Leicester 12 Bath 15: Cheeseman hits hard as 13-man heroics defy Tigers

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The Independent Online

This was dubbed in some quarters "The Battle of Britain". In fact, as battles go, this one never really hit the heights.

Nor did the ball ever fly into space, except when Andy Goode or Chris Malone was hoofing the leather off it for yet another touch kick or penalty. And while the climax was pulsating, with the Tigers pressing the remnants of the side Bath from close range for 10 minutes, the law and the force was with the West Country team.

They had lost two men, both props, to the sin-bin so the French referee, Joel Jutge, ordered uncontested scrums. As Olly Barkley pointed out, that decision favoured Bath - heavily.

"It is very possible that had the second sin-binning not taken place we would have lost the game," said the centre. "One of the saving graces of being reduced to 13 men was the fact that we had uncontested scrums.

"Although you can argue that we would have had one extra defender, it would have made life much harder if we had had to scrummage properly at the end, because if Leicester had had dominance in the scrum they would have been able to launch attacks from five metres out. It was brought back to parity up front by being uncontested. So you could say we would have been worse off with 14 men than we were with 13."

It is a question that needs to be addressed by the game's authorities, because ultimately Leicester were punished for Bath's transgressions at the scrum. Such a state of affairs could lead to teams deliberately having a second front-row specialist sent to the sin-bin, in order to nullify the opposition's threat up front.

The 13 Bath players left standing had to work like demons, though. Not a tackle was missed, not a gap left unguarded. And, unlike the scrums, not a loose ball went uncontested.

Leicester were even forced to turn over possession when just centimetres short of that elusive try. Their fly-half, Andy Goode, committed a howler when he ignored a six-two overlap and decided to go the remaining two metres himself, only to find himself tackled.

Indeed, the Bath defence was staggering. The replacement centre Tom Cheeseman brought off a couple of huge hits - a sensational one on the Samoan muscleman Alesana Tuilagi and another try-saver to stop the England No 8 and captain, Martin Corry, in his tracks.

The Leicester captain was stunned afterwards. He could not comprehend how his Tigers had not managed to outscore 13 shattered opponents.

"I have not yet worked out how we lost it," he said. "We should have won that game. We were playing against 13 men and it is as frustrating as hell. Everything was right leading up to the game. There was a great spirit in the camp."

It was the second big match Leicester have lost this season, after last month's Powergen Cup semi-final with Wasps, despite having plenty of chances to win. Corry added: "Six weeks ago we were in three competitions, now we are in one. We have to do everything in our powers to give the Premiership our best shot."

Thus far this season Leicester's best shots have not been that good, and they were certainly found wanting at the Walkers Stadium. There were just 2,200 Bath fans among the 32,500 crowd, but never have 30,300 people been so silent as in the first few moments after the final whistle.

In future there is every chance that Leicester will stick to their more modest but better fortified Welford Road home, as this was their second match at the city's football stadium and the second defeat they have suffered there, after last year's Heineken Cup semi-final loss to Toulouse.

Everything up to those last desperate moments had pointed to a Leicester triumph. A week earlier they had completed a Premiership double over the same opponents at the Recreation Ground. Bath had lost the services of Steve Borthwick, a key man in the line-out and their club captain, with a twisted knee. Given their parlous form and position in the Premiership, they looked vulnerable.

The Tigers dominated in the scrums, but their line-out stuttered, their distribution was less than perfect and their backs did not present the threat their opponents did. The upshot? Bath battle on.

Leicester: Penalties Goode 4. Bath: Penalties Malone 5.

Leicester: S Vesty; L Lloyd (A Tuilagi, 63), O Smith, D Hipkiss, G Murphy; A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey, 60); G Rowntree, G Chuter (J Buckland, 40), J White, L Deacon, B Kay, L Moody, S Jennings (L Abraham, 66), M Corry (capt).

Bath: M Stephenson; A Higgins, A Crockett (T Cheeseman, 69), O Barkley, D Bory; C Malone, N Walshe; T Filise, L Mears, D Bell (D Flatman, 50), J Hudson (P Short, 40), D Grewcock, A Beattie, G Delve (M Lipman, 63), I Fea'unati (capt).

Referee: J Jutge (France).