at the Rec having conceded only 39 tries in the entire league season (five of them to Bath in the September debacle) but they found no way of stopping Dave Attwood and Ford creating space for Jonathan Joseph, and the centre sent Matt Banahan over in the left-hand corner.

Indeed, it was the home defence that proved more durable because Bath spent most of the first quarter in their own 22. Freddie Burns pushed a straightforward penalty attempt wide and then hit an upright from 43 metres  after Bath were penalised at a ruck. But it was the visitors’ inability to break the line that crippled them. Christian Loamanu was used as a battering ram but Bath’s big back row proved more than equal to the challenge.

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Kyle Eastmond celebrates after scoring a try for Bath

The comparison of bludgeon against rapier became even more apposite when Bath scored two further tries within the space of five minutes. All Leicester had to show for their territorial dominance was a Burns penalty at the third attempt and, from the restart, they dropped the ball. Bath efficiently recycled three times before Joseph, again, provided the scoring pass for Banahan in the same corner.

Bath’s appetite for the counter was self-evident and their third try started on halfway, when Semesa Rokoduguni slipped clear of Vereniki Goneva and lofted a delicate chip over Niall Morris. Kyle Eastmond  followed up to score and, with Ford converting all three tries, Bath could sneer at the match statistics which showed Leicester in control of everything save the scoreboard.

Then followed disaster for Bath. Anthony Watson received a yellow card as Leicester pounded the home line and, within two minutes, he was followed to the sin bin by Leroy Houston for pulling down a driving maul on his own line. Playing against 13 men, Leicester managed to work Morris over but the full-back was called back having lost the ball in Rokoduguni’s cover tackle. Somewhat generously, Leicester were given another chance because the referee had been playing advantage and this time, on the stroke of half-time, Tom Youngs got the score.

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Peter Stringer stretches to score on his final appearance at Bath

But Leicester’s situation had not improved by the time Bath’s two cards ended; in fact, it was worse since Morris sustained a nasty injury from the knee of one of his own players at a ruck and was carried off. Burns and Tommy Bell, the replacement, had chances to score through lo, ng-range penalties but misfired and Bath, conscious of the energy-sapping heat, began to introduce fresh forwards. The scrums, of which there had been only two in the first half, became messier and messier as the game tried to recover from the prolonged wait while Morris was receiving treatment. Leicester continued to dominate possession and the penalty count but their attacks became increasingly laboured. During the regular season they scored almost exactly half the number of tries registered by Bath and it was easy to see why. They relied almost exclusively on the centre combination of Loamanu and Mathew Tait to make inroads and those two have spent too little time in each other’s company.

Even when they found space, handling errors let them down. In stark contrast, Bath soaked up the pressure and then scored with apparent ease: Carl Fearns burst away and found Francois Louw at his elbow before the ageless Peter Stringer finished the forty-metre move. To complete the capacity crowd’s pleasure their newest hero, Ford, arrived in support of Rokoduguni’s powerful burst on the short side of a scrum and the fly half trotted home before Banahan completed his hat-trick thanks to Watson’s surging run from midfield..There was still time for Watson to gallop through a tired tackle for a try of his own, Ford’s sixth conversion bringing Bath to a century of points in three games against Leicester this season.

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Sam Burgess and Francois Louw celebrate the victory

Teams:

Bath: A Watson (sin bin 33-43); S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, K Eastmond (O Devoto, 67), M Banahan; G Ford, P Stringer; P James (N Auterac, 23-33, 46), R Batty (R Webber, 53), D Wilson (H Thomas, 48), S Hooper (captain; D Day, 52), D Attwood, S Burgess (M Garvey, 54), F Louw, L Houston (sin bin 35-45; C Fearns, 57).

Leicester: N Morris (T Bell, 44); A Thompstone, M Tait (G Catchpole, 67), C Loamanu, V Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs (captain; S Harrison, 61); M Ayerza (M Rizzo, 69), T Youngs, D Cole (F Balmain, 69), B Thorn, G Kitchener (S de Chaves, 69), E Slater, J Salvi, J Crane (J GIbson, 54).

Referee: J P Doyle (London)

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