It might have a new name, as the Aviva Premiership, but the English top- flight season remains a job for a Paula Radcliffe rather than a Usain Bolt. Still, having come close to hitting the wall before the half-way stage in last term's marathon, Bath got off to a flyer at Headingley yesterday, their new captain Luke Watson clinching a bonus point victory with their fourth try of the afternoon.
In doing so, they matched the number of victories they gained before Christmas in their Jekyll and Hyde 2009-10 campaign, which they started with a 24-5 hammering up the road at Gloucester and finished with a play-off semi-final defeat away to Leicester. Their quest to go one – ideally two – better this season opened with a 17-point contribution from a former Tigers fly-half, Sam Vesty plundering a try, three conversions and two penalties on his debut.England captain Lewis Moody was another of the new boys on show for Bath but it was an established wrecking ball from The Rec who did most of the damage to a Leeds side who found themselves shut out until Steve Thompson, making his debut as a second-half sub, claimed a consolation try.
The vistitors lost Olly Barkley to a bruised thumb before kick-off, but shifting Shontayne Hape to inside-centre afforded Steve Meehan's men the opportunity to utilise the battering ram qualities of Matt Banahan from No 13. The first charge by the 6ft 7in wing drew the offside offence that allowed Vesty to kick Bath into the lead.
Ceiron Thomas landed two penalties to give Leeds a 6-3 advantage before Bath broke through in the 35th minute after Banahan took a scissors feed from Vesty and punched a mighty hole in the home guard. Vesty then shipped the ball out right to Nick Abendanon, who cut inside to score. Vesty added the extras but a Thomas drop goal left Bath with just a 10-9 lead at half-time.
Thereafter, the gulf on the pitch was reflected on the scoreboard. Five minutes into the second-half Banahan made another bullocking run and from a scrum Vesty bolted through a gap to touch down. The outside-half converted, and did so again when Matt Carraro crossed and it fell to Watson to secure the bonus-point score.
For Ian McGeechan, back at the ground where he bowled in the nets to another future knight of the realm, Geoffrey Boycott, in his youthful days as a Yorkshire Federation player, it was not quite a cricket score. Still, in his new role as Bath's performance director, it was a more than satisfactory starting display.
Leeds: Try: Thompson; Conversion: Hinton; Penalties: Thomas 2; Drop goal: Thomas.
Bath: Tries: Abendanon, Vesty, Carraro, Watson; Conversions: Vesty 3; Penalties: Vesty 2.
Leeds: M Stephenson; L Blackett (L Hinton, 65), L Burrell, L MacKay, S Tadulala: C Thomas (S Barrow, 52), S Mathie (W Fury, 63); M Alonso (G Hardy, 63), A Titterrell (S Thompson, 49), J Gomez (P Swainston, 53), T Denton, M Wentzel (capt) (R Oakley, 71), K Myall, J Fourie (A To'oala, 55), D Browne.
Bath: N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 63); M Carraro, M Banahan, T Biggs (M McMillan, 70); S Vesty, M Claassens; D Flatman (N Catt, 55), L Mears (P Dixon, 65), D Wilson (D Bell, 65), S Hooper, D Grewcock (B Skirving, 65), S Taylor, L Moody (A Beattie, 65), L Watson (capt).
Referee: JP Doyle (Dublin).