A last-minute converted try gave Bath Rugby a 32-31 victory over Leicester Tigers in the final match of the Gallagher Premiership season at Welford Road on Saturday.
Replacement prop Jacques van Rooyen was the man who forced his way over the tryline for the decisive score, converted by Rhys Priestland, as Bath denied the Tigers, who finished the season in 11th place in the table.
In a high-tempo first quarter, the teams traded blows with Bath scoring after just three minutes through Anthony Watson and Tigers responding with Will Spencer claiming his first try for the club. Bath created a second for Joe Cokanasiga but, despite having a score by Brendon O’Connor disallowed, Tigers came back to lead 13-12 with a George Ford penalty.
O’Connor got his reward soon afterwards as he scored to stretch the lead as Tigers looked to finish the season on a high note and it was 26-15 in the home side’s favour at half-time.
The gap was down to just four points, though, early in the second period before Clayton Blommetjies dived in for a try.
But Bath dominated possession on their rivals’ tryline in the closing spell and eventually edged their way towards the line for the winning score.
It was an emotional afternoon with seven players making their final appearance for Tigers, including Matt Smith who ran out ahead of his team-mates in his 228th game for the club. He was straight into the game too with a big hit on Bath back-row Tom Ellis as he caught the kick-off from George Ford.
But the game was less than three minutes old when Bath broke through, breaking the defensive line near halfway and then outnumbering the covering defence for Watson to score despite George Ford and George Worth combining just in front of the posts to bring down Will Chudley. The scrum-half looked up just in time to see Watson in support and he scored next to the posts. Freddie Burns added the kick for a 7-0 lead.
A high tackle gave Ford a chance to respond from the tee, lining up a kick from 45 metres and putting three points on the board at The Robin Hood Stand End.
Soon afterwards, Spencer’s dominant tackle near halfway brought another penalty Tigers’ way and this time Ford pushed play into the right-hand corner, where the forwards set up a drive and Spencer made the last push over the line. After checking TMO replays, the referee awarded the score. Ford added the extras to put Tigers 10-7 in front.
But the lead lasted only a couple of minutes as Bath won turnover ball and Joe Cokanasiga scored in the left-hand corner. The crowd and the home team believed the scoring pass had gone forward and Burns hurriedly took his conversion attempt but failed to add the two points.
Tigers responded with what they thought was a superb score from O’Connor in his final appearance at Welford Road from a move started by Ford just outside his own 22. After taking play to the left, Blommetjies attacked down the touchline and flicked the ball inside for Worth who drew the last defender before putting O’Connor in to score. The referee checked, this time for evidence of a foot in touch in the build-up, and eventually decided that Blommetjies had brushed the chalk so brought play back for a lineout.
The crowd were certainly fired up as Tigers tore forward again, winning a penalty at a breakdown on the Bath 22, and Ford kicked his team into a 13-12 lead with the game still just 18 minutes old.
Bath then threatened on their right, taking play almost within reach of the line before being smothered by the Tigers defence, with the referee then favouring the defenders over the ball with a penalty award.
A huge kick from Ford led to a knock-on from Bath and a penalty on halfway, which he drilled into the right-hand corner. After Dan Cole provided momentum with his charge in possession and Tigers playing with penalty advantage “for multiple offsides”, flanker O’Connor made up for his earlier disappointment with the vital final metre over the line to score.
Another conversation with the TMO followed but referee Craig Maxwell-Keys was happy that the Kiwi had picked up from behind the ball and awarded the score. Ford added a conversion to make it 20-12.
Bath were warned about indiscipline after another penalty at the breakdown as Ford stretched the lead to 23-12 on the half-hour.
An error from Cokanasiga gave Tigers a lineout in a promising position and Bath were in further trouble when Max Lahiff was yellow-carded at the next breakdown and Ford kicked another penalty. It was quickly cancelled out, though, as Rhys Priestland, on briefly for Burns, landed his own kick on the stroke of half-time to make it 26-15.
Burns was back on for the start of the second half and the visitors were quickly on the attack. When they were awarded a penalty in the corner, Burns tapped and looked to open up play, but the Tigers defence stood firm five metres out and eventually won a penalty of their own.
But Bath came back and were soon up against 14 men as Sam Aspland-Robinson received a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on in defence. And, as they kept ball in the corner, they claimed a third try when Beno Obano dotted down from close range. The referee checked with the TMO for a double movement as he stretched to score but the try stood and Burns made it 26-22 with the conversion.
Tigers came back with a try for Bloometjies after an impressive attack which involved heavy carries from the forwards and two breaks from Kyle Eastmond before the wing finally dived into the right-hand corner. The referee viewed numerous replays of the grounding as the ball squirted loose but eventually decided that the Tigers player had been in control as he slid to the line.
