After several months of morale-sapping defeats, Bath seem to have woken up to the seriousness of their situation. This, their second Premiership win in a row, was the perfect way to usher in 2010 after something of an annus horribilis at the Rec.
Steve Meehan's men arrived in Leeds knowing defeat to their nearest relegation rivals would put them bottom. But, having beaten Gloucester convinc-ingly last weekend, they showed admirable spirit to win with five penalties from Nicky Little and a first-half try from the wing Michael Stephenson.
"In September we could have been screaming up the ladder," said Meehan. "But things were tough for us and a lot of clubs could have quite easily imploded under the kind of pressures that we were under. Even when we were having a poor run of results, the morale was still quite high and I don't think people can quite grasp that, or maybe they don't want to.
"But it was there. It was great to finish last year and and begin this one with another victory. We've got players to come back but the guys that are there now are fighting for the club and the supporters."
This match was billed by some as a relegation decider, which was only a slight exaggeration. Bath had the edge throughout, thanks to their superior top-flight experience. Leeds have twice been promoted to the Premiership and twice relegated from it in the last four seasons, while Bath have occupied the upper echelons of the league and competed in the Heineken Cup.
The Yorkshire club lacked nothing in spirit and Joe Ford, their highly-promising 19-year-old fly-half, kicked two early penalties to put his side 6-0 ahead. Little then kicked two penalties for Bath but Ford's third gave Leeds the edge.
However, in the 29th minute the Bath No 8, the former Springbok Luke Watson, set off on a delightful run down the right, showing impressive and nimble footwork before being held up just short of the line. His team responded quickest to the ensuing loose ball and Stephenson arrived to burrow his way over from close range.
Little could not convert from a difficult angle, however, and Ford soon kicked his fourth penalty of the half to make the half-time score 14-12 to Bath.
Five minutes after the restart, Ford kicked his fifth penalty from six attempts to edge Leeds back in front. The match then began to swing in Leeds's favour, going into the final quarter, and they threatened to score what could have been a decisive try. But Bath were back in front with 16 minutes remaining when Leeds were caught offside and Little showed notable poise to kick the resultant penalty. The Fijian kicked a fifth late on.
Leeds are in big trouble but Neil Back, their head coach, said: "Can we stay up? Absol-utely. The guys won't fail through lack of effort."
The closest side to Leeds at the foot of the Premiership are now Worcester, who are five points ahead after their 13-13 draw at Kingsholm yesterday. The lock Dave Attwood scored a try with 16 seconds left to rescue two points for Gloucester, who would have won the match if Carlos Spencer had been able to kick the resultant touchline conversion. Rico Gear and Jonny Arr scored tries for Worcester and Willie Walker kicked a penalty; Akapusi Qera scored Gloucester's first try and Nicky Robinson kicked a penalty.
The Worcester coach, Mike Ruddock, said: "It was heartbreaking to concede a try in the last minute. But in terms of the league, it is about picking up points as often as you can."
After their latest defeat, Leeds know precisely what he means.
Leeds L Hinton; S Armstrong (H Fa'afili, 71), S Rabeni, H Paul, L Blackett; J Ford, A Gomarsall (S Mathie, 60); M Macdonald, R Rawlinson, J Gomez (T McGee, 60), E Lund, M Wentzel (capt), K Myall (C Clark, 55), A To'oala, H Fourie.
Bath J Maddock; M Stephenson, M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan; N Little, M Claassens (capt); D Flatman (D Barnes, 60), L Mears (P Dixon, 73), D Wilson (D Bell, 68), S Hooper, D Grewcock (P Short, 68), A Beattie, L Watson, J Salvi (B Skirving, 56).
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).
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