Two first-half tries set Leicester Tigers on the way to an 18-7 win over Bath Rugby at the Recreation Ground on Saturday and maintained hopes of progress in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Tommy Reffell’s score was reward for the industry of the Tigers early on and a second followed for Ben White as the visitors led 15-0 at half-time.
But, after conceding an interception try early in the second half, Tigers lost Tatafu Polota-Nau to a red card with almost 30 minutes left to play and spent most of the rest of the game in their own territory, repelling Bath attacks until Tom Hardwick landed a late drop goal to put the game well out of reach.
After leading the club at academy and development level in his first spell with the club, Calum Green was named as captain in senior team action for the first time and Adam Thompstone played his first game of 2019 after recovering from knee surgery. Tigers also gave a first start of the season to Polota-Nau while Harry Simmons returned to the squad for the first time in 2019/20 and Nephi Leatigaga was called up to make his debut from the bench.
The weekend began with the four teams in Pool C separated by a single point before Exeter moved clear with a bonus-point win at Worcester on Friday evening, with Tigers and Bath both on five points at kick-off.
There was an early touch for Thompstone, catching a clearance from Chris Cook, but it was Bath who had the first chance of points on the board with a penalty from Freddie Burns after Tigers had been pulled up for a high tackle. But the former Leicester fly-half pushed his kick across the posts.
A clever kick over the top from scrum-half White gave Tigers valuable territory on the right with eight minutes gone, but the defending side managed to win the lineout and clear.
Bath also claimed Tigers lineout ball on halfway but this time the visitors won back possession and used it to create their first attacking opportunity. Harry Wells and Guy Thompson read play well to get hands on ball on the right but the chance was lost with a loose pass out wide.
Disciplined defence near halfway then brought a penalty award and Hardwick had no hesitation in pointing at the posts or in kicking the first points of the day with 14 minutes played.
The Tigers linespeed and work in the tackle kept Bath in the middle third of the field during their periods of possession and then the visitors had the first try on the board with 18 minutes played.
Keeping ball in hand on the right, Tigers pushed forward and Greg Bateman timed his run perfectly to break the defensive line. He found Reffell on his shoulder and the flanker ran free to score on the right. Hardwick’s conversion came back off the post with Tigers 8-0 in front.
When Mike Williams – in his first appearance against his former colleagues – was penalised at the breakdown moments later, Tigers kept Bath pinned back but were then penalised just as they opened up play.
More good work on the ball from Bateman had Tigers roaring forward again, breaking a tackle on the 10-metre line and then finding the support, but White’s kick in behind beat the chasers as Bath covered in defence.
Hardwick kept his cool as he fielded a Burns kick in his own 22 and beat wing Levi Davis with some smart footwork before Bateman’s effort at the next breakdown brought another penalty on halfway.
And the prop was back on the ball moments later, latching on to a lineout take from Reffell and, as Tigers arrived in support, scrum-half White claimed the second try.
He broke wide of the covering defence and, despite being taken down once, bounced immediately back to his feet and had the strength to dot down. Hardwick added the extras for a 15-point lead as the game approached the half-hour mark.
The visitors’ defence had not been troubled by that point but was finally stretched when wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb ran on a diagonal towards the right-hand corner before White took him down less than 10 metres out. Tigers recovered and, although initially outnumbered, they regrouped in time for Reffell to earn a penalty over the ball.
A break from flanker Josh Bayliss finally gave the home crowd something to cheer around 35 minutes as he beat a tackle on halfway and took play on another 20 metres. Tiger were penalised in contact but, after Elliott Stooke claimed ball at the resulting lineout, the whistle blew again, but this time against Bath attack.
The hosts made four changes at half-time, including the introduction of Rhys Priestland in place of Burns and his first contribution was in adding a conversion to an intercept score from Davis on 45 minutes.
Tigers had been on the attack on halfway when Davis picked off a long pass in midfield and ran away for their opening points of the afternoon.
