Leicester Tigers scored a last-minute try to seal the extra point in a 40-23 victory over Bath Rugby in Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership season at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Friday evening.
In the 202nd meeting of these age-old rivals, Tigers ensured they would meet the first break in the league programme – with two weeks of Premiership Cup to come – unbeaten with George Ford scoring one of the tries and landing each of his eight kicks at goal as he became the first player to top 100 Premiership points this season.
Bath travelled on the back of just one defeat in the last six meetings of the teams but without a win in their six games so far this season while Tigers had won seven in a row for the first time in a Premiership season as the only unbeaten team in the league.
Both teams had to make changes in the first week of the international period and Steve Borthwick brought Cyle Brink in for his first appearance of the season after recovering from injury and there were places for Tommy Reffell, Guy Porter and Dolly among the changes following the win at Northampton Saints last weekend.
Bath provided the first try of the evening, with Max Clark supplying the finish but Tigers replied with two tries in a three-minute spell from Nic Dolly and Matt Scott while they also saw the visitors have a score ruled out by TMO checks before reaching the half-time whistle still 20-13 in front.
There was little to separate the teams for much of the second period too until Ford’s try and then finally, in the last action of the evening, when hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie added the important fourth score.
It was Tigers who put the first points of the evening on the board with the game just four minutes old with a Ford penalty following a promising run by Nemani Nadolo but Bath created an opening try for Clark just a couple of minutes later.
The move began with Danny Cipriani spotting some space and after carries from Dunn and Fox, the centre arrived on the left shoulder to dive in and score.
The response came quickly with Tigers winning a penalty in defence and then scoring from a penalty in attack after visiting wing Will Muir was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on. Ford pushed play into the corner and after a steady push towards the tryline, Dolly emerged for his sixth try of the season fresh from his his first taste of England training this week
Bath negotiated the rest of the yellow card period without further damage as the action was contained within the middle third of the field and punctuated by handling errors.
Cipriani drew the scores level with a penalty just past the midway point in the opening half as both teams were forced to make changes. Freddie Burns went off with an injury, to be replaced by Bryce Hegarty making his home debut while Semesa Rokoduguni left for a head injury assessment after a tackle on Nadolo.
A break from Scott wide on the right provided some go-forward again for Tigers and they were rewarded with a penalty for Ford who didn’t let the crackle of fireworks around the city put him off his kick as Tigers led 13-10.
Tom Ellis gave away a penalty in Tigers territory which allowed Ford to clear upfield and it proved costly when the forwards gained more territory and then Kelly combined with Scott in midfield for the Scotland cap to force his way through contact and run in to score. Ford’s conversion gave his team a 10-point lead.
A penalty from Cipriani chipped away at that advantage, though Tommy Reffell would feel it was a harsh call as he got over ball on the floor in defence.
The greasy ball did Jack van Poortvliet no favours as he had to deal with a chip from counterpart Fox which forced him into carrying over his own tryline. Play stayed there as Cyle Brink was yellow-carded in the defensive phases which followed and Tigers also survived appeals for a Bath try when Josh McNally clawed his way over only to be denied for what the referee termed a second movement following a tackle by Dan Cole.
The half ended with Tigers winning a scrum penalty near halfway but, after taking play down the right, ball was lost in midfield and referee Carley brought the half to a close with the hosts seven points in front.
A forward drive direct from kick-off after the teams emerged for the second half provided the chance for Ford to push the lead out to double figures again.
But Bath fought back again, despite losing Clark to injury as he almost broke through near the posts. Set-piece ball gave them possession near the line and McNally this time made sure as he barged over. Cipriani converted to bring it back to 23-20.
The next score was a vital one, with a run of three lineout drives and three penalties against Bath allowing Tigers to increase the pressure and it finally paid off as another drive took play almost within reach of the line and Richard Wigglesworth played to the left where Ford was able to run in and score.
The fly-half added the conversion to make it 30-20 but Bath came back again with another Cipriani penalty to bring the visitors back within scoring range.
Scott almost had a second try which would surely have put Tigers in the diving seat as he latched on to a Nadolo offload but three defenders clattered into the centre and ensured he could not get the ball down beyond the line.
Kini Murimurivalu added some physicality to the backline from the bench with a run on the left but Tigers were penalised at the ruck just as they started to build some attacking momentum.
Reffell’s work over the ball near halfway give Tigers another opportunity to get forward with the clock ticking towards the final 10 minutes and then the physical carrying of replacements Kini Murimurivalu and Nephi Leatigaga put them into position for Ford to kick another three-pointer for a 33-23 advantage.
Murimurivalu’s kick-chase after Hegarty had cleared messy ball near halfway put Bath back on their own line with just two minutes left on the clock and Porter’s chase of more loose ball ensured Cipriani was unable to clear his lines with the time running out.
A big scrum from Tigers provided one last chance for a bonus-point score but not before Bath lost prop Kieran Verden to a yellow card for a late hit on Wigglesworth.
That gave them one final go at the line and it was Cowan-Dickie who was on the ball as the forwards charged for the tryline to claim the bonus-point score and extend the winning run.