A last-gasp converted try denied Leicester Tigers victory over Bath Rugby at The Recreation Ground on Sunday afternoon.
Leading by 10 points entering the final quarter, with a Matias Moroni try added to the kicking of George Ford, Tigers then conceded a score from Miles Reid to set up a big finale and Bath finally claimed the points as Ben Spencer’s touchline conversion of a try from Will Muir sealed their 21-20 win in Round 16 of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Ford had kicked Tigers into a 9-7 half-time lead despite Muir’s opening score of the afternoon and Moroni’s score followed, only for the final action to take the initiative away from the visitors in a battle between two of the league’s in-form teams.
Bath had beaten by only Exeter Chiefs and London Irish in the last previous nine games but Tigers just missed out on a first win at The Recreation Ground since March 2011.
In the April sunshine, Bath enjoyed more than a dozen phases of play from kick-off before a knock-on allowed Ford space to take play from one 22-metre line to the other.
A first penalty against Tigers, after six minutes, came at no cost as Bath spilled ball on the left touchline, then Ellis Genge showed his destructive carrying as he carried ball out from his own tryline.
But Bath kept ball in hand to win another penalty, with Kini Murimurivalu this time steeping in to win turnover ball at the breakdown after their set-piece.
Another turnover gave Ben Youngs space to exploit out wide and he carried into the Bath 22 where the defenders were penalised. Ford duly kicked the opening points with 13 minutes gone.
Jonathan Joseph left the field before Calum Green caught the kick-off and when Bath were penalised near their own 10-metre line, Ford kicked to double the lead.
Bath prop Will Stuart punched a hole in the defence near halfway and showed some pace to take play on before grubbing a kick forward which Ford had to field on his own tryline.
After Anthony Watson fumbled ball for a Tigers lineout, the England full-back responded with smart footwork to go through contact and ultimately led to the opening try, with wing Will Muir finding just enough room on the left touchline to dive in. Ben Spencer added the conversion for a 7-6 lead on 22 minutes.
Spencer got another opportunity with a penalty but pushed the kick wide.
While Bath had dominated possession in the opening half-hour, Ford took the opportunities to push them back into their own half with probing diagonal kicks from hand.
A carry from Genge, who kept moving through two tackles on halfway, set up Tigers for a break down the left where Watson had to stop Murimurivalu. But Tigers quickly recycled and threatened again until the whistle went and Ford’s penalty gave the visitors a 9-7 lead three minutes before half-time.
A couple of penalties then went against Tigers and, with the clock beyond 40 minutes, Spencer decided against a very kickable shot at the posts to lift one to the left-hand side but Potter made a safe catch unpressured to preserve the two-point lead at half-time.
That lead was quickly extended after the restart, with a Ford kick causing the initial problem for Bath’s defenders, then Wiese moving through contact to provide vital space. Potter cut in off the left touchline and, with advantage signalled, Murimurivalu picked out Moroni to score on the right. Ford missed the conversion with Tigers 14-7 in front.
Murimurivalu was immediately in action at the other end, making a saving tackle as Bath entered the Tigers 22 and forcing a handling error to preserve that lead.
A Moroni tackle gave centre partner Kelly a chance to smother ball at the breakdown but Bath then broke out of defence as Taulupe Faletau intercepted and raced upfield. Kelly tracked him all the way, though, to make the tackle and then Wiese backed him up to take Zach Mercer down just 15 metres from the tryline.
Tigers returned upfield and Wiese’s instant reaction to the tackle zone brought a penalty which Ford landed to stretch the lead to 10 points approaching the 60-minute mark.
The next score was going to be important and it was Bath who manufactured the chance, keeping play close to the Tigers line for Miles Reid to push his way over. Spencer’s conversion made it 14-17 with a dozen minutes left to play.
Penalties started to mount against Tigers for the first time in the afternoon, but Matt Scott’s work over the ball in opposition territory finally gave Ford a chance and his kick made it 20-14 to the visitors.
A penalty for indiscipline after taking Bath into touch in front of the benches gave the hosts more territory and they went to the left-hand corner when the whistle went again with four minutes remaining.
The lineout brought another whistle and, after taking up to the whitewash in the forwards, Bath found Muir on the left touchline and he found his way to the tryline to cut the gap to a single point.
Spencer added the touchline conversion for a one-point lead and Bath were able to negotiate their way to the final whistle.