A scrum penalty and another at a lineout had Bath back in Tigers territory moments later and they were playing with an advantage when Reffell was penalised at the next maul, with Green warned about his team’s indiscipline in the opening phases of the half. But Tigers stood up to the drive and cleared as Bath lost ball five metres out.
A huge collision between scrum-half Will Chudley and Polota-Nau brought the game to a halt on 52 minutes and the Tigers hooker was red-carded with the referee judging that contact had been high.
Bath restarted with a penalty and were inching forward when Tigers attacked the breakdown and won a penalty of their own to relieve the pressure.
Jake Kerr was introduced from the bench to compete the front row, with Jordan Coghlan making way, and Tigers also added Hanro Liebenberg to the forward pack, taking off Thompstone from the backline.
When Zach Mercer inadvertently offloaded the ball directly into the chest of referee Jackson, the official had no choice but to restart the game with a scrum, but this brought another Bath penalty and the chance to build on their right. Tigers sent on prop Leatigaga at the set-piece and the visiting side remained on the defensive.
Those first-half scores must have seemed a distant memory but did give Tigers something to hang on to as they defended the eight-point lead with a man short and Bath sending on more experience from the bench in Charlie Ewels and Jamie Roberts.
Simmons replaced White on 65 minutes, with Facundo Gigena on for Bateman in the front row as Tigers had to defend deep and kick clear, forcing Bath to play from long distance.
As the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes, Tom Homer escaped the Tigers defence to put Davis away on the right but the wing pulled up as the defence closed in and, with all replacements already used, the teams were level again at 14 men each for the closing stages.
When Joe Thomas offloaded for Jordan Olowofela, the wing kicked up to the Bath tryline and then led the chase to keep them there.
Tigers then showed good control as they gained some possession, coolly taking phase after phase through the forwards to take the clock down before Hardwick gave the signal and sat deep to nail a drop-goal attempt and settle the verdict, putting Tigers on nine points in the pool, one behind leaders Exeter with a derby to come in Round 4.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
Huge shout out to all of the Tigers supporters who followed the boys down to Bath this afternoon for that nail-biter. Like what you saw, #TigersFamily?!
FULL TIME | 7-18
...and that's the game! A 14-man Tigers put in a fantastic second-half defensive effort to beat Bath at The Rec.
LAST-MINUTE DROP GOAL
Brilliant patience from the Tigers attackers edges the away side towards the posts, and Tom Hardwick drops into the pocket to add three more points.
TIGERS IN CONTROL
Tigers now in some serious possession in the home 22, here. Trucking the ball up through forwards and backs, the visitors certainly fancy another score with a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Bath get the ball back, but despite an initial overlap on one wing they just can't make the final pass stick, as Olowofela forces the forward pass.
OLOWOFELA CHIPS AHEAD
Jordan Olowofela chips the ball ahead down the left-hand side, and Bath just about contain the threat in their in-goal area. Tigers win a throw inside the opposition 22.
Ifereimi Boladau replaces Tommy Reffell in the Tigers back row. The Welshman has had an absolute stormer this afternoon.
BATH DOWN TO 14
That will be Davis' final involvement in the match, as he gingerly leaves the field. Bath have used all of their replacements, so will be down to 14 for the remainder of the game.
BATH MARCHED BACK
The home side sniff half a gap on the right once again, and Levi Davis breaks through before pulling up to wait for support.
Tommy Reffell once again wins a penalty on the floor, and after some back-chat from Bath Jackson will march them back another 10 metres.
Former Tigers forward Mike Williams is replaced by Jack Davies on the home side.
UP THE JUMPER
Tigers look to take this game by the throat with a bit of control from the forward pack. Powerful carries from Thompson and new man Leatigaga keep the ball alive.
CRASH BALL FROM ROBERTS
The Tigers defenders cut down Bath centre Jamie Roberts, and Hanro Liebenberg hacks forward for a first visit to the Bath 22 in this econd half.
