Vesty the true Tiger puts Leicester into fifth consecutive final

Leicester 24 Bath 10
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The Independent Online

The rock band in which Sam Vesty strums along with his fellow Tigers goes by the name of Slo Progress, which once upon a time might have been a fair summation of his quest to become part of the first-team fixtures and fittings with his hometown club.

Not so very long ago, the fourth- generation Tiger (his great-granddad and grandfather played on the wing, his dad Phil packed down in the front row next to Peter Wheeler in the 1970s) was considering trying his luck elsewhere, his talents as a "universal back" having been ignored by Marcelo Loffreda and Heyneke Meyer. On Saturday, as the 27-year-old steered Leicester into the Premiership final, it was difficult to imagine the watching England manager, Martin Johnson, overlooking his considerable gifts, let alone Richard Cockerill, under whose charge the former England Saxon has flourished these past three months.

On an afternoon when one veteran back rower, Lewis Moody, plundered the clinching score, and another, Martin Corry, formally announced his intention to retire at the season's end, it was the Leicester man with the Tigers' blood running through his veins who did the decisive string-pulling.

It helped that his pack steamrollered Bath at the breakdown. Still, Vesty could hardly have made more productive use of the front-foot possession that came his way. Shifted from inside-centre to replace the injured Toby Flood at outside-half, everything he did was hallmarked with a supreme assurance and a razor-sharp instinct. His chip-kicks up the right wing nearly conjured tries from nothing for Scott Hamilton and Johne Murphy in the opening quarter. Then, after Danny Hipkiss had wriggled over for the opening score, there was the strike for the jugular that took Vesty through the Bath defensive line and over the whitewash two minutes before the interval.

To their credit, Bath made something of a fight of it in the third quarter, Michael Claassens diving over in the left corner and Stuart Hooper in the right. With Ryan Davis off-radar with the boot, though, Steve Meehan's men never seriously looked like denying Leicester a fifth successive spot in the Premiership final – this time against London Irish at Twickenham next Saturday, seven days ahead of their Heineken Cup final against Leinster at Murrayfield.

Six days on from their marathon European semi-final against Cardiff Blues, the Tigers had more than enough left in the tank. Moody – on the comeback trail following a broken ankle and on as a replacement for just three minutes – pounced to score in the left corner 11 minutes from time.

All of which left Cockerill with a double challenge on his plate. "Whatever happens now, we've had a good year," Leicester's fledgling director of rugby said, "but the hunger in the changing room is still very strong. We'll see. The proof of the pudding will be in the tasting of the cake, or pudding... whatever."

Scorers: Leicester: Tries Hipkiss, Vesty, Moody; Conversions Dupuy (3); Penalty Dupuy. Bath: Tries Claasens, Hooper.

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), B Woods ( L Moody, 66), J Crane.

Bath: N Abendanon (S Berne, 78); J Maddock, A Crockett (capt) (A Higgins, 78), S Hape, M Banahan; R Davis, M Claasens (S Bemand, 72); D Flatman (D Barnes, 64), L Mears (P Dixon, 64), D Bell, J Harrison, P Short, A Beattie, J Scaysbook, S Hooper.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).