Tigers on their knees

Bath 47 Leicester 9
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The Independent Online
The most brutally exhausting season in the club's history has finally taken its toll on Leicester, increasingly in recent weeks the victims of excessive demands which have carried them into two big cup finals and into the home straight of the League.

The side which, six weeks ago, had looked invincible and appeared to be on an irresistible surge towards the Cup and League double, are clinging still to the hope of winning one. But, with this second League defeat in four days, they have surely surrendered all rights to the other.

If yesterday's humiliation was the ugliest blot on Leicester's landscape for many a long season and was their biggest ever defeat in the League, it told nothing of the intensity of what was, until the third minute of the second half, a gripping contest in which the delicate balance between the sides could be upset by the smallest of errors.

In fact the mistake, which has in all probability wrecked Leicester's League aspirations and may well have had a devastating effect on their morale for the Cup final, was a howler, although the signs that all was far from well in the Tigers' den had been in evidence long before the 39th minute when Adedayo Adebayo punched the first of two holes in Leicester's armour.

Very occasionally up until this point Leicester had been able to string enough passes together to trouble Bath's determined tacklers. But when a planned move between Will Greenwood and the looping Joel Stransky went calamitously wrong in midfield, Phil de Glanville, busily but unspectacularly effective as ever in the Bath centre, fly-hacked for Adebayo to score.

His second try 15 minutes into the second half was almost all his own work and highlighted the folly of his omission from the Lions' touring party. This time he took the ball inside his own half and sped 60 yards round the gasping Dean Richards and through the tackles of Stransky and Austin Healey.

By then, though, the match had already been won for Bath. When Leicester, as they had done on countless occasions, needlessly lost possession, Jeremy Guscott, a flashing blade constantly lancing the Tigers' defence, hoisted a high kick along the right touchline. The good news for Bath, who swiftly reclaimed possession, was that they had a two-man overlap outside de Glanville, the bad news was that it was Federico Mendez, the Argentine hooker, who was stationed on the wing. Even so this slab of a man had the legs to beat the Leicester cover and scored in the corner, not too far out though for Mike Catt, who controlled play beautifully at fly-half, to convert.

From that point on the contest was over. Leicester took the opportunity to rest some broken bodies which had taken far too much punishment already in the season. Three times during the first half Richards, the symbol of Leicester's durability and indestructibility, was on his knees requiring attention and by the end key players such as Eric Miller, Healey and Stransky were visibly in difficulty. Stransky had to leave the field, Miller probably should have done and Healey, despite signs of exhaustion, refused to yield an inch. His clattering tackle on Jon Sleightholme as the wing was in the act of diving for the line was breathtaking.

But if Leicester, even during their better moments, still managed to contribute to their own downfall, Bath's revival in recent weeks has been as admirable as it is welcome. The corporate spirit which has sustained them over the years of unparalleled success and has so often given them the advantage over opponents, has returned. Their forwards blunted Leicester's threats at the line-out, held them in the tight and their backs looked far more incisive. At full-back the youngster Matt Perry had an impressive game and apart from scoring two late tries, both of which were converted by Jon Callard, a replacement for de Glanville, he made ground with a number of deftly placed kicks.

After what by their own remarkable standards has been a disappointing season, the future is once again looking bright for Bath. Leicester's season, on the other hand, is in danger of falling apart.

Bath: M Perry; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt) (J Callard, 69), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol; K Yates, F Mendez, J Mallett, M Haag, G Llanes, N Thomas (S Ojomoh, 40), D Lyle, R Webster.

Leicester: J Liley (R Edwards, 57); S Hackney (R Underwood, 30), W Greenwood (N Malone, 61), S Potter, C Joiner; J Stransky (W Drake-Lee, 80), A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole (N Fletcher, 76), E Miller, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).