Leicester Tigers maintained their Aviva Premiership push with a fifth successive win, beating Bath 34-19 at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday.
In Round 19 of a fascinating Premiership season, it was a score from Adam Thompstone, with Bath down to 13 men after two yellow cards, which provided a breakthrough for Tigers in the first half.
But they were 13-10 behind at half-time after Bath weathered the storm and then saw hooker Tom Dunn force his way over the line on 33 minutes in the 195th meeting of these old rivals.
Two tries from Sione Kalamafoni, following his first Tigers score in the win over Wasps, put Tigers in front again, though there was still very little wriggle room until Sam Harrison provided a bonus-point score on 73 minutes. There was still time, too, for Telusa Veainu to add his ninth of the season and deny Bath any consolation from the game.
Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland got the game under way and almost manufactured an instant breakthrough as the kick evaded Valentino Mapapalangi and fell into Jonathan Joseph’s hands. But Tigers quickly re-aligned and won turnover ball to clear up towards halfway.
After Priestland pushed a fourth-minute penalty wide, the Wales international had a second chance from further infield Mike Fitzgerald was ruled offside. The kick this time sailed through the posts and gave Bath a 3-0 lead.
The first scrum of the game brought a Tigers penalty – and a brief exchange from the front-rowers – but Ford pushed his kick across the posts.
Tigers started to build some phases in attack, though, with Sam Harrison going through a gap in support of Mapapalangi and Luke Hamilton, and Bath giving away two penalties in defence. Referee Wayne Barnes played advantage until the Bath defence blocked progress and came back for the offence 15 metres from the left touchline.
Ford this time thumped the ball through the posts to level the scores with 13 minutes played.
After using Matt Banahan to carry on their right wing, Bath had another penalty when Graham Kitchener was whistled for playing the scrum-half at a breakdown. Priestland called for the tee again and pushed Bath 6-3 in front.
A minute later, Barnes blew again, this time in Tigers’ favour near halfway, and skipper Ford prodded the kick down to the 22-metre line on the right. After a one-handed take from Kitchener, the pack pushed Bath back 10 metres before opening play out. Kitchener then almost provided a breakthrough as Tigers recycled quickly, only for Beno Obano to make a try-saving tackle almost within reach of the line.
The threat was not totally averted, though, and Bath paid a price when scrum-half Kahn Fotual’ii was yellow-carded as he killed possession just a couple of metres out from the line.
Bath then found themselves in trouble at a five-metre scrum, with referee Wayne Barnes first warning the front row, then issuing a team warning, and then yellow-carding tighthead prop Shaun Knight after Tigers failed to make use of a penalty advantage as Thompstone reached for Ford’s crosskick.
Replacement prop Victor Delmas then found himself under pressure as Bath were penalised again and six minutes had elapsed from the original penalty award before Tigers finally found their breakthrough score
When the packs eventually stayed up, No8 Sione Kalamafoni picked up and Thompstone scored on the right.
Ford added a conversion from the right-hand touchline to put Tigers 10-3 in front approaching the half-hour mark.
Referee Barnes had a look at a hit from Mapapalangi on full-back James Wilson and, although the ‘home’ crowd did not like it, the referee adjudged contact had been made with the ball first and there had been no foul play.
Fotuali’i returned to take Bath up to 14 men as play restarted with a Tigers scrum near halfway. But this time it was the Blue and Whites who were awarded a penalty and Priestland kicked up to the 22.
The lineout allowed Bath their first phases of play in Tigers territory since the opening minutes and they found a way through, the forwards coming round the corner at a succession of rucks to take play up towards the five-metre line before play was halted with Mathew Tait receiving medical treatment.
Matt Smith replaced Tait as play restarted, and Tigers quickly found themselves behind their own line as first Fotuali’i went close and then Bath retained ball in the forwards and a score from hooker Tom Dunn was confirmed after consultation with the TMO. Priestland added the kick to put Bath back in front at 13-10, with six minutes remaining in the half.
Bath skipper Matt Garvey went off injured as they returned to full strength after the yellow cards, before a steal from Thompstone brought a promising position for Bath to an end.
A knock-on from Telusa Veainu, fielding a kick from Priestland, had Tigers back in their own defensive zone and Banahan almost provided the perfect finish to the half for Bath as he read a chip from Joseph and reached for the line in a tight space. The view from the TMO, though, confirmed he had dropped the ball as he attempted to dot down, and the teams reached half-time with Bath 13-10 in front.
With the sun breaking through the clouds, Ford got the second half under way and a one-handed lineout catch from Kalamafoni presented Tigers with a promising position before ball was lost on the right.
A timely tackle from Banahan on Harrison ended another Tigers attack and Ford had to show some smart work in defence with three whiter shirts closing in.
It was a frantic start to the second period, with both defences getting line-speed and closing in on opportunities to build phases until Tigers got a lineout drive going on the left which brought a penalty against Bath.
Ford kicked the penalty into the left-hand corner to set up another maul. With the referee playing advantage, Jonny May and Thompstone looked for a gap in the opposite corner, but Bath managed to close them out.
Tigers lost ball at the five-metre lineout but did force Bath back behind their own line, providing the opportunity for another close-range scrum.
The referee’s arm was raised again in Leicester favour, but Tigers continued to play and got reward with a try for Kalamafoni on the left.
It looked like the chance – and the advantage – had gone as the played across the five-metre line but the Tongan No8 picked up at a tackle and reached out to score for a second successive game.
Ford’s kick was agonisingly just wide but Tigers were back in front at 15-13 on 51 minutes.
Some enterprising work from Thompstone on the right almost had Tigers away again, but play was brought back as ball was spilled 25 metres out.
Ford had to be alert in defence again as Aled Brew kicked through, and he got enough assistance to allow Harrison to clear to halfway.
Tigers were penalised, though, for an obstruction as Thompstone carried ball out of defence. Priestland took the kick from the 10-metre line to edge Bath a point in front at 16-15.
The Bath fly-half then used his boot to clear 50 metres upfield as Tigers lost ball in possession just as replacement Tom Youngs and back-rower Hamilton. combined on the right.
The Tigers pack, with Will Evans on for Mapapalangi, won another scrum penalty and welcomed Greg Bateman and Logovi’i Mulipola from the bench as they reached Bath territory and then celebrated a second score from Kalamafoni.
This time the No8 showed power, pace and some clever footwork to score on the left.
Ford’s kick hit the outside of the near post but Tigers were 20-16 in front when Kalamafoni recovered to claim the restart.
Tigers, though, were quickly down to 14 men when Thompstone was yellow-carded as he challenged Wilson to a kick.
Priestland took on the long-rage kick and nudged Bath to within a point at 19-20 on 66 minutes.
Big carries among the forwards, with Evans, Bateman and Mulipola all involved, pinned back Bath and brought a penalty 10 metres out for Tigers. Bath, though, stayed tight in defence for phase after phase.
Tigers, though, retained composure, and after Ford had unpicked the lock, Harrison just got to the line for a bonus-point score and, crucially, some breathing space on the scoreboard. Ford kicked the extras to make it 27-19 on 74 minutes.
Play remained in the Bath half as Tigers had another penalty, this time for a deliberate knock-on, and Ford punted down the touchline as the clock ticked up to 77 minutes. Evans and Mulipola were gainfully employed again and, with Bath stretched behind the ball, Veainu found his way through to put the outcome beyond doubt with his ninth try of the season.