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In The Tiger Den: Leicester v Bath
By P G Tips
May 15 2019


Mercer: handful

Bath’s final Premiership fixture takes them into the lair of old rivals Leicester Tigers. Time was when Leicester v Bath was a mouth watering, red -blooded encounter fought tooth and claw which players and fans relished. Since 2015 those days have gone, with both teams in decline, neither hitting the heights they aspire to and their fans demand. This season Tigers’ claws have been blunted at home in 5 Premiership games, most recently by Bristol Bears. So, will they prove to be man eaters or easy meat?

Having lit a ray of hope with a late flourish against Wasps, Bath will hope to snatch another dramatic win against once iconic foes and secure Champions Cup rugby for next season.  However, having last won an away Premiership tie in December and since allowed four late leads to slip through their fingers, few would bet on Bath to beat a caged beast desperate to salvage some pride.

 

Tigers have been condemned as having the “worst attack in the Premiership” which seems surprising given their backline talent – Ford, Tuilagi, Toomua, Veianu, May and Worth all dangerous runners. It is also harsh as their 44 tries outperform Falcon’s meagre 41 and are not far behind Sale’s 45 and Bath’s 48. It is in defence and discipline surely where Leicester most lack the bite of old? They have conceded 77 tries this campaign, 14 more than relegated Newcastle and 26 more than Bath. Their discipline has also cost them 187 minutes with fewer than 15 players on the pitch. In their last 4 Premiership matches they have given away 12 penalties a match, while themselves relying on George Ford’s kicking for 65% of their points. Most tellingly for this weekend, they will be without Toomua, released early to return to Australia, Tuilagi who is injured and possibly even Eastmond, who has not played for a month.

 

With the talent they have behind the scrum it is tempting to blame Leicester’s forwards for their demise. Certainly they do not seem to possess the snarl and roar of previous years but Bath, threadbare themselves up front through injury, cannot afford to take them lightly. Tom Youngs is available again post suspension, Genge, Kalamafoni and Thompson are fiery and talented carriers while Polota –Nau, Cole, Kitchener and Spencer are seasoned warriors. Most of all though, this is Leicester v Bath and the Welford faithful will be baying for blood. Taming this tiger will not be easy –or for the faint hearted.

 

Against Wasps Bath showed welcome attacking intent offering promise of more to come as the Dempsey attacking philosophy develops. They also produced an intense storm in the last 20 minutes, dominating possession and territory and through a mixture of flair, doggedness and almost foolhardy bravado notched 3 tries in 7 minutes to snatch the match. Mercer, Watson, Joseph and McConnochie in particular were handfuls for the defence throughout, the bench all played their part and once Bath got Joe Cokanasiga into the game they looked increasingly likely to triumph. More of the same will be required, especially from the forwards.

 

Bath fans will sadly not be able to see Dave Attwood in action one last time- his knee injury has ended his season. Luke Charteris is also “officially retired” having not fully recovered from concussion, nor will Mike Roberts be fit. There is better news though for the front row where Antony Perenise and Max Lahiff are both fit and ready. Freddie Burns has been cleared to start, hopefully to show Leicester they erred when they released him two seasons ago.

 

Leicester: Bath encounters usually have at least one sub plot. On this occasion, relegation for Tigers will not be among them as Newcastle failed to rescue their season in the last round. There is though the small matter of West Country bragging rights, Bristol having done the double over Tigers this season and the fact that Bath must get a 5 point victory to be certain of securing 6th place and top European qualification in face of Sale’s challenge. The squad’s reaction to the recent coaching announcements is perhaps the most fascinating sub plot. They pulled out the stops for Blackadder’s last home game. Will they answer the sceptics with a similar showing to welcome the new DOR & return of Neal Hatley?

 

In his great book “Man Eaters of Kumaon” famed man eater hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett wrote “when India’s last tiger dies, India will be the poorer, having lost the finest of her beasts.” Many pundits would feel the same were Leicester’s Tigers to depart the top flight. Bath though will have no qualms in consigning them to their worst season for more than 30 years –if they can.

 

Possible Teams:
Bath:
, Obano, Dunn, Lahiff, Ewels (Capt.), Stooke, Ellis, Underhill, Mercer. Chudley, Burns. Cokanasiga, Wright, Joseph, McConnochie. Watson.

 

Replacements: v Rooyen, Walker, Perenise, Douglas, Reid, Cook, Davies, Rokodoguni

 

Leicester Tigers: Genge, Youngs, Cole, Kitchener, Spencer. Williams, Thompson, Kalamafoni. Harrison, Ford (capt.). May, Worth, Smith, Aspland-Robinson. Veianu

Replacements: Kerr, Polota- Nau, Heyes, Fitzgerald, O’Connor. White, Ford, Olowofela.