We'll restart with ... you guessed it, another scrum!
Facundo Gigena and Harry Simmons are injected into the game, in place of Greg Bateman and Ben White.
Excellent line speed from the Tigers defenders forces a forward pass from Bath, to cheers from the visiting bench. Hang in there, boys!
The Leicester scrum stays strong, and now it's time for another big defensive shift as Btah try everything to break the line.
HUGE DEFENSIVE EFFORT
Tigers force a turnover on the floor to win another feed into the scrum.
LEATIGAGA MAKES DEBUT
Nephi Leatigaga is on for his club debut, replacing Joe Heyes in the Tigers front row.
REF ON THE FLOOR!
Tigers claim their lineout, but Bath win the ball back a couple of phases later. They look to burst through the line but find referee Jackson instead, who ends up on his backside, to cheers from the crowd.
Jamie Roberts replaces inside centre Max Wright for the home side.
BACKS AGAINST THE WALL
After a bundling run down the right, Bath win a scrum deep into Tigers territory once again. But Geordan Murphy's men hold strong at the set-piece, and win a peanlty of their own.
LIEBENBERG JOINS THE FRAY
Adam Thompstone's return from injury is just shy of the hour mark, as he is replaced by Hanro Liebenberg in the Tigers ranks.
Tigers win a scrum about 30 metres out from the Bath line, with the feed making its way back to Guy Thompson in a seven-man scrum.
The maul is called, and Bath win a penalty. We'll scrum down again.
Sam Nixon and Charlie Ewels are on for Bath, replacing Christian Judge and Levi Douglas.
Bath kick the ball into touch for a Leicester lineout, so Jordan Coghlan is the man sacrificed to bring on replacement hooker Jake Kerr.
RED CARD FOR TIGERS
Polota-Nau is sent off after a high hit on replaceemnt scrum-half Will Chudley, and Tigers are down to 14 men for the final half hour.
Bath win their throw, and Jackon's arm once again goes out in the home side's direction, but they fail to use their advantage before Tigers win the ball back and kick to touch outside the 22.
The Leicester pack hold strong once more after another lineout throw deep into their territory, but the drive is stopped illegally and referee Jackson gives the Tigers pack a first warning.
Priestland's kick gets his side right up to the Tigers 22, but the Leicester pack reverse the home maul and we'll come back for an earlier infringement.
START WITH A SCRUM
The game will restart with a scrum after a Tigers knock-on on halfway, and Bath double-down by claiming a penalty as the Leicester front row lose their footing on the slippery surface.
Priestland takes the two easy points, and Bath are onto the scoresheet. Tigers lead 15 points to seven.
Levi Davis pounces on a loose Tigers pass, and sprints in for Bath's first score of the afternoon.
We'll reset once, twice, three times...and Tigers finally have the ball out of the scrum. Hardwick nudges the ball forward for Thompstone on his right wing, and the away side are pushing deep into the home half.
The home side have made four changes at half time, with Tom Dunn, Beno Obano, Will Chudley and Priestland all onto the field, in place of Jack Walker, Lewis Boyce, Chris Cook and Freddie Burns.
SECOND HALF GETS GOING
Replacement fly-half Rhys Priestland gets this second half underway.
LEOVEGAS FANS' FAVOURITE
REFFELL EYES A TRY
Tommy Reffell's first-half try was his second score in Tigers colours. Lovely stuff.
HALF TIME | 0-15
Tigers lead at The Rec after a pair of first-half tries for Tommy Reffell and Ben White.
BACK IN THE SHEDS
Bath win their lineout, but can't do anything but chip over the top to Tigers, who put the ball out for half time.
WHITE DINKS THROUGH
Polota-Nau's throw goes to Harry Wells, and after another big surge from Jordan Coghlan, scrum-half White decides to go for territory with a perfectly weighted kick.
