Richard Cockerill is hopeful of claiming a first ever win against Saracens at Allianz Park in their Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final despite losing out 38-27 to a resurgent Bath Rugby at the Rec in their final regular season game.
Semesa Rokoduguni opened the scoring for Mike Ford’s side within two minutes, but Tigers crossed three times in a thrilling first-half display of attacking rugby, prop Ellis Genge and Ben Youngs particularly impressive, to lead 19-10 at half-time .
But the second-half belonged to the West Country men, Bath’s Rokoduguni notching his second of the afternoon along with tries from Ollie Devoto, in his final Bath game, Francois Louw and replacement Jeff Williams.
Leicester’s semi-final opponents turned in another dominant performance to beat Worcester Warriors 43-19 at Sixways – with Chris Ashton scoring a hat-trick – but Cockerill thinks the chance to rest a few battered bodies has put them in prime position to down the defending champions in two weeks.
He said: “We've never won there but our game's in good shape and we were able to rest bodies today."
“We're in our 12th play-offs on the trot and 10 of those have been Grand Finals.
"We're a strong club with a strong history. Sometimes you get beaten – but we're still in a semi-final.
"We have good systems and work pretty hard, as is our recruitment. And we're pretty belligerent."
Bath – who were this time last year gearing up for an emphatic 47-10 Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final win against Tigers – were guaranteed a ninth-place finish before kick-off, but nevertheless played with an attacking verve that bodes well for next season.
Ford’s side struggled in the aftermath of the Rugby World Cup, but they showed signs of living up to their own enormous standards – George Ford was immaculate with the boot, while Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph were exceptional going forward.
And former England defence coach Ford admitted the win proved cause for optimism ahead of next year, vowing that Bath would re-evaluate, learn from their mistakes and progress.
Ford said: “It's a win, which is great for me because you don't want to be dwelling on a loss too much. Could it have been better? It could have been a lot better.
"It has been a disappointment [the season] but I also think that it is not a failure as long as we learn from it. We are going to learn from this year and are going to come back stronger.
"At half-time we just talked about the drive to win and going out to take the game and put that extra yard and energy in. Anthony (Watson) set the tone of the second half with his break and we managed to score and the second-half was a lot better."
Bath Rugby: Watson; Rokoduguni, Joseph, Devoto (Priestland, 44), Banahan (Williams, 69); Ford, Homer (Cook, 66); Catt (Lahiff, 66), Webber (Dunn, 41), Wilson (Palma-Newport, 45), Ewels, Attwood (Day, 57), Garvey, Louw, Denton (Houston, 57)
Leicester Tigers: Tait (Bell, 57); Thompstone, Betham, Roberts (Worth, 71), Catchpole; Williams, Youngs (Kitto, 41); Genge (Mulipola, 53), Ghiraldini (Thacker, 53), Balmain (Bateman, 53), Slater, De Chaves, Croft, Evans, Crane (Pearce, 67 (Barrow, 72)
Tries: Rokoduguni 2, Devoto, Louw, Williams
Conversion: Ford 5
Tries: Balmain, Betham, Tait, Evans
Conversion: Williams 2
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Attendance: 13, 515
The Aviva Premiership Rugby Final will be played at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday 28 May. Tickets are now on sale from www.premiershiprugby.com/final.