If Leeds's performance here, after a lengthy trip to the south west, is anything to go by, the relegation battle is about to get really interesting. Leeds lost all nine of their Aviva Premiership fixtures from September through December but they have raised hopes of an unlikely escape from the drop by starting 2011 with a bang.
New Year's Day saw their first league win, at home to Gloucester, and they arrived at The Rec filled with festive spirit and with time running out at the end of the game their confidence seemed justified. Level at 13-13, they must have sensed another win. It would not be truly accurate to say they would have deserved it, but they must have fancied their chances after a converted Steve Thompson try tied things up on the hour.
But they struggled to push on as the clock ticked down and it was Bath who kept their composure, with Olly Barkley kicking a 68th-minute penalty that gave them their fifth league win of the season.
On such small margins are success and failure divided but Leeds – now four points behind the 11th-placed team, Newcastle – are convinced that they will not be the ones dropping out of the top flight this season.
"If we replicate our performance today in our next 11 games, we will avoid relegation," said their directorof rugby, Andy Key. "We're frustrated because we could have won but it demonstrated what the players can achieve. In the second half of last season we were a top-four side and we see no reason why that can't be replicated."
In truth, Bath were worthy winners. They were not as clinical as they were at the back end of last season but they were the better side, despite losing their captain, Luke Watson, to a quadriceps injury in the warm up. They scored only one well-taken try, through the wing Nick Abendanon a minute into the second half, but they showed ample creativity.
"There's only one thing worse than winning an ugly match and that's losing one," said their head coach, Steve Meehan. "After some great attacking rugby we were denied by our own errors and their strong defensive efforts. But some of the moves we put together were as good as any over the last few years."
Bath J Cuthbert; M Banahan, O Barkley, S Hape, N Abendanon; B James, M Claassens (capt); D Barnes (D Bell, 51), L Mears (P Dixon, 60), D Wilson, S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 51), B Skirving, S Taylor, L Moody.
Leeds C Thomas; L Blackett, H Fa'afili, S Barrow, M Stephenson (L Burrell, 60); L MacKay (L Hinton, 28), W Fury (S Mathie, 54); G Hardy (M MacDonald, 51), S Thompson (P Nilsen, 74), P Swainston (G Denman, 60), T Denton, M Wentzel (capt), R Oakley (A To'oala, 60), D Browne (K Myall, 51), H Fourie.
Referee JP Doyle (London)
Pens: Barkley 3
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