Miles Benjamin went over for the first try of the match at Welford Road
5 January 2014, 04:01 pm ::
By Charlie Talbot-Smith
Leicester Tigers 27 Bath Rugby 27
Owen Williams' last-gasp conversion was just wide and that meant it finished honours even in a pulsating Aviva Premiership clash between Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby at Welford Road.
The visitors were less than two minutes away from securing their first win in over a decade at the home of Leicester as George Ford returned to his former club and inspired his side to a three-try blitz.
But back came the Tigers, slowly but surely, and when man-of-the-match Jamie Gibson forced his way over in the right-hand corner the scores were level with time expired.
But Williams' effort drifted to the right and a draw was probably the fair result as both sides notched three tries apiece, Anthony Watson, Francois Louw and Jonathan Joseph for the visitors and Miles Benjamin, Thomas Waldrom and Gibson for the hosts.
Bath made the brighter start, a half break from Nick Abendanon nearly creating the first overlap of the game but a forward pass from Matt Garvey brought play back.
And from the subsequent scrum, the first of the game, the Tigers won the penalty and began to assert themselves in the Bath 22.
And it was Benjamin who eventually took full advantage, phase after phase creating the space down the right and the winger forced his way over in the corner.
Williams kept the kicking duties, despite the presence of Toby Flood in the starting XV, but his conversion attempt went narrowly wide.
But the former Scarlets man did not have to wait long to make up for his miss, slotting a penalty in the 14th minute to open up an 8-0 lead.
The early threat of Bath had not disappeared however and again it was Abendanon who carried the threat, creating an immediate response for the visitors.
Fed by a fine long pass by Ford, the full-back stepped his way past Vereniki Goneva, drew the last man and fed Watson and the winger then cut back inside to touch down, Ford's conversion reducing arrears to 8-7.
Bath were really starting to purr now and it was Ford pulling the strings, Kyle Eastmond's half break creating the momentum before the fly-half burst clear and fed Louw to swallow dive over and put Bath ahead.
The youngster's conversion was straight and true and with 20 minutes gone it was suddenly Bath in the ascendance at 14-8.
Williams responded with another penalty after Stuart Hooper dragged down a lineout but Ford notched a kick of his own and then Williams missed a tricky effort from out wide to make it 17-11 on the half hour.
The Tigers were dominating as half-time approached and a Williams penalty looked like it would be a three-point game at the break, only for Ford to again respond with a long-range effort with the last kick of the half, 20-14 to Bath at the break.
Straight after the interval and the kicking battle between the two young stand-offs continued, Williams striking a beautiful long-range effort into the wind to close the gap to three once again.
But the Bath back-line was still carrying real venom, and they had their third try before 50 minutes were up on the clock and it was the impressive Ford to the fore again.
The fly-half's wonderful flat pass found Joseph on the crash ball and the centre showed real elasticity and determination to stretch and dot down under the posts.
With his kicking still at 100% Ford was never going to miss the extras and Bath were ten points to the good at 27-17.
As the clock ticked round to the hour mark the Tigers desperately needed a try and skipper Flood turned down three points to kick to the corner.
From the subsequent lineout Hooper was sent to the sin bin for Bath but the visitors stayed strong and held the Tigers at bay initially.
But eventually the pressure told and the next time they entered the Bath 22, replacement Waldrom made no mistake to barge his way over at the back of the maul.
Williams' conversion was off target however meaning that with a quarter of an hour to go there were still five points in it.
Hooper returned from the bin without the Tigers having managed to make any more headway into the lead and the final ten minutes were nip and tuck.
But in vintage Tigers fashion they never gave up and with time almost up it was the superb Gibson who finally forced his way over in the corner, despite a valiant effort from Matt Banahan, but Williams could not add the extras and the spoils were shared.