The coaching teams began to make their changes, with O’Connor and Sam Harrison earning a big ovation as they left on the 55-minute mark after Tigers had weathered another big period of Bath pressure, and there were tired bodies on both sides with the ball staying in play for long periods on a warm afternoon at the end of a nine-month season.
Both teams were still playing ball in hand and Tigers survived a scare when Francois Louw almost got on the end of some good work in the Bath attack but lost the ball in contact just short of the line.
The visitors remained in the danger zone for a lengthy period, though, with Tigers making tackles but unable to get the ball back, and Bath added three points with a penalty from Priestland on 65 minutes.
Graham Kitchener acknowledged the support of the home crowd as he brought to an end his eight years at the club with 15 minutes remaining and, after Ford had missed with a penalty from out wide, there was finally a pause in the action and Smith enjoyed a fantastic reception from all four sides of the stadium as his left the action in his final appearance after 14 seasons in the first-team squad..
A scrum penalty against Tigers on halfway allowed Priestland to present a platform on the left left touchline but Mike Fitzgerald, in a colossal shift in his farewell appearance, stole their lineout ball.
But Tigers were finding it tough to get back upfield as Bath, pursuing a place in the top six, finally got their rewards with a bonus-point score from prop Jacques van Rooyen from a succession of phases on the Tigers tryline. Priestland added the extras to take a 32-31 lead with less than a minute remaining on the clock and, after winning the restart, played out time.
UNTIL NEXT TIME...
Lots of supporters sticking around for the players' traditional 'thank you' lap.
Thanks again for all your support this season, #TigersFamily.
THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT
After a difficult season, thank you for all of your support both home and away this season.
Big thank you to all 20,886 of you who joined us at Welford Road this afternoon, and all of those who followed along on Matchday Live.
FULL TIME | 31-32
...and that's full time, as Priestland boots the balls into the stands to end the match.
VISITORS PULL AHEAD
Rhys Priestland's conversion means Bath pull ahead by a single point, 31-32.
BATH CRASH OVER
The pressure on the line eventually tells, and the Bath pack crash over to score.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Bath win the ball from their scrum, and despite some huge defensive hits are inching closer and closer to the Leicester line.
HEYES FOR COLE
Joe Heyes replaces Leicester and England tighthead Dan Cole, who has put in another big shift today. Joe's first job will be to push Bath over their own ball at scrum time...
BREAK IN PLAY
Maxwell-Keys stops the play as Will Spencer receives treatment fro cramp, right in the line of fire. Four minutes to go...
Tigers strip the Bath ball after the visitors win their own lineout, and Ford gets deep into the Leicester dead ball area to boot the ball safe, 30 metres out.
BATH CHANGE TIGHTHEAD
Max Lahiff leaves the field, to be replaced by Sam Nixon.
KICK TO CORNER
Bath win the penalty from the scrum, and Priestland kicks to the corner.
Right, pull yourselves together lads...there's still nine minutes to go in this game.
The match will restart with a Leicester scrum just beyond halfway.
NOT A DRY EYE IN THE HOUSE...
Matt Smith receives a standing ovation from the Welford Road crowd as he is replaced by Leonardo Sarto.
Ford makes another uncharacteristic mistake as a penalty slides wide. The ball is kept in play by Bath, but they can't get out of their own half.
STRONG AT SCRUM TIME
...but only seconds later Maxwell-Keys' arm is raised on the Tigers side, after another strong scrummage. Boris will be happy...
After a short break in play, Rhys Priestland kicks three more points for Bath.
TWO TIGERS CHANGES
Tom Hardwick replaces Kyle Eastmond, but - more significantly - Graham Kitchener leaves the Welford Road pitch for the final time as he is replaced by Harry Wells.
VOTE FOR YOU FANS' FAVOURITE
While there's a break in play, it's a decent time to remind you to vote for your LeoVegas Fans' Favourite, exclusively through the Leicester Tigers App.
BATH RUMBLE ON
Bath have spent a couple of minutes just beyond the Tigers try line, but the home defence is holding strong for now. Matt Smith is chasing hard out there, folks.
GIGENA FOR GENGE
Genge walks off the field of his own accord - perhaps just a minor tweak - and is replaced by Facundo Gigena.
GENGE RECEIVES TREATMENT
Tigers are a man down in their defensive line as Ellis Genge receives a bit of treatment, and Bath get up to the home five-metre line under a penalty advantage. They'll have the scrum just to the left of the Leicester posts.
Tatafu Polota-Nau replaces Tom Youngs in the Tigers front row at the hour mark.
Eastmond breaks through the Bath line before being dragged down by the back of his shirt, before Ford switches the play left and then right as Tigers get into the visitors' 22.
EARLY PUSH AT THE SCRUM
Smiles all round from Ellis Genge and Max Lahiff after Bath are penalised for an early push at the scrum. Ford kicks another monster touch-finder.
