Croft piles on the agony to steamroller Bath

Leicester 43 Bath 20
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The Independent Online

There may be no such thing as the perfect "big hit" but Tom Croft got very close to it at Welford Road on Saturday.

When Bath's Olly Barkley was slammed on to his backside by the Leicester flanker half an hour into a one-sided match, seismologists around the country tapped their instruments and the cognoscenti in the stands knew the result and five Premiership points were heading in only one direction: that of the league leaders.

Croft's dexterous leaps in the line-out and exceptional pace have earned him due prominence in the back rows of Leicester, England and the Lions in the last couple of years. He greeted his new-found role of destroyer after meat-mincing Barkley with a degree of humour. "I'm not really sure where that came from. I was just in the right level at the right time. He kind of smashed my shoulder."

It made it sound like a voluntary act by Barkley; if so, an unwise one as the Bath centre retreated from the action with an injured elbow early in the second half, while Croft and his fellow forwards continued piling on the agony in the scrum and elsewhere.

Five Leicester tries to two summed up the balance of power between the old rivals. Bath did not roll over – brave tackles by Nick Abendanon and Matt Carraro kept Leicester's Alex Tuilagi from adding to his two tries – but their run of seven Premiership wins bit the dust with Barkley.

After missing most of the season including the Six Nations with knee injuries, Croft is hoping for a trouble-free run-in to Leicester's almost inevitable home Premiership semi-final and England's summer tour Down Under.

"Touch wood, the knee's holding up now," Croft said. "It's just good to be playing again, and the boys have got the club into a great position, top of the table. There are some class teams, but if each player plays better than our opposite man, you can't lose. We are playing exceptionally well but we have to make sure everything is watertight when we may not play that well."

The Tigers head coach, Richard Cockerill, was in a lather at the refereeing of the scrum and a perceived pooh-poohing of his side's quality. Leicester have won 11 out of 14 matches since mid-December and are odds-on to reach a sixth straight Premiership final. But if there is a sense of vulnerability, it stems from the three defeats, all away from home.

Scorers: Leicester Tigers: Tries Tuilagi 2, Parling, Allen, penalty try; Conversions Flood 3; Penalties Flood 4. Bath: Tries Maddock, Banahan; Conversions: Barkley, James. Penalties Barkley 2.

Leicester Tigers: G Murphy (capt; J Murphy, 70); S Hamilton, M Smith (J Staunton, 63), A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs (J Grindal, 75); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 74), M Davies (G Chuter, 75), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 59), L Deacon (B Kay, 70), G Parling, T Croft, J Crane, L Moody (C Newby, 67).

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, S Hape, O Barkley (M Carraro, 48), M Banahan; B James (N Little, 76), M Claassens (capt; S Bemand, 76); D Barnes (N Catt, 52), L Mears (P Dixon, 63), D Bell (A Jarvis, 76), S Hooper, P Short (D Grewcock, 48), A Beattie (J Faamatuainu, 66), B Skirving, J Salvi.

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).