Bath cruised into the Guinness Premiership play-offs and booked an away tie against league champions Leicester at Welford Road next Sunday.
First half tries by Nick Abendanon and Michael Claassens sent Bath on their way to an 11th victory in 12 league games since Christmas. A 17-point interval advantage was extended after the break through wing Matt Banahan’s touchdown, a brilliant second Abendanon try and a Joe Maddock score, while Olly Barkley kicked four conversions and added two penalties. Leeds mustered a solitary Ceiron Thomas penalty in reply after being outclassed throughout the contest.
While Leicester lose rarely at home – and they knocked Bath out of Guinness Premiership and Heineken Cup contention last term – the West Country club will not be short of confidence. After collecting just 12 points from their first 10 Guinness Premiership games, Bath took 49 in the next 12, suggesting confidence will not be an issue when they head to Leicester.
Bath last lifted the league title in 1996, but they are a transformed team since Christmas and Leicester will underestimate them at their peril. The Tigers can, though, reflect on a 43-20 victory over Bath five weeks ago, which will give them confidence in terms of reaching the Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham on May 29.
England squad member Shontayne Hape lined up in Bath’s midfield hoping to press his claims for the summer tour of Australia and New Zealand before Martin Johnson’s squad announcement on Tuesday. Leeds, meanwhile, fielded 13 of the side that secured Guinness Premiership safety by condemning Worcester to last place with their narrow victory over them a fortnight ago.
Maddock led Bath out on his final home appearance before moving to Italy next term, but the home side suffered an early injury blow when England hooker Lee Mears went off injured. Mears was replaced by South African Pieter Dixon, and Bath took time to settle as they were hindered by several unforced handling errors.
Leeds encountered few problems keeping Bath out, although veteran lock Danny Grewcock was denied a try when the video referee ruled he had failed to touch the ball down under a pile of bodies. And it was a prelude to Bath breaking the deadlock as they made their temporary one-man advantage count after Leeds scrum-half Andy Gomarsall, playing his last club game ahead of retirement, was sin-binned for a technical infringement.
Bath retained field position after Grewcock’s near miss, and quickly recycled possession enabled Abendanon to cross, with Barkley converting from the touchline. Leeds were struggling to keep Bath out, and a Barkley penalty made it 10-0 ahead of an injury to referee Martin Fox that saw him replaced by David Rose.
Bath, without ever threatening to find top gear, extended their lead as half-time approached when skipper Claassens shredded Leeds’ blindside defence for an opportunist score. Barkley converted, and Leeds were down and out at 17-0 adrift, with Bath halfway towards mission accomplished.
Leeds had no answer in the second period, being unlocked by Barkley’s midfield craft that created a score for Banahan, then Abendanon dummied a pass to flanker Andy Beattie before finishing off a high-paced handling move that clinched a bonus point.
Leeds had entered damage-limitation mode, and it was just a case of how many more points Bath would score as they completed their Guinness Premiership home programme. Maddock sprinted over for try number five, and the final whistle could not come soon enough for a Leeds side high on commitment, but excruciatingly short in terms of attacking endeavour.