Vesty leads Tigers into their fifth final in a row
Leicester 24 Bath 10: Bath blitzed as Leicester stay on course for a domestic and European double
Sunday 10 May 2009
You had to feel sorry for the poor Leicester faithful. Perhaps they stopped off at the ticket office on their way out to ask for a refund. There was no penalty shoot-out in this week's semi-final; no repeat of the last minute match-winning score that settled a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Bath here four weeks ago. Just a boring, bog-standard 14-point victory that took Richard Cockerill's Tigers into – yawn, yawn – another final, keeping them on course for a European Cup and domestic championship double.
On this occasion, Leicester were home and hosed with 11 minutes left on the clock. That was when Julien Dupuy – the French sniper of a scrum-half whose 80th-minute dart had delivered the knock-out blow to Bath in the Heineken Cup match – converted a try by that crazy old war horse Lewis Moody to put Cockerill's men effectively out of reach.
For Moody, on the field as a replacement for just three minutes and only two weeks into a comeback from a broken ankle, it was a happy return to scoring form. For another Leicester and England back-row veteran, though, it was "thank you and goodnight". Back in training after suspension and knee ligament trouble, but unable to fight his way into the Tigers' selection frame, Martin Corry thanked the Leicester fans on a lap of honour, then announced that – as had long been expected – he would be hanging up his boots at the season's end.
"If someone is more injured than I am, I'm still in the mix," the 35-year-old former England captain said, with reference to the two finals his club face in the next fortnight. "But the body has said, 'That's it.' It's an easy decision to make."
For Cockerill, with Tom Croft accommodated in the second row and Moody pushing to get back into the mix, there are simply no back-row openings. "Who do you leave out?" Leicester's coach asked. He did so rhetorically.
The questions asked of his side by Bath were of a similar vein. Steve Meehan's men clawed their way back to within seven points before Moody's try, but the outcome never looked to be in serious doubt. Six days on from their extra-time Heineken Cup marathon against the Cardiff Blues, the Tigers had more than enough in their tank to secure a fifth successive appearance in the Premiership final. Prompted by Sam Vesty at outside-half and inspired by their captain and full-back, Geordan Murphy, they could have blitzed Bath by half-time.
"The start was really important for us," Cockerill said. "There was a bit of motivation from their camp saying earlier in the week that they'd come here and run us off our feet."
Leicester fielded 14 of the XV who started at the Millennium Stadium but they were up and running from the start, despite the late disruption of Aaron Mauger's failure to negotiate a fitness test (prompting a shift from outside to inside centre for Dan Hipkiss and a call up for Ayoola Erinle). It was Hipkiss who made the first breakthrough, wriggling over to the left of the posts in the 16th minute. Dupuy converted and would have had another midway through the first half had Shontayne Hape not denied Johne Murphy in the right corner with a finger-tip touch after a brilliantly instinctive hack up-field by Vesty.
Bath were unable to bottle another piece of Vesty brilliance when the outside-half seized a pass from Dupuy from afive-metre scrum on the right and burst through the defensive line. His half-back partner converted, something Ryan Davis was unable to do from out wide after first Michael Claassens and then Stuart Hooper crossed the line for Bath.
At the other end, Dupuy had added a penalty. All it needed was for the Tigers to get their tails up one more time and they did so with 11 minutes on the clock. Geordan Murphy aimed a grubber into the left-hand corner and after Nick Abendanon had taken out Johne Murphy with what looked to be a blatant trip, Moody pounced to apply the scoring touch. The crowd were celebrating long before Vesty lined up a last-minute drop at goal. It drifted wide, but that was an affordable luxury for Leicester yesterday.
Leicester: G Murphy (capt; T Varndell, 77); S Hamilton, A Erinle (M Smith, 75), D Hipkiss, J Murphy; S Vesty, J Dupuy (H Ellis, 72); M Ayerza, G Chuter (B Kayser, 58), M Castrogiovanni (J White, 61), T Croft (M Wentzel, 44-57), B Kay, C Newby (M Wentzel, 78), J Crane, B Woods (L Moody, 66).
Bath: N Abendanon (S Berne, 78); J Maddock, A Crockett (capt; A Higgins, 78), S Hape, M Banahan; R Davis, M Claassens (S Bemand, 72); D Flatman (D Barnes, 64), L Mears ( P Dixon, 64), D Bell, J Harrison, P Short, A Beattie, S Hooper, J Scaysbrook.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).
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