Leicester Tigers kicked off a new year with a 36-31 win over Bath Rugby at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Sunday in Round 5 of the Gallagher Premiership season.
After trailing by 14 points early on, Tigers fought back with tries from Freddie Steward, Harry Wells and Cameron Henderson, plus 21 points from George Ford.
A shock early try gave Bath a perfect start and they doubled the around the quarter-hour with a fine individual score from Ben Spencer to give Tigers an uphill task in the opening game of a new year.
But two penalties from Ford and then a clinical finish from Steward gave Tigers fresh hope and a long-range kick brought the half to a close with the Bath lead cut to 16-17.
Both clubs returned from Covid-enforced breaks, with Tigers having the trip to Newcastle cancelled last weekend and Bath unable to play their last two games – against La Rochelle in Europe and London Irish in the Premiership – on a bright January afternoon in the 201st meeting of old rivals.
The second half began with a try from Wells to put Tigers ahead for the first time at 23-17 and scores were level at 26-26 entering the final quarter of an enthralling game before Henderson stretched out to score from close range and provide another lead.
But Bath were still not done, adding a third try of their own before Tigers managed to seal the points to move up to seventh in the table.
Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick was among the absentees as he continued isolating at home, but the team did feature first starts of the season for England trio George Ford, Ellis Genge and Ben Youngs as well as the re-appearance of teenager George Martin after his recovery from injury.
Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Will Stuart and Sam Underhill all made their return for Bath after the Autumn Nations Cup as they hunted a fifth successive league win over Tigers.
They showed their ambition to keep ball alive shortly after kick-off and got on the scoreboard in bizarre circumstances after just two minutes thanks to prop Ben Obano.
Tigers safely gathered a lineout inside their own 22 but, as a pod of forwards broke forward, the ball had somehow found its way into the hands of Josh McNally behind them. He was tackled just short of the line, but Obano was able to drive over and Rhys Priestland added the conversion.
Taulupe Faletau left the field temporarily after colliding with Tigers full-back Steward, and moments later Watson spilled a high kick but, after a big push at the scrum brought a penalty, Ford pushed his kick wide.
Jasper Wiese was yellow-carded on 14 minutes as he tackled Watson high and, although they missed touch with their penalty down the left, the escape was only momentary as scrum-half Spencer saw a gap on halfway, kicked ahead and regathered next to the posts to score. Priestland’s kick made it 14-0 to the visitors with 16 minutes played.
A scrum penalty gave Ford a second sight of the posts and he opened his account from wide on the right after 23 minutes.
Two more scrums brought two more penalties and, after Ford kicked to the right, the lineout allowed Wiese to carry and, when Sam Underhill was penalised at the ruck, the fly-half added another three-pointer.
A penalty for offside brought to an end a promising Leicester spell in Bath territory but, after the visitors threatened with ball in hand again, Dan Cole’s work in defence brought a whistle in his favour.
Matt Scott almost picked off a pass in the Bath backline midway inside their half but, after the call of the television match official, a penalty was awarded against him. The centre recovered to make an important tackle in midfield following the set-piece and Bath knocked-on as they attempted to play out wide.
Tigers then created a well-worked score for Steward following impressive carries from Nemani Nadolo on the left and then Genge through the middle, allowing the forwards to pick up momentum – and a couple of penalty advantages – before Ford popped a pass for the full-back to score. The conversion made it 13-14 with less than five minutes left in the opening half.
Bath wanted a response before the break but, after getting into a promising position, Hanro Liebenberg swooped on ball to win a turnover and Ford hammered upfield.
With the clock ticking down, Tigers used a lineout to build some attacking phases but, when Bath hacked clear and Steward dived on the ball in front of the posts, the whistle went against the defence and Priestland kicked the points.
From the restart, both teams kept playing, with Tigers breaking out after an error from Bath at their own lineout and the half ended with a penalty award in front of the dug-outs which Ford landed with an immaculate long-range kick to bring Tigers to within a point.
