Leicester Tigers took a consolation point from a 23-16 defeat against Bath Rugby in Round 11 of the Gallagher Premiership season at The Recreation Ground on Sunday.
A second-minute try from Jonny May gave Tigers a dream start at the home of their old rivals, but they spent almost all of the opening half defending their own line, with Bath grabbing two tries inside five minutes around the half-hour mark to go in front and they led 15-7 at the break in the final league game of 2018.
Ruaridh McConnachie added a third Bath score approaching the hour mark and Tigers could not find an opportunity to strike back in the remainder of the contest.
Geordan Murphy, who first represented Tigers at The Rec back in 1999, brought Brendon O’Connor and Graham Kitchener into the pack for the injured Guy Thompson and Will Spencer as he took a team there for the first time as head coach.
Tigers were making a first league trip to The Rec since May 2016 after playing the last two Premiership with their old rivals at Twickenham and looking to improve on a record of just one win there in their last 11 league visits. Murphy’s men were also looking for a first away win since beating Northampton at Twickenham in Round 6.
George Ford got the game under way on his first return to The Rec as a Tigers player, and the game was less than two minutes old when Tigers opened the scoring.
After some patience in attack, they were playing with an advantage as Ford chipped ahead and May read it well to claim ball and score. Ford calmly added the extras for a seven-point lead.
The restart brought an opportunity for a response as Matt Garvey snatched loose ball and Bath repeatedly attacked the line, only to be met with some stubborn resistance.
Francois Louw was denied a try when the TMO confirmed he was short of the line as he reached out, and the hosts then had a succession of penalties in the right-hand corner, building pressure from their lineout before Tigers timed their resistance to perfection and forced ball loose on the floor.
Ford then kicked upfield from a penalty and, although ball was secured, aggressive defence in midfield repelled Tigers until a knock-on brought another whistle.
An offside call against Jake Kerr on halfway gave James Wilson a sight of the posts, but the Bath full-back scooped his kick and fell short.
After Ruaridh McConnachie went close to the line from a long pass by Burns, Bath retained possession and Louw eventually got over at the base of the posts. But referee Doyle checked his final surge for the line and ruled that the No8 had illegally jumped over the attempted tackle by Genge.
He did, though, caution the Tigers ranks about persistent infringements close to the tryline as the game restarted with a penalty and Burns kicked the opening points for the hosts on the 20-minute mark.
Kerr and Genge then had to make big shots in defence before Tuilagi incredibly ripped ball out of Chudley’s hands as he reached to the tryline.
A knock-on from Tigers, though, brought another defensive set-piece and Jamie Roberts forced his way over to score, though only after a conversation between Doyle and his assistants as the international centre had hit the ground before reaching to dot down. Burns added the conversion to give Bath a 10-7 lead with half an hour gone.
Another try followed just five minutes later after Bath turned static ball in the centre of the pitch into attacking momentum,. Burns kicking ahead and then the forwards put pressure on George Worth near his own line before Sam Underhill picked up to score from close range. Burns could not add the extras from wide on the left, but Bath led 15-7.
Tigers finally got into enemy territory – for the first time in nearly half an hour – as May attacked down the left, then Jonah Holmes broke through broken field but play came to a halt with a Bath player requiring medical treatment on their own 22-metre line.
As Matt Garvey was helped off, Bath also lost prop Nathan Catt with the clock ticking into the final two minutes of the half and they managed to play out time with their eight-point lead intact.
Bath kicked off the second half and won the aerial battle for the ball before Brendon O’Connor stole valuable ball for Tigers. But the home side quickly regathered and it required a finger-tip tackle from Toomua to put Louw off a run to the line before the visitors won a penalty at the breakdown.
A powerful tackle from Genge brought Charlie Ewels to a halt as Bath looked to build again, but they could not get hands on the ball and required another O’Connor turnover in defence to close the door on another Bath attack.
Sione Kalamafoni somehow took ball out of a ruck near halfway but had no support as he broke clear. Underhill required treatment for an ankle problem and was off the field before play restarted with a scrum 25 metres from the Bath tryline.
Smart inter-play between Ford and May provided fresh hope for Tigers, and when Bath were penalised just 10 metres out, the Tigers skipper pushed the ball into the corner. But Bath ripped ball out at the maul and Ford had to sprint 50 metres back in defence as Rokoduguni punted upfield.
Tigers got through a series of phases in attack through the forwards before winning a penalty award .and Ford provided the first points of the second half as he cut the gap to 15-10.
But after claiming ball at the restart, Bath put it through hands on the left and McConnachie squirmed clear to score. his side’s third of the day. Burns was left with the conversion from the left touchline but saw his kick bounce out off the left-hand post with his side 20-10 in front,
Kalamafoni required physio attention after falling heavily as he contested a lineout on halfway and, with the bench already used, there as a call or O’Connor to return. Bath had put-in at the set-piece as the clock restarted with 14 minutes remaining.
Ford brought Tigers to within range with a penalty on 70 minutes which made it 20-13, but Bath were awarded one of their own for a high tackle on the Tigers 10-metre line. With Burns off the field, Rhys Priestland took on the kick and, although it stayed low, there was enough room to get over the bar and make it 23-13.
There was another chance for Ford as the clock ticked into the final four minites when Louw was penalised just inside his own half and the Tigers skipper made no mistake with the kick to bring it back to 23-16.
Tigers wanted to keep ball in hand with the clock ticking down, but Bath closed the space until forcing an error out wide on the left. The scrum provided one final chance as they looked for a bonus-point try, and Tigers looked for a tuirnover which could provide their own opportunity.
The decision went against Bath as the front rows dropped and Ford kicked 40 metres upfield but Bath crowded out Tigers as they gathered possession again and the home crowd joined the celebrations as the referee’s whistle blew for a penalty just inside their own half and the game ended with a seven-point gap.