England fly-half Toby Flood masterminded rampant Leicester’s first league win at Bath for five years as Tigers tightened their grip on the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with a 37-6 success.
Flood’s 22-point contribution included two tries, with Leicester’s England contingent displaying no hangover from the Six Nations title triumph in Dublin seven days ago. His England colleague Tom Croft also touched down twice, while former red rose centre Anthony Allen crossed early as Leicester never looked back after building a 22-3 interval lead.
Bath, despite harbouring play-off ambitions of their own, were horribly outclassed through Leicester’s ruthless finishing, and two Butch James penalties did nothing to placate a capacity Recreation Ground audience. The result exposed a gulf in class between the teams, and a home title play-off tie for Leicester now appears a formality.
The regular Aviva Premiership Rugby season still has six weeks to run, yet such was Leicester’s control over perceived title opposition that a Grand Final date at Twickenham on May 28th looks certain. Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill had set his team a 70-point target to clinch a home play-off, and Tigers are now just eight points short of that aim with four games left.
Bath will clutch at straws after what was a crushing setback, and they remain among a congested scrap for fourth spot – and the likelihood of an away semi-final against Leicester. But they could have no complaints after being outclassed in all departments, which might increase speculation surrounding owner Bruce Craig’s post-World Cup interest in New Zealand All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter.
Flood, his half-back partner Ben Youngs, Croft and prop Dan Cole all returned from Six Nations duty for Tigers, but injuries sidelined England lock Louis Deacon and Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni. Bath, meanwhile, paraded England’s Matt Banahan on the wing, with former Leicester back Sam Vesty lining up in midfield as replacement for Olly Barkley, who broke his leg against Gloucester three weeks ago.
Bath almost went ahead inside five minutes, but lock Stuart Hooper was held up as he powered over the Tigers’ line. Banahan then appeared to throw a punch at his England colleague Croft, although it was missed by referee Dave Pearson and his assistants, before Leicester took charge.
Flood opened their account through a 14th-minute penalty, then Tigers ran in a long-range try from Allen, assisted by optional defending. Allen made a mockery of Bath’s defence from 60 metres out, slicing through tackles at will and touching down behind the posts for a score that Flood effortlessly converted.
Leicester had lock Ed Slater sin-binned for a high tackle, which enabled Bath to open their account through a James penalty, but Leicester still controlled the contest. And with Slater still absent from the action, Leicester struck again with a try that owed everything to Youngs’ enviable game-breaking ability.
He sprinted clear from the base of a lineout, and then had the simple task of sending a supporting Croft over unmarked. Flood converted and Tigers were in cruise control, 17-3 ahead. Flood added Leicester’s third try before the break, and despite Bath dominating in terms of territory, they trooped off 19 points adrift.
The second period contained more woe for Bath, with Flood and Croft compounding their misery, and leaving the home side with considerable contemplation before next weekend’s trip to Saracens. A late dust-up produced yellow cards for Bath replacement Ignacio Fernandez-Lobbe and Leicester wing Horacio Agulla, but it was irrelevant in terms of the overall picture.
If Bath, who were last crowned English champions in 1996, needed to be shown what it took to be a title-winning club again, then Leicester gave them a graphic lesson. All available evidence suggests the Aviva Premiership Rugby trophy is theirs to lose, with the likes of Bath and several others appearing to be playing nothing more than catch-up.