Leicester have another throw, this time on the five-metre line.
Bath win a penalty and kick to the corner, but Tigers force the error at the lineout and win a penalty. Hardwick once again puts boot to ball to relieve the pressure as the visitors look to close out this first half.
HOME SIDE RESPOND
The home side come to life after a burst by back-rower Josh Bayliss on the left, and Tigers are pinned back in their own 22 for what feels like the first time in this match.
Burns is back up and rejoins the Bath line, and we'll restart the game with a home scrum, just outside their own 22.
Tigers hold strong, and White wrestles Bath No8 Zach Mercer to the ground as he digs the ball out the back. Opposite number Chris Cook is forced to boot the ball downfield, right down the throat of Jordan Olowofela.
STOP FOR TREATMENT
We'll pause for treatment after a big hit on Bath fly-half Burns. Clock is stopped with just over seven minutes of this first half remaining.
THOMPSTONE IN ACTION
Adam Thompstone has seen a fair bit of ball down his channel in this opening half on his return to action.
Bath look to push from the kick off, and first burst down the right before being brought to ground, five metres out.
They push the ball out to the left where they have a temporary overlap, but Tigers hold strong before Tommy Reffell wins the ball on the ground once more, and Hardwick kicks the penalty to touch.
Hardwicks adds the extras from the tee and Tigers lead 15 points to nil with almost half an hour gone.
WHITE BARRELS OVER
After a short break for treatment to a Bath player, we restart and Tigers turn it on once again.
Scrum-half Ben White picks and goes from the base and, despite an iffy-looking challenge on the line, gets the ball down for a second Tigers try.
BATEMAN BURSTS THROUGH
Bath claim their lineout, before the visitors rip the ball and go for route one once more. Joe Thomas makes some metres on the left, before the ball gets to loosehead prop Greg Bateman - who bursts through and makes 20 metres right down the middle!
WELLS WINS THE BALL
Harry Wells climbs highest to claim the lineout throw, and Tigers ship the ball through the hands to the right-hand side once again.
But the ball is lost on the floor - and it is Tigers penalised this time - and Bath have a kick to touch.
DEEP INTO ENEMY TERRITORY
Scratch that - referee Andrew Jackson stuck his arm up on the wrong side and it's a Tigers penalty, which Hardwick drills into the corner.
Polota-Nau prepares to make the throw...
Bath knock-on from the restart to give Tigers some easy ball back, with the away side trucking the ball up through Harry Wells, Joe Thomas and Tatafu Polota-Nau before losing the ball on the ground. Some great power play on show here, though.
OFF THE POST
Hardwick's conversion attempt clinks off the upright, so Tigers' lead remains at eight points to nil.
REFFELL DIVES OVER
A neat bit of inter-play gets Tigers back-rower Tommy Reffell over in the right-hand corner for the first try of the match.
Bath trying to wrestle back control of the game here, and Burns sticks a high kick in behind the Tigers line, which is claimed by Tom Hardwick.
After a little bit of kick tennis, Tigers will have a lineout just inside the home half.
FIRST BLOOD TO TIGERS
...and it's through.
Tom Hardwick splits the uprights to take the first points of this match, and Tigers lead three points to nil.
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO...
...Bath can't quite capitalise on their penalty, though, and Tommy Reffell gets a steal of his own to win a kick at goal for Tom Hardwick.
PENALISED ON THE FLOOR
A big powerful push gets the TIgers scrum moving forward, before the ball is shipped out quickly from White to Thompstone down the right.
Joe Heyes is the next runner, but a Bath back-rower manages to get his hands on the ball immediately to win a penalty on the floor.
Tigers string together some phases after some excellent organising work from Ben White at the base of the ruck, and Guy Thompson breaks through the Bath line.
His final pass out to the right is forward, though, so we'll have another scrum on the home 22.
Bath disrupt the initial lineout, but boot the ball away and Adam Thompstone takes the quick throw-in.