And the hosts went in front for the first time just moments into the second half, with Steward claiming a long kick from Ford, and Youngs taking play to the left where Nadolo came into a threatening position, dragging in defenders before offloading to Wells who carried the momentum through the final tacklers to score. Ford added another perfect kick to make it 23-17.
A Priestland kick after Tigers had collapsed a maul added three points to the Bath total, but Ford responded on 50 minutes.
The restart almost brought another bizarre moment when Faletau deflected it away from Wiese with his head and Kobus van Wyk had to step in to make a big tackle and force a knock-on.
Another penalty from Priestland meant three points separated teams on 55 minutes before a 50-metre carry through the heart of the Bath defence from Wiese had the visitors scrambling back. After a number of phases, Ford called for a drop goal but kicked wide.
Watson miss-judged a kick on the edge of his own 22 but Bath escaped when Nadolo was penalised for a second movement after being tackled.
Tigers showed powerful defence when Watson was taken to the floor and bodies arrived to drive him backwards, but stolen ball was then spilled and play began with a Bath scrum.
Steward was just as he fielded a dangerous chip through and collided with colleague Jaco Taute. But play went back for a Bath penalty as Kini Murimurivalu replaced the South African centre and Priestland levelled the scores at 26-26.
Murimurivalu was immediately into the action, attacking down the right after a superb offload from Van Wyk, and another Wiese carry which ended with fellow replacement Cameron Henderson reaching over to score with his first touch of the ball. Ford’s extras from wide on the right made it 33-26.
Van Wyk then combined with Jack Van Poortvliet down the right touchline but his chip ahead was just too far for the scrum-half to catch as Bath dotted down.
The pace of the game continued, with play swinging first one way and then the other, and when Faletau was penalised on the floor trying to scoop up loose ball, Ford finally provided the daylight of a 10-point lead on the scoreboard with the kick and just six minutes left on the clock.
Henderson was penalised at the restart, Bath taking play up the left and playing with advantage for two more offences until Cameron Redpath wriggled over the line for Bath’s third try.
Josh Matavesi screwed his conversion attempt wide with Tigers five points in front and three minutes left in the game.
Tigers created position for a fourth score from a high kick by Ford but were eventually penalised in possession just a metre out before regaining possession to wind down the clock on a hard-earned victory.
FULL-TIME | TIGERS 36-31 BATH
Tigers stay strong at the death and force the win having been 14 points down in the first half. Tigers make a winning start to 2021.
TIGERS STEAL AT THE LINE-OUT
It's a steal from Henderon in the line-out, and can keep posession. The forward working hard to keep the ball moving at the breakdown.
Bath look to counter-ruck but George Ford can kick the ball out on the 80th minute. A win for Tigers.
TIGERS RETAIN THE BALL IN CLOSING MINUTES
Tigers looking for the bonus point try and can edge forward just a few metres from the Bath tryline. But Wayne Barnes spots the penalty and Tigers lose the advantage. A big opportunity for Bath now in the final minute.
REDPATH SCORES FOR BATH
It's a try in the final five for Bath as Cameron Redpath is able to pick up the ball from the maul and fall over the line. The TMO finds nothing wrong with it, and Bath get what they need in the final minutes.
Josh Matavesi misses the conversion however, so Tigers keep a further advantage.
BATH COME BACK AT TIGERS IN FINAL FIVE
Tigers midfield defence stays strong as Redpath is forced back. Bath still with the ball and McConnochie and Falatau follow up.
Bath now inches from the Tigers tryline, and Bath have the penalty advantage following an offside, but Redpath is the man who can stumble over for Bath.
FORD DOING THE BUSINESS
George Ford extends the lead for Tigers following a succession of kicks from the hands. He makes no mistake from the tee and Tigers lead 36-26 Bath.
BATH IN POSSESSION
Spencer continues to go to left and right, as Bath look to find a way back into the game.
Ford opts to boot again, a strong feature of his second half as he puts pressure on the Bath back three.
Bath give away the penalty and now advantage with Tigers.
GAME OPENING UP
Both teams looking to gain the edge as we move towards the final quater. An exchange of the boot comes out for a Tigers line-out. JVP links up with Ford and its scrappy in the middle.