SWAP AT SCRUM-HALF
A big cheer for Sam Harrison, as he is swapped for fellow Tigers Academy graduate Ben White at No9.
Anthony Watson is replaced by Semesa Rokoduguni in the Bath backline.
Back-rower Brendon O'Connor leaves the Tigers turf for the final time as he is replaced by Valentino Mapapalangi.
BATH BATTER THE LINE
The visitors are now putting together some solid phases inside the Leicester 22, but even a Burns cross-field kick can't get the job done.
Sam Aspland-Robinson returns from his yellow card after Bath knock the ball on.
FORD SAVES THE DAY
Burns looks to thread one through for Ruaridh McConnochie, but Ford is the man who gathers the high ball to get Tigers out of jail.
CHANGE AT SCRUM-HALF
Will Chudley is off, replaced by Kahn Fotuali'i at scrum-half for Bath.
George Ford wasn't happy with the contact on that one, and the conversion is missed.
Meanwhile, Max Lahiff returns from his yellow card.
CLAYTON GETS IT DOWN
The ball is shipped out to the right-hand side, and it's Clayton Blommetjies who latches onto the last pass and dives onto the line to score.
TIGER TOWN IS ROCKING
Breaks from Mike Fitzgerald and then Kyle Eastmond have got the crowd in full voice here at Welford Road, Tigers now camped on the visitors' five-metre line.
Freddie Burns' conversion means Tigers' lead is cut to 26 points to 22.
OBANO TRY GIVEN
Beno Obano's try is awarded after a check with TMO Sean Davey.
ANOTHER TMO CHECK
Beno Obano thinks he's broken through for a Bath try, but we'll check with the Television Match Official for double movement.
ASPLAND-ROBINSON IN THE BIN
The visitors spread the ball to the left, and Sam Aspland-Robinson seems to make an attempt on the ball, but after a TMO check the winger comes away with a yellow card for slapping the ball down.
O'CONNOR WINS A PENALTY
Bath look to have made a frantic start to this second period, but as they inch closer to the line they give away a penalty after great breakdown work from Brendon O'Connor.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
Freddie Burns gets us underway for the second half of this Round 22 match.
HALF TIME | 26-15
Leicester have the lead at the break here at Welford Road, 26 points to 15. Come on, Tigers!
PRIESTLAND ADDS THREE
Tigers concede their first penalty of the game 40 minutes in, and Priestland kicks the three from the far touchline.
FORD SPLITS THE POSTS
Tigers have a 14-point lead after another George Ford penalty for Lahiff's yellow card offence.
YELLOW FOR LAHIFF
Max Lahiff is shown a yellow card for illegally taking out Harrison from the ruck.
Cokanasiga fumbles another Ford high ball, which then bobbles into touch off the England wing.
Leicester win the lineout, but three phases later scrum-half Sam Harrison is taken off the ball by Max Lahiff, who is shown a yellow card.
HANDBAGS AT DAWN
Bath get pinged on the floor - again - and Jonathan Joseph and Ellis Genge have a 'disagreement', but it's nothing their team-mates can't solve.
Slight break in play before Ford makes another 20 metres with the kick to touch.
The scrum goes down, and we'll reset, but not before Freddie Burns is replaced at fly-half by Rhys Priestland for a HIA.
Graham Kitchener gets under a Bath high ball, but is unfortunate to be blocked by his own man on the far line, which means we'll have our first scrum of the afternoon.
Three more points from the boot of George Ford put Tigers up to 23-12 with half an hour played.
SOLID PASSAGE OF PLAY
Tigers making the most of this period of possession, with Tom Youngs leading from the front to break the Bath line and make a few metres towards their 22.
Penalty advantage is given, and despite a brilliant pick up from Tigers full-back George Worth, we'll come back for the offence after a break for treatment to Freddie Burns.
Graham Kitchener makes a half break towards the Bath 22, but Kalamafoni's second bite of the cherry is lost forward. Bath gather and boot into the Breedon Terrace for another Tigers throw.
BALL INTO TOUCH
Ironic cheers from the Holland & Barrett Stand as Bath lose the ball into touch, and the lineout is awarded to Leicester.
PLUS THE CONVERSION
Ford splits the uprights to give Leicester an eight-point lead, 20-12.
...AND IT'S GIVEN!
Brendon O'Connor comes up from the maul holding the ball, so gets his try after having one chalked off earlier.
WE'LL CHECK UPSTAIRS...
We're back with TMO Sean Davey after another heavy duty Tigers maul gets over the line. We're checking for the try...
LOTS OF TIGERS TERRITORY
Graham Kitchener claims the lineout, and the Tigers pack rumble a maul up to halfway before Ford sends a massive ball up for the Bath backs to contend with.
They knock it on and then double down on the mistake by getting caught offside, so Tigers have another kick to the corner.