Jordan Coghlan feeds Jonah Holmes in a powerful run up the middle.
We scrum down for the first time this match, just into the Bath half. Ben White feeds the ball in before Tigers get the ball out and...into touch!
A brilliant touch-finder from Tom Hardwick wins the away side a throw just inside the Bath 22.
Burns' penalty attempt sides across the front of goal, and the scoreline remains at 0-0.
The home side push up to the Leicester line, but find no way through before referee Andrew Jackson awards Bath a penalty advantage. Fly-half Freddie Burns sticks a chip over the top, which is claimed by Jordan Olowofela. We'll come back for a kick at goal.
CLEAR THE LINES
Bath win a second lineout in quick succession, but Tigers claim the ball and scrum-half Ben White boots clear to relieve the pressure.
Former Tiger Mike Williams claims the kick off, before Bath put up a high kick of their own. Adam Thompstone claims it, but just stumbles into touch for a Bath throw.
KICK OFF FROM BATH
Tom Hardwick boots the ball into the sky and we're underway at The Rec.
Tigers playing towards the Great Pulteney Street end in this first half.
TIGERS RUN OUT AT THE REC
Calum Green leads the Tigers side out in their fluoro-red alternate strip at The Rec.
FIVE MINUTES TO GO
The Tigers squad head back into the sheds after completing their final warm-ups on The Recreation Ground pitch. Kick off from this Premiership Rugby Round 3 clash is just five minutes away!
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Adam Thompstone returns from long-term injury in Tigers’ starting line-up, while summer signing Nephi Leatigaga is in line for his club debut in this afternoon’s game.
Former England Under-20s internationals Tom Hardwick and Ben White start in the half-backs, while Tigers returnee Calum Green leads the team from the second row.
Replacement hooker Jake Kerr and scrum-half Harry Simmons are both in line for their first appearances of the new season from the bench, while Bath name former Tigers Freddie Burns and Mike Williams in their starting XV.
See the full match line-ups by clicking here, or scrolling down on this page.
HUMBLE JOE REFLECTS ON ‘SURREAL’ START
Joe Thomas also lines up for Tigers this afternoon, two weeks on from a debut appearance away to Worcester in Round 1.
“After a pre-season that felt like it was never going to end, it was amazing to put the shirt on,” he said, when asked about the chance to wear Leicester colours for the first time.
“I’m just so grateful to be a part of this club. When I get that jersey on, I appreciate it so much more through understanding what it means to me.”
Catch more of the outside centre’s preview of this Round 3 match here.
HEYES KEEN TO KICK ON
Tigers tighthead Joe Heyes retains a place in the starting XV for this afternoon’s third Cup fixture, and will draw on mixed fortunes in his two matches so far when he runs out against Bath.
“Geordie’s been saying that we’re not 100 per cent yet, and that’s obvious,” he told LeicesterTigers.com. “I just want to focus on playing well. What’s important is putting in a good, consistent performance and doing a good job of filling that tighthead shirt.”
Read Heyes’ full look ahead to this afternoon’s game here.
PREM CUP PREVIEW
Just one point separated the four teams in Pool 3 of the Premiership Rugby Cup ahead of this weekend.
Tigers defence coach Phil Blake shed some light on the club’s approach to the tournament earlier this week.
“We went with a younger line-up for Round 1 and more experience last weekend, but we’ve got a decent mix of youth and experience this week,” he said.
“It’s about getting game-time into players and also looking at the combinations throughout the team. There were a lot of good signs last week, but Bath at The Rec is always a tough challenge.”
Read our full preview of Tigers’ 101st trip to The Recreation Ground here, or scroll down on this page.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
We’re LIVE from The Recreation Ground for Tigers’ Premiership Rugby Cup Round 3 clash against Bath, with kick-off at 3.00pm.
Follow all the action as it happens with our Matchday Live coverage, right here on the Tigers App and LeicesterTigers.com.