Tigers still have it, but Luke Wallace takes his eye off the ball, we'll have the scrum from the knock-on.
Nephi Leatigaga comes on for Ellise Genge and Luke Wallace enters the field of play in place of George Martin.
FORD SQUEEZES IN FROM THE TEE
George Ford continues his strong game from the tee as Tigers lead is extended. Tigers 33-26 Bath.
HENDERSON SCORES FROM THE BENCH
Tigers have the lead back following some sustained play bursting through the Tigers defence from close range. Henderson reaches over and gives Tigers the lead.
Murimurivalu with an immediate impact down the left flank as Tigers pick up the pace again.
Genge and Wiese all involved and Tigers only a few metres away...
BATH LEVEL THE SCORES
It's Priestland again for Bath as the scores are level. The final quater and it's all square at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Cameron Henderon comes onto replace Calum Green and Jaco Taute will make way for Kini Murimurivalu.
BATH APPLY PRESSURE
The left boot of Ben Spencer finds touch and will come forward with the line-out, Jack Walker with the ball in the maul and Bath still have it as it goes to ground.
The Tigers defence holds strong, as Mercer and Obano combine. Charlie Ewels gets in on the action and they will have the penalty advantage but Spencer tries a kick.
Taute and Steward combine for Tigers and we'll have a quick medical break.
Jack Van Poortvliet comes on at scrum-half for Ben Youngs on the hour mark.
NADOLO PENALISED FOR CRAWLING
Nemani Nadolo finds space in the centre of the pitch from the line-out ran by Wiese, but Wayne Barnes spots him crawling. Penalty to Bath who kick for touch and have the line-out.
Mercer picks up off the line and Ben Spencer keeps things moving for Bath. Calum Green stops Beno Obano but Bath still have the ball, as Tigers put the defensive press on,
SOUTH AFRICANS COMBINE FOR TIGERS
A Wiese charge allows Liebenberg to come forward and Tigers now in the Bath half.
Youngs finds Ford, who finds Taute, and Genge looks to create some holes. George Martin picks up and Youngs finds Steward.
Tigers seeing a lot more of the ball, and George Ford attempts a drop goal which comes to nothing.
BATH CREEP CLOSER
Rhys Priestland kicks another three points as Bath look to chase the Tigers score. Leicester 26-23 Bath.
Ben Youngs feeds in the scrum following the knock on and Jasper Wiese tries to come away, but is caught and Ford can kick clear. Watson slips after collecting the kick, and Ewels comes forward taking the hit, but Wiese takes the ball illegally.
Priestland will kick for the posts...
Charlie Clare for Tom Youngs, Joe Heyes coming on for Dan Cole just after the 50 minute mark.
TIGERS SCRUM IN OWN HALF
Ben Youngs is able to claim his own scrum feed following the collaspe of the scrum and he recovers to kick and clear his lines for Tigers.
FORDY ADDS ANOTHER PENALTY
George Ford continues the second half strong as he re-extends Tigers lead to six points from a central position from the tee. Tigers 26-20 Bath.
TIGERS QUICK ON THE BALL
The Tigers players are all looking to get their hands on the ball, with Scott, Steward and Wiese looking to drive.
Tigers get the penalty though from Will Stuart, another chance for George Ford to add breathing space...
PRIESTLAND UP TO 10 POINTS
Rhys Priestlands continues as he ended the second half with the boot as Bath come back at Tigers from the tee. Tigers 23-20 Bath.
Watson is caught in the air by Kobus Van Wyk, and we'll have the scrum on the half-way line.
Penalty awarded to Bath in what's been an interesting test for both front rows so far.
FORD MAKES SURE
George Ford kicks right between the posts from the left flank and Tigers lead is extended. Tigers 23-17 Bath
WELLSY GOES OVER
A nice offload from Nadolo finds Harry Wells who darts for the line and goes over as Tigers take the lead for the first time in the game.
TIGERS ATTACK FROM THE OFF
Bath retrieve the ball and Charlie Ewels advances, Ben Spencer goes for the length and Freddie Steward collections.
