The Mail on Sunday

Cockerill crows after Tigers halt Bath bandwagon


SO much for form. Bath came to Welford Road with genuine hopes of being the first team to win at Leicester since Wasps in September 2008, some 29 games ago, after a run of seven wins that had made them the hottest team of English rugby.

They left the East Midlands well and truly thumped. And while the defending champions cruise on at the top of the Guinness Premiershi­p in ominous style, Bath’s play-off hopes are all but dead.

They could be forgiven for believing their run of victories would continue, but maybe they might have been less vocal concerning their intentions.

It appeared to play right into Leicester’s hands and, after seeing his side dominate the scrum and the line-out, Richard Cockerill did not hold back with his withering assessment.

‘All the talk’s been about Bath this week,’ said the Tigers head coach. ‘No-one appeared to notice that we’re top of the table. You have to be very good to beat this side and I think we deserve a little more respect.

‘Bath talked about coming to Welford Road and doing a job. Well, I told the players that no-one likes us and we don’t care, and you all saw what happened out there.’ Bath coach Steve Meehan certainly saw what happened out there and was honest enough to admit it. ‘Leicester played very well,’ he said. ‘It reinforced the fact that you have to front up and play with a level of intensity we failed to meet. It’s difficult to win, though, if you don’t have the ball.’

Quite. It is even harder to win a game, e specially at Leicester, if you concede a try inside 37 seconds — the time it took for Alesana Tuilagi to sprint 40 metres to the corner after Shontayne Hape was turned over by Matt Smith and Anthony Allen released the Samoa winger. Toby Flood converted and then swapped penalties with Olly Barkley before Tuilagi struck again, this time finishing from one metre, in the 16th minute, following surges from Smith and Martin Castrogiov­anni.

At this point the omens were bleak for Bath, but when Allen’s grubber kick rebounded and Bath fly-half Butch James hacked on, Joe Maddock was there to collect the loose ball to score under the posts.

Bath were still in the game until the 34th minute, when Leicester old boy Peter Short was sent to the sin bin for slapping the ball out of Ben Youngs’ hands at the base of a ruck. Flood made the penalty and, although Barkley hit back with three points, lock Geoff Parling bulldozed over on the stroke of half-time to give the Tigers a 12-point lead.

It was more of the same after the break. Even though Bath were back to their full quota, Leicester scored a fourth try six minutes into the half when Allen finished off a swift exchange of passes after Youngs’ quick tapped penalty to score in the corner. That try earned a bonus point — potentiall­y crucial as Leicester edged further away from Northampto­n after the Saints’ win with no bonus at Leeds yesterday.

There was still time for Matt Banahan to barge over for a consolatio­n try for Bath and for referee Sean Davey to award a penalty try for Leicester after Bath’s pack collapsed the scrum one time too many.

Leicester are all but guaranteed a semi-final play-off at home and, with two of their remaining three Premiershi­p fixtures at home, have every chance of finishing the regular season on top of the table. The fact that they have clearly circled the wagons and are playing with a grievance suggests it will be harder than ever to wrestle the tag of English champions away from them.

 ?? Picture: TOM DWYER ?? STRETCHING THE ADVANTAGE:Geoff Parling extends Leicester’s lead with a try just before half-time
Picture: TOM DWYER STRETCHING THE ADVANTAGE:Geoff Parling extends Leicester’s lead with a try just before half-time

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