Moody stuns Tigers by signing for Bath

Leicester hit by England flanker's decision to head to the Rec for next season

Bath, looking like their old selves once again after performing an uncanny impersonation of relegation candidates between September and Christmas, yesterday struck a resounding transfer blow by luring the international flanker Lewis Moody away from Leicester.

Moody has signed a three-year deal with the West Countrymen and will move to the Recreation Ground at the end of the current campaign, leaving the Tigers to mourn the loss of one of their own – a rare experience for the biggest, most successful club in the land.

A World Cup winner in 2003 and a Lions Test forward in New Zealand two years later, Moody is expected to win his 60th England cap in the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield a week today. While Bath have proved it possible to buy this kind of experience, it does not come cheap. Notoriously Scrooge-like in splashing the cash, the failure of their bid to retain the services of the disgraced prop Matt Stevens has loosened some of the constraints on their budgetary planning. Stevens announced last month that he will play for Saracens when his two-year ban for cocaine abuse ends early next year.

"I always knew that if I was ever going to leave Leicester, the only club I would consider in the United Kingdom were Bath," said the 31-year-old Moody, who joined the Tigers from school and was forged in the fires of the Welford Road academy. For his part, the Bath coach Steve Meehan described him as "a proven winner who brings vast experience, a fierce determination and great attitude – someone who will help us create more momentum up front".

While Leicester like the look of the significantly younger Ben Woods as an open-side flanker with the best of his days ahead of him, Moody's departure must have hit them hard. "We have seen him grow from a schoolboy into an established international player during his 14 years in our first-team squad and he has been a part of some of the most successful sides in the club's history," said the chairman Peter Tom, teeth firmly gritted.

Officially, Bath have not resigned themselves to losing their current specialist breakaway, Julian Salvi, who has been one of the players of the season to date. But Salvi is known to be tempted by an early return to his native Australia, where he is expected to challenge hard for a place in the Wallaby squad for next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

Another southern hemisphere import, the World Cup-winning Springbok outside-half Butch James, is also the subject of homeland overtures. Natal want him to return to South Africa for next year's Super 15 tournament, but with a good deal of time left on his Bath contract, negotiations will not be straightforward.

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