Youngs finds Ford, who kicks and Priestland returns the favour. Steward collects off another Ford ball and Nadolo with a smart offload finds Harry Wells...
BACK WITH THE SECOND HALF
George Ford kicks things off as Tigers attack the Mattioli Woods Stand end of the stadium. No changes to either side.
HALF-TIME | TIGERS 16-17 BATH
Tigers very much back in the game following a slow start having fought back from 14 points down. Try from Steward and the boot of George Ford getting the scores.
FORD MAKES THE KICK ON HALF-TIME
George Ford thumps a huge kick from the 40 metre mark to bring the game within one point again.
LAST OPPORTUNITY FOR TIGERS
It's been a scrappy final few moments, and Tigers have a chance to claim some final points through a George Ford penalty....
PRIESTLAND ADDS EXTRAS JUST BEFORE HT
Rhys Priestland punishes a strong Tigers advance in the final moments and kicks from tens of metres out. Tigers 13-17 Bath.
TIGERS FINISHING STRONG
Tigers midfield combine well as Ford and Youngs look to tee up the ball carriers.
Jonathan Joseph punts clear but Freddie Steward is the man in the right place to slide onto the ball, but George Ford goes in off his feet and we'll have a Bath penalty in the final minute
BACKS TO THE WALL FOR TIGERS
Bath come back at Tigers from the kick-off and Liebenberg and Genge do the work at the breakdown. Fordy can kick clear following a nice step, and Priestland returns the favour. Tigers looking to see out the half with the ball in hand.
FORD REDUCES BATH LEAD
Ford adds the extras and it's now just a one-point game as we near the final two minutes. Tigers 13-14 Bath.
STEWARD SCORE FOR TIGERS
Freddie Steward finds the angle and eases over the line following the pass from George Ford. Tigers 11-14 Bath.
TIGERS BALL CARRIERS FIND THE YARDS
Genge makes headway in the centre of the Bath defence and the Tigers forward earn the efforts at the breakdown. It comes out to Ford who finds Steward...
SCOTT NEARLY CLASPS IT
Matt Scott may see the sin bin here, following an attempt to catch the ball on the intercept...but he only concedes the penalty so Tigers remain with 15 on the field.
Bath advance from the line-out from Dunn and sweep the ball out to the right flank, but Dan Cole does the work at the breakdown and wins the penalty to ease the pressure.
Ben Youngs into touch...
GAME PICKS UP THE PACE
The match has picked up pace as both teams now look to gain the advantage in the final ten minutes of the half.
Ben Spencer finds touch at the Leicester 22, following an exchange of possession.
ANOTHER THREE FOR FORD
George Ford kicks from the centre of the pitch as Tigers reduce the Bath lead. Tigers 6-14 Bath
TIGERS UP THE PRESSURE
Scott, Liebenberg and Wiese all look to work the angle but are held up by the Bath defence, it's still with Tigers and Youngs and Ford combine.
Ford with another chance from the tee..
Ford finds Tom Youngs out wide, and almost finds Liebenberg but we'll go back for another penalty for Tigers.
Wiese straight into the action as he carries the ball forward and from a resulting scrum, Bath are penalised for collasping the scrum and can kick to touch.
WIESE RETURNS FOLLOWING HIS SIN BIN
Jasper Wiese returns follow his yellow card for a high tackle on Anthony Watson
FORD OFF THE MARK FOR TIGERS
George Ford scores Tigers first points of 2021 from the kicking tee as Tigers look to get back into the game in the early stages. Tigers 3-14 Bath
CHANCE FOR FORD FROM THE TEE
George Ford will take a punt at the posts following another error by Bath in the scrum as Will Stuart concedes the penalty.
A chance to open his account for the new year...
OBSTRUCTION ON THE HIGHBALL
Tigers appeal for an obstruction from Fordy's high ball, and now the opportunity to throw in from the touch-line. Tom Youngs finds Calum Geen and the maul forms...but Bath work the penalty and the advantage is lost for Tigers.
