Ross masterminds classic upset of Bath

Bath 12 - Leeds 20
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The Independent Online

Strange side, Leeds. In hibernation for nine-tenths of the season, they have suddenly started to play as if their livelihoods, if not their lives, are at stake. Which, of course, they are.

Strange side, Leeds. In hibernation for nine-tenths of the season, they have suddenly started to play as if their livelihoods, if not their lives, are at stake. Which, of course, they are.

Bottom of the Premiership, they need to perform a few more heroics yet if they are to avoid relegation, a fate that would render yesterday's extraordinary victory almost meaningless. Indeed, if Leeds go down they would not be entitled to the huge side-benefit of winning the Powergen Cup - automatic qualification to next season's Heineken Cup. In their wisdom, the Premiership have decided that no side in National League One will take part in Europe's premier competition.

Enough, though, of the negatives. On this evidence, Leeds, who have picked up nine points in their last two League matches, can survive anything. In the second half, they were pummelled from pillar to post yet were almost Churchillian in their defiance of everything Bath could throw at them.

Leeds's defence was epic. In front of a crowd of close to 60,000, the majority from the West Country, the Tykes built a lead and held on to it as if they were playing for the crown jewels. This was their first final, against a club who had won 10 without losing one. Despite a superiority up front, Bath were outscored two tries to nil. They had more possession than they knew what to do with.

Both teams lost their captains, Bath before the start when Steve Borthwick withdrew with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Rob Fidler. It was even worse for Leeds. Three minutes into the match, Iain Balshaw, who was named in the Lions squad for the tour to New Zealand, injured his left leg in a tackle. In some distress, the full-back, who is more injury-prone than Jonny Wilkinson, limped off and didn't manage a smile until 80 minutes later. Balshaw revealed that he had taken a gamble in playing. "In training on Wednesday I felt something pop," he said. He will have a scan on his left knee tomorrow. "It could be a strain or a tear." The last time he tore a knee muscle he was out for eight weeks. Leeds brought on Diego Albanese and moved the young wing Tom Biggs to full-back. They also lost their Test centre Phil Christophers in the 26th minute. By that stage they were leading 6-3 after two penalties from Gordon Ross to one from Chris Malone.

Four minutes after Christophers departed, Ross opened up the Bath defence for their first try. Leeds had won a penalty inside the Bath 22, close to the right-hand touchline, and he elected to go for touch rather than kick at goal. The most reliable aspect of the Leeds forward game was their line-out, and after they had secured possession, the little stand-off, with the Bath defence up, put in a perfect chip towards the posts which fell into the arms of the centre Chris Bell.

Ross converted to give Leeds a 13-3 lead, and they spent almost the rest of the match hanging on to it for grim death. The Bath forwards, particularly at the scrum, took a stranglehold, and gradually Malone chipped away at the deficit to make it 13-9. But then his performance became more of a liability than an asset.

In first-half injury time, as Bath were attacking just outside the Leeds 22, Malone threw a long pass which was intended for Welsh, but was instead intercepted by Andre Snyman. The South African wing ran about 80 yards for a try which turned out to be a priceless gift.

In a tale of two outside-halves, Ross, the Scotsman, was made man of the match; Malone, the Australian, was made a scapegoat. Just before his pass to Snyman, Malone made a lovely little break which he failed to exploit, and to make matters worse he kicked pointlessly to the corner after Bath had won about 10 successive phases of possession.

With Ross converting Snyman's try, Leeds went in at half-time with a 20-9 lead, and if they expected a backlash in the second half, they got it. Malone made it four penalties out of four in the 45th minute after Ross had failed to find touch. And such was Bath's pressure that they looked favourites to win the cup for an 11th time, if only through Malone's boot.

In the 50th minute, Matt Stevens, the Bath prop who is expected to make a big impact on the Lions tour, made life impossible for Gavin Kerr and the upshot was another penalty. This time, however, Malone's kick struck the right-hand upright. The miss did nothing for his game. If Ross had kept his eye on the ball instead of on a player, another interception would have resulted from one of Malone's telegraphed passes.

Such was the one-sided nature of the contest that Leeds were forced to make more than 100 tackles, at least twice as many as their opponents, and that was after only 63 minutes.

Nobody had told Leeds that possession is nine-tenths of the law. As the second half unfolded, two things became clear. The first was that Leeds had no intention of conceding a try, and the second was that Bath did not possess the firepower or the pace to break an inspired defence.

Jon Callard, the former Bath player and coach who leaves Leeds at the end of the season, said: "Who knows what the future holds, but over the next few years I can look back with a bit of pride and say 'I was part of that', as I was part of Bath's little bit of history."

Leeds: I Balshaw (capt; D Albanese, 3); A Snyman, P Christophers (M McMillan, 26), C Bell, T Biggs; G Ross, A Dickens; M Shelley, M Regan (R Rawlinson, 73), G Kerr (M Holt, 60), S Hooper, T Palmer, S Morgan, R Parks (D Hyde, 60), A Popham (J Dunbar, 69).

Bath: M Perry; J Maddock (B Daniel, 59), A Higgins, O Barkley, F Welsh; C Malone, N Walshe (M Wood, 66); M Stevens, L Mears, D Bell (D Flatman, 75), R Fidler, D Grewcock (capt), G Lewis (G Delve, 75), J Scaysbrook, I Fea'unati.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).