Dan Cole’s first Aviva Premiership Rugby try for more than six years put the exclamation mark on a hard-fought win for Leicester Tigers over Bath Rugby at Welford Road.
The Tigers – who lost 45-0 to their old rivals in September 2014's league clash and succumbed 47-10 in May’s semi-final – claimed a measure of revenge in filthy conditions in the East Midlands.
Anthony Watson’s early try put Bath in front but, despite dominating the first half, the visitors went in at the break 11-5 behind thanks to two Tommy Bell penalties and a Telusa Veainu interception try.
Two George Ford penalties soon after the interval levelled up the scores at 11-11 and, with Ed Slater in the sin bin for the hosts, Bath looked set to turn the screw.
But Welford Road has been something of a fortress of late with Leicester having now rattled off ten Aviva Premiership Rugby wins in a row on home turf, and Bell’s third penalty put them back in front.
And late on it was the unlikely figure of Cole who reacted first to ground the loose ball over the line after it had been deflected backwards by Francois Louw.
Bell’s conversion stretched the lead out to ten points and the Tigers held on to move back up to third in the table while the visitors are down in eighth with only two wins from their first five games.
The Tigers hopes took a hit in the first minute of the game, full-back and skipper Mathew Tait succumbing to injury with George Catchpole entering the fray.
And it was the visitors – with just one loss in their last seven meetings with the Tigers in all competitions – who struck first with a beautiful try from Watson, made all the more impressive considering the weather.
After collecting a high kick, the ball was offloaded to Nikola Matawalu, the Fijian threw an outrageous dummy before releasing Matt Banahan – making his 200th appearance for Bath – and when the centre fed Watson inside there was only going to be one winner in the race to the line.
Ford could not add the tough extras and in the 12th minute Bell showed him how it was done with a penalty to make it only 5-3 to the away side.
Overall, the first half was a story of reset scrums and Bath's territorial dominance but just when they appeared to be gaining the upper hand around the half-hour mark they were hit with a killer blow.
The visitors were attacking down the right when Veainu – so impressive in Europe last week with a try double – picked off Nick Auterac’s pass and went the length of the field for a score against the run of play.
Bell missed with the tough conversion this time but when Peter Betham broke clear from the subsequent restart the fly-half made immediate amends with a penalty to send the Tigers in at the break with a somewhat fortunate 11-5 lead.
Matawalu started the second half in fine form, a darting break and a clever turnover both putting Mike Ford’s side back on the front foot.
And eventually a penalty in kickable range was won and Ford made no mistake, slotting over to reduce the gap to 11-8.
The poor weather was limiting the free-flowing rugby but slowly but surely Bath were grinding their way back into the game and a second Ford penalty on the 50-minute mark levelled the scores again at 11-11.
Slater then saw yellow for the hosts but the Tigers coped admirably in his absence and after the hour mark Bell missed a tough penalty but made amends with an easier effort in the 66th minute to take the lead again.
The game could have still gone either way but in the 70th minute the hosts sent a penalty to the corner rather than going for goal and it drew the winning score.
A driving maul from the subsequent lineout went close and when it went to ground replacement David Denton – on his league debut for Bath – saw yellow.
And the Tigers made the most of their numerical advantage soon after, Cole diving onto a loose ball to ground it over the line to score his first try in more than six years in the league and continue Leicester's fine start to the season.
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