TIGERS WITH IT ALL TO DO
Tigers need to regain possession following the restart, but Bayliss steals the line-out and Bath can go through the phases again.
It sweeps from left to right and back, before a kick from McConnochie is too far and we'll have a Tigers line-out.
Priestland makes it two from two as Bath extend the lead further. Tigers 0 - 14 Bath
SPENCER SOLO TRY
It's all his own work from Ben Spencer as Zack Mercer gains the yards and Ben Spencer finds the gap from the breakdown.
He chips it over Freddie Steward and is able to collect to extend Bath's lead.
BACK AND FORTH...WIESE YELLOW
Possession exchanges back and forth as both teams look to the boot and Jasper Weise is shown the yellow for the high tackle on Anthony Watson following some neat footwork. Tigers down to 14.
ADVANTAGE FOR TIGERS
Wiese comes away with the ball in hand following the scrum, Ellis Genge forcing the error from Will Stuart and Ford with the chance to kick for the posts...but he kicks wide and Tigers still 7 points behind.
ROUGH AND TUMBLE
The forwards say hello in the only way forwards do, as we have a little bit of rough and tumble ahead of a scrum restart.
Bath are penalised and George Ford kicks it downfield, but we have a knock-on and Tigers gain terriotory.
SCOTT FINDS AIRTIME
Ben Youngs and George Ford combine for the first time and Matt Scott hits it high down the pitch proving difficult to field.
The play continues as we have a Bath line-out.
TIGERS COME BACK AT BATH
Tigers are back at it from the restart, and after an exchange of kicks, Freddie Steward collides with Faletau for Bath and we'll have a break in play as the flanker receives treatment.
We restart with a scrum...
PRIESTLAND EXTENDS THE LEAD
Rhy Priestland opens his account for the afternoon as Bath take an early lead. Tigers 0-7 Bath
TRY FOR BATH
Beno Obano is the man who takes advantage of a mistake in the maul. Priestland to add the extras.
TIGERS WITH THE BALL...BUT A MISTAKE
Tom Youngs throws in from the touchline and there's some confusion in the ranks as the Tigers numbers advance, but it's Bayh with the ball and Beno Obano can stumble over the line.
Antony Watson sees a lot of the early ball looking to jink in and around the Tigers backline.
Bath have the ball in the Tigers half, and McConnochie picks up the loose ball to keep things moving. Bath keep the phases moving, and Watson finds touch on Tigers left flank.
KICK OFF IN 2021
We're underway here at Mattioli Woods Welford Road as both teams prepare for the 201st meeting between these two old rivals. Rhys Priestland will kick things off this afternoon...
10 MINUTES UNTIL KO
We're 10 minutes from kick-off here as both teams finish their preparations ahead of the start of the Round 5 fixture.
Tigers will be looking to start the new year with a win...
THE BATH TEAM
Here’s how the Leicester Tigers squad will line up this afternoon… Tigers recall England trio George Ford, Ellis Genge and Ben Youngs, while George Martin returns from injury to join Henro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese in the back row and Kobus van Wyk is recalled to the backline.
BORTHWICK'S TEAM TALK
Listen to what head coach Steve Borthwick had to say ahead of the visit of Bath in Round 6.
Bath have won their last four matches against the Tigers in Gallagher Premiership Rugby since Leicester’s 34-19 victory at Twickenham in “The Clash” in April 2018.
Overall the two clubs have met on 200 occasions with Tigers winning 115 to 72 by Bath and 13 games drawn.
Ninety-four of those games have been at the home of Leicester where Tigers have only lost on 15 occasions.
Match referee is Wayne Barnes, in charge of his 231st Premiership fixture.
MATCHDAY LIVE – FIRST HOME GAME OF 2021
Welcome to Matchday Live for real-time commentary of Leicester Tigers versus Bath – an old rivalry which welcomes its 201st fixture this afternoon.
We’re coming to you live from Mattioli Woods Welford Road on a brisk, winter afternoon as the club hosts its first match of a brand new year.
With just half an hour until we kick-off, we’ll bring you all the action as it happens via LeicesterTigers.com and the official Leicester Tigers app.