Semesa Rokoduguni’s try double and a superb George Ford kicking display saw Bath Rugby surge to a 38-27 win over fierce rivals Leicester Tigers in an enthralling clash at the Rec.
Richard Cockerill’s side had already secured a 12th consecutive Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final, but were caught napping by incisive Bath back-play – Rokodoguni racing over inside two minutes.
And though George Ford slotted a penalty, the Tigers combined serious ballast up front with potent finishing in the backs as Fraser Balmain, Peter Betham and Mathew Tait all crossed – with prop Ellis Genge outstanding.
Bath had nothing concrete to play for, but cemented ninth-place and put in an attacking performance that bodes well for next season and though Will Evans gave Tigers hope, Rokoduguni, Ollie Devoto, Jeff Williams and captain Francois Louw all scored for Mike Ford’s side in the second-half .
Ford’s men end the season on a bright note, while Leicester will face Saracens in the Aviva Premiership Rugby in two weeks time.
It was an all action start from Bath – reminiscent of last year’s remarkable 45-0 win over Tigers at the Rec – Jonathan Joseph linked up with Anthony Watson to put Rokoduguni into space, the flying winger supporting well to dash over for a score that Ford converted.
But Tigers’ young pack were in ferocious form and with their semi-final place already secure, Cockerill’s charges were playing with serious freedom.
Turning down a kickable penalty, Owen Williams kicked to the corner and the forwards powered over with a perfectly set driving maul, Balmain the man to touch down and Williams converting well.
Ford edged Bath 10-7 ahead with a penalty after 17 minutes, but it was Leicester who continued to look dangerous going forward.
Genge, on his first Aviva Premiership Rugby start for Tigers, looked terrific around the park – carrying and tackling with real intent, but when he and Balmain secured Tigers’ ball five metres out from the Bath line, it was centre Betham who crashed over for Leicester’s second. Williams was again successful with the conversion.
Genge again battered the Bath line as the West Country men struggled to contain the Bristol-born front-rower and when the ball was recycled, the influential Tait crossed for his first try of the season. Williams could not convert as Tigers took a 19-10 lead in at the break.
Watson immediately lit up the second-half, breaking superbly from 50 metres out and though he was excellently tackled, Bath recycled the ball and Exeter Chiefs-bound centre Devoto crossed, with Ford converting to bring Bath within two points.
Williams struck back from the tee five minutes later to take Leicester to 22-17, but the topsy-turvy encounter continued to throw up thrilling rugby – Ford thudded a penalty deep into Leicester territory and the exceptional Rokoduguni made good yards from the resultant line-out before captain Louw dotted down next to the posts.
Ford was accurate with the conversion again, but less than a minute later Rokoduguni was over in the corner, he profited from some sharp hands by the Bath three-quarters and arced into the corner, Ford superbly nudging the extras for a 31-22 lead after 56 minutes.
Tigers refused to lie down, the exceptional Betham turned sustained Leicester pressure into points as he scythed through the Bath line and found George Catchpole, who fed flanker Evans to cross – but Williams’ conversion bounced off the up-right, leaving Leicester five points adrift with 15 minutes left.
Bath’s Williams eventually put the fixture to bed after he exploited Joseph’s superb pass to cross in the corner and Ford capped a promising performance with a well-hit touchline conversion.