It was a victory 14 years in the making as 24 unanswered points gave Bath victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in the final game of the opening weekend of the season.
George Ford, Leicester Tiger’s major summer acquisition, must’ve had a suspicion that his old outfit, whom he made such a case for leaving, would come back to show him that his absence did little to dent the obvious quality they have. They did just that with a 27-23 success.
Two Max Clark tries and a Semesa Rokoduguni intercept helped Bath to a 21-8 lead as they headed into the sheds at half-time. Two late Jonny May tries on his debut gave birth to the idea that the Tigers might just snatch the contest, especially when Bath had two men sent to the sin bin late on, but a lineout turnover with the clock in the red meant Bath returned home with a win to start their campaign.
Leicester Tigers Fail To Match The Hype
This was far from the type of performance that will keep Director of Rugby Matt O’Connor up at night, but given the pre-season hype the Welford Road faithful would have left a little underwhelmed.
Manu Tuilagi started his first competitive game since New Year’s Day and opened the scoring five minutes after turning down a three on two overlap by wrongly backing himself. But that was as good as it got for the returning centre as he failed to truly click with Matt Toomua and Ford inside him.
Fullback Telusa Veianu showed some neat touches as he often does whilst May was often found coming in off his wing in search of more opportunities. That may have been a pre-planned idea but for a man of such pace and explosiveness in the wide channels to be asked to come in field sounds bizarre on the face of it.
Even more bizarre was the way Leicester Tigers tried so hard not to win a game they had every chance of doing. They released their own early season catalogue of errors in the final ten minutes when, with the line at their mercy, two forwards knocked on much to the dismay of Welford Road.
There are signs it can work of course but it’s almost as if Leicester Tigers, affluently armed in their back division especially, seemed overwhelmed at the options they had. So overwhelmed in fact, that they didn’t maximise anywhere near the potential possible on Sunday afternoon.
How Good Do Bath Look?
Its important not to get carried away if you are Bath however. People often get lost in the sheer excitement of a new season and all the optimism it brings. One thing remains clear, no one wins the Premiership in the first ten games. Most importantly, stay in the hunt and show your title rivals what you’re capable of.
Bath did just that at Welford Road. Even more impressive was they beat the Leicester Tigers minus Sam Ewels and Sam Underhill who are both on the comeback from injury. Whilst both Freddie Burns, returning to the ground he left in May, and Kahn Fotuali’i began on the bench.
This is a Bath outfit that have clear capabilities to improve. Their riches were seemed up midway through the second half when, whilst lining up outside a scrum, Jonathan Joseph stood as first receiver with Anthony Watson and Rokoduguni out to his right. There’s certainly worse sights to see if you were Chris Cook feeding the attack.
Its also worth noting that this is Todd Blackadder’s first year at Bath with the benefit of a full pre-season at Farleigh House. The former Crusaders coach arrived late to the party last year, and this campaign could give a wider insight into his coaching arsenal.
English Rugby Subplots
England supremo Eddie Jones will have had a keen eye on Welford Road, as I’m sure he does all domestic games. However, Sunday afternoon in Leicester made for some particularly interesting stories. You couldn’t help but sit ironically watching May chase in vain after Rokoduguni went the length of the pitch following Ford’s intercept pass.
A role reversal of how the Bath winger seems to be haplessly chasing May’s position in the England squad with it clear Jones has no plans to include him. Similarly with Tuilagi, a man with his international future in the balance, when he attempted to steam roll Jonathan Joseph over the line despite having two options outside him.
Bath’s number 13 grappled Tuilagi to the ground with the same authority that allows him such a tight grip on the England 13 shirt.
One promising English player whom few in the league would attempt to grapple to the floor however is young Ellis Genge. His stock continues to rise and if he isn’t already a permanent part of Jones’ future plans he soon will be. The Leicester Tigers forward brings immense physicality that allows him not only a huge presence at the breakdown but the opportunity to get over the gainline. Something I have no doubt he will make a habit of doing for the next nine months or so.
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