In the heyday of the 1980s and 90s the silky-skilled Jerry Guscott,Phil de Glanville and Mike Catt held sway on this ground. Yesterday it was the galloping giants of Leicester who inflicted a record margin of defeat in any home league, cup or European match for Bath. This fifth successive away win in the Premiership made the Tigers' path to yet another play-off semi-final, if not a seventh successive final, look assured.
Bath's more nimble attackers, Nick Abendanon, Tom Biggs and Lee Mears, attempted to profit through finesse. Some hope. Abendanon, the full-back, deserved a medal for bravery for taking a path through the Tuilagi brothers Alesana and Manu, late in the first half, given that he had been clattered in every way possible by the Samoan pair, legally and illegally. Later in the match, Abendanon set himself up for a disciplinary charge by coming on to the field after being substituted, to join in a mass brawl.
Bath's worst fault, though, was coughing up turnovers. They had a great start with a couple of breaks by Ben Williams, whose presence at outside centre obliged England's Matt Banahan to shift to the wing. But whenever the ball hit the deck the Tigers moved in for a feast and though their more questionable dabbling cost them a yellow card for the lock Ed Slater, and a penalty kicked by Butch James, they led 10-3. Toby Flood kicked a 12th-minute penalty and Anthony Allen scored a try. A box kick by Ben Youngs from his own line was run back by Abendanon, Leicester ripped the ball off him and Allen, from halfway, brushed past James and dummied Banahan.
Though still a man short, Leicester had a second try after 23 minutes. Youngs's horror show for England in Ireland last weekend was receding in the memory as he darted through a line-out, sold a lavish dummy and gave an inside pass to Tom Croft at full pelt. Flood converted for 17-3 and in the 37th minute it got worse for Bath – whose poor passing mucked up moves from two line-outs – when Thomas Waldrom freed Youngs on an arcing run across his 10-metre line. The scrum-half scooted round two tight forwards, Duncan Bell and Stuart Hooper, and drew Luke Watson to send Flood in for the third try. Abendanon? He was making his way back from another Tuilagi battering.
The international claims of Waldrom – the former Hurricanes and Crusaders No 8 who declared his wish to qualify for England when he joined Leicester last summer – improved markedly in the week when it dawned on him that his maternal grandmother was born in the country he would like to play for. That would circumvent the need to wait three years for residency. The 27-year-old's form makes him worthy of consideration and his dancing feet were prominent in the build-up to Leicester's bonus-point try. It was finished by Flood in the 51st minute after James had kicked a second penalty for Bath.
And so it went on– so it dragged on, painfully, for Bath. "Some of the players said it was an embarrassing scoreboard," said Steve Meehan, their head coach, and they were right. Any thoughts Bath had of advancement among the lower play-off and Heineken Cup places were lost in bungled moves and Tigers pugnacity. A spilled ball was scooped up and run in alone by Croft from 60 metres and Flood converted to reach a personal total of 22 points.
Abendanon received sympathetic applause when he was substituted in the 67th minute but he immediately rejoined the fray, literally and unwisely, as almost every player got involved in a shoving match that ended with an Argentinian from each side, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe and Horacio Agulla, in the sin-bin. "I saw a cheap shot on one of our players," said Abendanon, who won two England caps in 2007. "I apologised to the referee and touch judges afterwards but it is up to the officials if they take if further."
A few more scuffles and dodgy tackles followed from both sides but as shots fired in anger by Bath they were about an hour too late.
"I thought we started the game really poorly," said Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby, whose side had come off a three-week break. "But it was a great result."
Bath N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 66); M Banahan, B Williams, S Vesty (S Hape, 60), T Biggs; B James, M Claassens (M McMillan, 60); D Flatman (N Catt, 55), L Mears (P Dixon, 60), D Bell (D Wilson, 52-76), S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 60), B Skirving, S Taylor, L Watson (capt; G Mercer, 72).
Leicester Tigers S Hamilton; H Agulla, M Tuilagi (M Smith, 66), A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood (J Staunton, 73), B Youngs (J Grindal, 58); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 63), G Chuter (R Hawkins, 63), D Cole (J White, 63), S Mafi, E Slater, T Croft, T Waldrom (J Crane, 52), C Newby (capt; B Woods, 60).
Referee D Pearson (Northumberland).
Pens: James 2
Tries: Allen, Croft 2, Flood 2
Cons: Flood 3
Pens: Flood 2