Holt seizes late chance to end his Leeds life on a high

Bath 6 - Leeds 10
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The Independent Online

It started directly under the bridge of his crumpled nose and burst forth to each of the cauliflowered lobes adorning his battered face. Yes, Matt Holt's smile was something to behold here on Saturday evening. If ever a team's delight was encapsulated in one individual then surely this was it.

The sometime prop, sometime hooker, sometime bit-part player, sometime superhero, was the unlikeliest of conquerors as Leeds completed the unlikeliest of survivals with the unlikeliest of victories over the unfriendliest of Bath sides.

It would be unfair to say that this mediocre afternoon's fare summed up Leeds' four-wins-in-the-last-four-games drive to maintaining Premiership status - there has been too much opportunistic brilliance in seven weeks that also brought them the Powergen Cup and entry into next season' Heineken Cup to dare suggest that. But the fight they showed in repelling the imposing but single-celled West Countrymen did highlight the perspiration-beats-inspiration philosophy that fairly drips through Phil Davies' squad.

"We've achieved so many things this season and the one thing we've always focused on is working hard for each other," said Holt, who knows more than every other Tyke just what can be gained when forehead is pressed to grindstone.

The 33-year-old veteran of the bent-back brigade was at Leeds in the formative years, but from today has left the professional ranks to take up a player-coaching role in the Wirral with Caldy RFC.

"I've had plenty of highlights with this club but this one just tops it all," said Holt, with something resembling tears in bloodshot eyes as he reflected on a farewell game that was positively dreamlike. "We knew we couldn't control the other results - there was nothing we could do about them so we had to get a result.

"We didn't know what was going on anywhere else. We just knew we needed points and when the last line-out came we knew it was the last play."

That eventuality seemed an impossibility as Olly Barkley stood over a penalty 15 yards out, straight in front of the posts, with around 90 seconds left on Steve Lander's stopwatch. At the time Bath were 6-3 to the good, although that miserable advantage in itself was a blatant scandal after they had dominated from whistle to whistle.

Barkley, somehow, pulled it - the equivalent of Tiger Woods missing a one-foot putt without so much as touching the hole - Leeds scrambled the ball northwards and after Alan Dickens had turned on the flash stuff, Holt, the substitute prop, was on hand to cap his career.

As Ross applied the extras, to add salt to freshly carved wounds, Bath looked at each other in disbelief. With Sale's leapfrog into third place, the thoroughly unpalatable thought of having to face Wasps next Saturday in the Zurich Premiership semi-final had been spared them, but so too, they first believed, had automatic Heineken Cup qualification.

Fortunately, the mathematicians soon allowed everyone to realise that fourth place would be passport enough for Europe, and they would not have to take the tortuous wildcard route. It was one of those afternoons: something for everyone. But for Leeds, and Holt in particular, so much more.

Bath: Penalty Barkley; Drop goal Malone. Leeds: Try Holt; Conversion Ross; Penalty Ross.

Bath: M Perry; A Williams, T Cheeseman, O Barkley, F Welsh; C Malone, M Wood (N Walshe, 61); D Barnes, J Humphreys (L Mears, 30), D Bell, J Hudson, D Grewcock, G Lewis, J Scaysbrook, G Delve.

Leeds: D Albanese; A Snyman, P Christophers, C Bell, T Biggs; G Ross, A Dickens; M Shelley, M Regan (R Rawlinson, 56), G Kerr (M Holt, 46); S Hooper (capt), S Morgan; C Rigney (J Dunbar, 65), R Parks (D Hyde, 46), A Popham.

Referee: S Lander (Cheshire).