Maggs brings fear to Leicester

Leicester 22 Bath

Hugh Godwin
Saturday 07 December 2013 02:26

Business as usual as Leicester notched up a 50th straight home win in the Premiership? Anything but. A harum-scarum last five minutes, during which Bath snaffled two converted tries, had the four-time champion Tigers hanging on by their claw-tips.

We have only just got over John Major's reinvention as twilight Lothario. Now we have the notion of Leicester vulnerability to deal with; oh yes, even at Fortress Welford Road.

An almighty caveat must be observed before any obituaries are written, however, chiefly that around eight months of the season remain, and Leicester are as ready to be written off as Jeffrey Archer is to put away his pen.

But it was jarringly out of the ordinary to witness Martin Johnson's men get themselves clear at 22-6, when Neil Back scored their third try 25 minutes into the second half, yet fail to add the bonus point and so nearly let victory slip away.

The verdict had appeared beyond doubt when Mike Catt, a surprise participant given that he was not in the team that Bath named on Friday, was yellow-carded for a forearm tackle on Martin Corry. Austin Healey put the resulting penalty to touch, and Back was driven over from the line-out. Not long before, Catt, recovered from hamstring trouble, had shared a laugh with Healey, who was also in comeback mode after a groin injury. Johnson got a grin from Dan Lyle following a spot of wrestling.

But the smiles soon reverted to the snarls that had earlier accompanied an apparent drop of the knee on Leicester's scrum-half, Tom Tierney. Bath were heading for a fifth match in six without a try when, with mayhem breaking out, Kevin Maggs wriggled over. Then, three minutes into injury time, a break by the Ireland centre created a try for Mike Tindall. There was even a chance the restart would have come in the form of a penalty to Bath: a scrap had developed off the ball between Healey and the visitors' replacement, James Scaysbrook. But we were denied that little piece of drama, and with Healey and Scaysbrook sent to the sin-bin, Leicester held on.

It had been odd enough at the outset to contemplate a collision between Leicester and Bath with the clubs standing seventh and ninth respectively in the table.

Two penalties conceded by Franck Tournaire – one for preventing release of the ball, the other at a scrum – allowed Olly Barkley to put Bath 6-0 up in the first quarter, and the biggest crowd in the Premiership this season, 16,811, was in danger of also being the quietest. Corry brought the silent majority to life, collecting Back's tap-down of Healey's cross kick for Leicester's first try in added time at the end of the first half.

During the interval, someone put on the theme music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The bad and the ugly had been much in evidence, Healey for instance using the kick-and-chase at almost every opportunity. The good, or at least Andy Goode, rode out of town in the summer, off to Saracens in search of regular starts and better pay. Without him, Healey's conversion to full-time No. 10 remains a work in progress.

In the scrums, Bath reprised their obdurate performance of the previous week's draw with Gloucester. Leicester would have been better placed if Tim Stimpson had not sent two penalties wide from 30 metres. This, remember, was the record-breaking Stimpson: man of a thousand Premiership points and more. And when his conversion of Corry's try also went astray, Bath led 6-5.

But further palpitations for the Tigers' support were averted when Stimpson, now with the breeze behind him, launched a successful penalty from behind the halfway line. Leicester then foraged away at successive line-out drives before, at the fourth attempt, Dorian West scored and Stimpson converted.

A once-classic fixture was showing signs of rust under the bonnet, but it was gripping nonetheless. Bath, though now beaten eight times in a row by their old rivals, kept at it to the end. Leicester, with three wins out of six as they head into Europe, could do worse than follow suit.

Leicester: T Stimpson; S Booth, L Lloyd, R Kafer, F Tuilagi; A Healey, T Tierney (J Hamilton, 76); G Rowntree, D West, F Tournaire (D Garforth, 50), M Johnson (capt, B Kay, 66), L Deacon, L Moody, M Corry, N Back.

Bath: O Barkley; S Danielli (A Crockett, 79), K Maggs, M Tindall, T Voyce; M Catt, G Cooper; D Barnes, J Humphreys (L Mears, 50), A Galasso (J Mallett, 50), A Beattie, D Grewcock (capt), G Thomas (J Scaysbrook, 61), N Thomas (C Malone, 67; A Lloyd, 76), D Lyle.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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