Anniversary honours went to Bath Rugby in their 200th meeting with Leicester Tigers as they took a bonus-point 38-16 win at Welford Road on Saturday
In the first home game since the end of February due to the COVID-19 suspension, a young Tigers team led with two early penalties from Johnny McPhillips before Bath took control with four tries in the 20 minutes up to half-time.
They led 26-6 as front-row trio Will Stuart, Tom Dunn and Lewis Boyce all scored after build up through possession among the forwards and wing Ruaridh McConnachie added the other with a smart finish into the left-hand corner.
Bath made it four wins in a row against their old rivals after tries from replacements Beno Obano and Tom De Glanville in the second period of a Gallagher Premiership Round 15 encounter.
Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick selected a team with an average age of just 23 and with 13 changes from the trip to Exeter in Round 14 – only Tomas Lavanini and George Worth backed-up their performance at Sandy Park – as Blake Enever, Harry Potter and Guy Porter all made their debuts. Ben White captained the team as one of 12 academy graduates in the matchday line-up.
And Tigers drew first blood with a penalty from McPhillips almost from kick-off after good work on the chase from Potter as Bath No8 Taulupe Faletau made the catch.
The fly-half returned to the tee to make it 6-0 with a kick from a central position.
Bath twice over-hit kicks behind the Tigers defence which Zack Henry was happy to guide out but they regained their composure to build phases of ball, all met by well-organised defence.
The first real threat came from a penalty 15 metres in from the touchline which Bath took into the left corner and, after playing through the forwards near the tryline, prop Stuart made the final push over to the right of the goalposts. Priestland’s conversion gave them a one-point led on 20 minutes as the teams took a short drinks break.
Another penalty led to a second Bath try from set-piece position on their left, with hooker Dunn the man at the bottom of the pile, though Tigers felt they had probably done enough to stop the maul drive before the final push. Priestland added the extras to stretch the lead to 14-6.
A third score followed with some incisive passing in the backline giving McConnochie his opportunity and he beat three defenders to the line in the left-hand corner. Priestland, with the wind swirling, pushed his kick wide with his team 19-6 in front.
When Tigers were penalised again, picking up knock-on ball in an offside position, punishment was swift again as Bath retained possession until Faletua was able to offload for prop Lewis Boyce to run in their bonus-point score with three minutes remaining in the first half. Priestland’s simple kick from the tee made it 26-6 in his side’s favour and it stayed that way into half-time.
In a repeat of the first-half kick-off, Tigers gained a penalty straight from the restart to the second period, with Nephi Leatigaga at the heart of the work in the tackle. But, kicking from just inside opposition territory, McPhillips pulled the kick wide of the left-hand post.
Samoan prop Leatigaga was at it again a moment later, McPhillips taking play into the left-hand corner this time from the penalty. But, after George Martin, had claimed ball at the lineout, Bath wrapped up the Tigers forwards and earned put-in ball at a scrum and a penalty of their own from the set-piece.
Joe Heyes pressured Semesa Rokoduguni into a knock-on as he fielded loose ball, and McPhillips took play to within five metres of the Bath line with a grubber kick but Bath stood firm as Tigers took lineout ball.
Moments later the visitors had their fifth score of the day, using the forwards again to good effect as Beno Obano pushed over from close range. Priestland’s kick came back off a post with the score 31-6 in Bath’s favour.
More followed, with Josh Matavesi charging through broken field to put Tom De Glanville in on his own for try number six. Ben Spencer took over the kicking and added two points to the tally as the lead reached 32 points.
Tigers responded with some determination in attack as Enever engineered lineout possession close-in. But, despite a couple of attempts to force a way over, they were eventually penalised a metre short and the chance had gone.
The second drinks break arrived as Felatau received a yellow card after jumping across a lineout to split lifter and jumper, giving Tigers ball in the same area of the right-hand corner. The throw evaded the fingertips of Enever but Tigers remained camped in an area 10 metres out until finally receiving reward.
After setting up lineout possession on the left, Charlie Clare steered a driving maul to the line to touchdown for the first time in Tigers colours. Henry was wide with the conversion attempt.
Play remained in the Bath 22 but the visitors proved hard to break down as Tigers looked for chances to chip into the deficit, finally creating space on the left where Harry Simmons wrong-footed the defence and popped ball for Wallace to dot down in his home debut.