BATH UP TO THE LINE
Despite some huge hits from the Tigers defence, Bath work their way up to the Leicester line - even with a couple of iffy-looking passes - but cough the ball up on the line after infringing at the breakdown. Ford relieves the pressire.
FORD NUDGES TIGERS AHEAD
Ford kicks another three and Tigers are back in front at Welford Road, 13-12.
Elliott Stooke is on in place of Levi Douglas in the Bath engine room.
BREAK IN PLAY
There's a stoppage here as Bath lock Levi Douglas receives treatment, but the game will restart with a Tigers penalty after the visitors are pinged for not releasing on the floor.
Worth, to Blommetjies, and then back to Worth before back-rower Brendon O'Connor crosses for what we think is Tigers' second try of the afternoon.
But after much discussion with his TMO, referee Craig Maxwell-Keys seems to think Blommetjies' foot was in touch, and the try is not given.
BATH THROUGH THE HANDS
Bath put the ball through hands for Joe Cokanasiga to score in the corner, but with a hint of a forward pass. Burns goes for a conversion out of hand but misses.
FORD ADDS THE EXTRAS
And with George Ford's conversion, Tigers now lead 10-7.
After a check with the TMO, Will Spencer's team try is awarded!
Bath captain Charlie Ewels gets pinged for off feet on halfway, but a mammoth kick from Ford means Tigers get the lineout on the five metre line.
...and it's a HUUUGE shove from the Tigers pack over the line. We'll check with TMO Sean Davey to see if the home side have their first try of the game.
TIGERS HIT BACK
Ford converts a penalty from just inside the Bath half to claw three points back for Tigers.
Freddie Burns adds the extras and the visitors lead seven points to nil.
Ruaridh McConnochie breaks through a hole in the Tigers defence, and a couple of offloads later it's full-back Anthony Watson who dots down.
EARLY TIGERS POSSESSION
Some brute-ish runs from the Tigers forward pack should set the tone for this fixture, with Ellis Genge and Sione Kalamafoni trucking the ball up into the Bath defensive line.
George Ford tries to dig the ball through but it comes back off a Bath shin - though Tigers recover possession.
KICK OFF AT WELFORD ROAD
For one final time this season, George Ford boots the ball into the Leicester sky and we're underway at Welford Road.
HEAR THE ROAR
Welford Road roars your Leicester Tigers onto the field for Round 22 of the Gallagher Premiership. Kick off coming your way shortly...
CAUGHT ON CAMERA
With both sides heading back into the sheds, catch the head coach's thoughts from the touchline with just minutes to go at Welford Road...
UPDATE ON THE CONDITIONS
We’re not going to lie, the Welford Road pitch is looking glorious this afternoon – more a start-of-the-year sight than the surface you’d expect for an end-of-season clash.
That said, a huge rainstorm about 90 minutes before kick off has drenched the field (and the avid supporters on the Breedon Terrace). There’s no more serious rain forecast, and the temperature is expected to hover around 15C.
LTTV QUIZZES BORIS ON BATH CLASH
LTTV caught up with Tigers scrum coach Boris Stankovich at the club’s Oval Park training base this week to discuss the season to this point, and his preview of one final challenge in 2018/19.
“I think the first thing we need to remember is that it’s the last game of the season,” he said. “We will be looking at salvaging something from the season we have had, and we are really looking forward to it."
You can watch Boris’ full match preview here.
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Tom Youngs returns from suspension to captain Tigers this afternoon, while seven of his team-mates in the matchday squad are poised for their final appearance in the club’s colours, including Matt Smith in his 228th game.
With Telusa Veainu and Jonny May both ruled out, George Worth comes in at full-back to join Sam Aspland-Robinson and Clayton Blommetjies in the back three, while Smith is paired with the returning Kyle Eastmond at centre.
Mike Fitzgerald and Brendon O’Connor also step up to the starting XV, while Tom Hardwick, Valentino Mapapalangi and Leonardo Sarto are all named among the replacements.
Former Tiger Freddie Burns lines up at fly-half for the visitors, while in a change to the previously announced team Francois Louw comes into the Bath back row to replace Sam Underhill.
Catch up with full team news here (or scroll down on this page).
FINAL MATCH PREVIEW
Tigers face old rivals Bath Rugby in the season’s final 80 minutes of rugby at Welford Road this Saturday.
The home side currently sit in 11th place in the Premiership table – with a chance to jump above Worcester in 10th – and could also dash Bath’s hopes of a top-six finish. Of the clubs’ 196 previous meetings, Leicester lead 114 to 69 on the win count, with 13 draws.
Read our full match preview here (or scroll down on this page).
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
Good afternoon and welcome to Welford Road for Tigers’ final game of the season, against Bath Rugby in Round 22 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Follow all of the action – whether you’re at the ground or elsewhere – LIVE, right here with Matchday Live.