Tigers' sting in the tail

Leicester 28 Bath 25
Click to follow
The Independent Online
England's international big guns may have left Jack Rowell with a scrum machine for company at Bisham Abbey last week, but they turned up with a vengeance at Welford Road. The rivalry between the country's most successful clubs now runs so deep that nothing short of a general strike would have kept them from each other's throats.

Sure enough, this was a thunderous match decided in the first minute of injury time by, of all things, a penalty try awarded to Leicester by the referee Ed Morrison. Revenge simply does not come any sweeter.

Almost exactly four months ago, Bath pilfered the Pilkington Cup from Leicester's back pocket in precisely the same fashion. The Tigers dearly wanted to repay the insult yesterday but never could they have imagined such an exquisitely satisfying scenario.

Bath, beaten up front as usual by Martin Johnson's magnificent tight forwards, but far more accomplished out wide, were leading by three tries to nil and 25-21 as the clock ticked down. One or two of the 14,000 crowd had started to drift away, spitting nails that Leicester should have come unstuck again.

But Austin Healey, the scrum- half capture from Orrell who could well be the making of Leicester this season, had other ideas as he masterminded one last assault on the Bath barricades. In tandem with his pack, he led four drives to the visitors' line and was rewarded on each occasion by a penalty as sundry defenders either killed the ball or failed to retreat. When Graham Rowntree put his head down and spearheaded a fifth attack, Morrison decided enough was enough.

Healey had already excelled on his home league debut. Twice in the first half he pulled out try-saving tackles, first on Mike Catt and then on Jeremy Guscott. His line-kicking was well- nigh faultless and he asked enough questions of a physical Bath back row to announce his candidacy for the England No 9 shirt.

If he makes it, he will surely have Catt for a partner. In a match so frenzied that both sides made enough handling errors to last them a season, Catt alone had time on his side - enough time to score a try of breathtaking audacity in the 47th minute to put Bath in control and enough also to send Guscott in for what looked the killer score with a perfect pass nine minutes from the end.

Despite the absence of Dean Richards, who withdrew on Friday with a wrist injury, Leicester looked comfortable enough as the first half unfolded. John Liley kicked eight goals from nine attempts and all the momentum was with the Tigers.

All that changed within minutes of the restart. Johnson and Healey misjudged Jon Callard's kick-off, the front row conceded a strike against the head and, when Andy Nicol took a quick throw to Garreth Adams, and reclaimed possession, they were too slow to stop the scrum-half rolling over for a try.

Bath barely looked over their shoulders from then. But, as they say in some parts of the West Country, never trust a referee from Bristol.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, W Greenwood, R Underwood (capt); N Malone, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, W Johnson, E Miller.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P De Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol; D Hilton, G Adams, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, R Webster, E Peters, A Robinson.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol)