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Leicester edge Bath for final spot

09th March 2012 22:39

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Bath v Leicester Sam Vesty tackled by Billy Twelvetreees

Denied: Bath's Sam Vesty gets tackled by Billy Twelvetreees

Leicester edged their way into the LV= Cup final with a hard-fought 17-16 win over Bath at the Recreation Ground on Friday.

18-year-old fly-half George Ford kicked four crucial penalties - three of them in the second half - to help earn the win.

Led by Craig Newby in his first starting appearance of the season after his recovery from knee surgery, Leicester claimed the opening try of the match and led 8-0 before Bath struck back with a strong performance in the second part of the opening half.

But the second half belonged to the kickers and Ford kept his nerve as the Tigers booked their place in the final.

The opening points of a breathless first quarter came on 18 minutes when another kick-chase led to a penalty and Ford made no mistake with the kick from 30 metres out.

Ford then produced a superb kick to pin back Bath and the hosts made a mistake at the line-out near their own line. When prop Charlie Beech lost possession under pressure from Julian White, Tigers lock Graham Kitchener dropped on the loose ball to score. Ford missed the conversion as Leicester led 8-0.

Fly-half Tom Heathcote got Bath off the mark with a 35-metre penalty after 24 minutes as the game continued to swing in the favour of one side and then the other.

Then Bath claimed the lead for the first time just after the half-hour with a converted try. A line-out on the left provided the platform and a sweeping attack, led by a 40-metre charge from Matt Carraro, took them within range of the tryline, the ball eventually coming to the right for hooker Lee Mears to dart between two defenders to score. Heathcote added a testing kick from out wide to give the hosts a 10-8 advantage.

The home crowd almost had more cause for celebration moments later as a sharp attack on halfway set Matt Banahan into space but, when he kicked ahead, Ford read the bounce of the ball and kept his cool to clear.

Bath enjoyed their best spell in the closing 10 minutes of the half, using Carraro and Banahan to crash the ball up in midfield, and the offloading game among the forwards to keep Leicester on the back foot.

They created two more chances on the right before the half closed with Tigers scrum-half James Grindal winning turnover ball at a close-range scrum and the visitors protecting possession as the clock kicked down to the break.

The home side almost had a dream start to the second half when Scott Hamilton's miscued kick gave away possession on halfway and Bath's Biggs got his side in dangerous territory. The ball was flung to the right but, with men over, it drifted into touch.

The pressure was unrelenting though as Mears and Banahan got within reach of the tryline, but spirited defence kept Leicester in the game, eventually winning turnover ball near the 22.

The Tigers won a penalty at the scrum and, after Ford had taken play up to halfway, international props Logoviii Mulipola and Marcos Ayerza replaced Boris Stankovich and White.

They were rewarded with a penalty at their opening scrum, giving Ford an opportunity to regain the lead with a kick from 35 metres. A big cheer from the travelling support signaled its success as Leicester regained the lead at 11-10.

But it was shortlived, though, when Biggs capitalised on a loose pass from Newby and, when Bath were awarded a penalty on the left, Heathcote struck it well to make it 13-11 to the home side.

The see-saw fortunes continued as Leicester were awarded a penalty from the restart after obstruction in the Bath forwards and Ford struck the kick to make it 14-13.

Back Bath game yet again, with Heathcote nailing a penalty in front of the posts after Kitchener had been penalised at a ruck. And they almost added to it with replacement Jack Cuthbert powering his way up to the 22 and kicking in behind, only for Twelvetrees to rescue Leicester with a race to the ball and then the composure to set up a clearing kick.

Thomas Waldrom and Julian Salvi entered the fray, replacing Ben Pienaar and Newby in the Tigers pack, but Bath had the next opportunity, gaining a penalty at a scrum close to halfway. But Heathcote was unable to maintain his 100 per cent record, pushing the kick wide.

The heavyweight contest at the scrum continued, with Bath celebrating prematurely when the referee's whistle blew, only to point first their way then to Leicester after a word from his assistant.

Ford remained the coolest man on the pitch to make it 17-16 to Tigers.

Barely a minute later, though, Bath were given their own chance when Twelvetrees was penalised for taking a man off the ball as Banahan looked to pass. Heathcote, though, hooked horribly from wide out.

Agulla then almost produced a try out of nothing in response, taking a catch on his 10-metre line and racing 50 metres upfield before being tackled into touch barely five metres short.

Bath struggled to clear their lines, Mafi charging down a kick from Michael Claassens, Mulipola thumping the ball up twice and the Tigers forwards retaining both possession and composure as the clock ticked down to the last three minutes.

A series of reset scrums took the clock down to 90 seconds remaining before Leicester were penalised. Barkley kicked to touch, gaining the throw-in on the Bath 10-metre line.

Ball off the top got Bath going forward again but Carraro knocked-on as he met the Tigers defence and Leicester cleared into touch with time up. But there was one more chance as Bath recycled ball in midfield, only for referee Pearson to blow for a penalty.

Ford's punt into the crowd drew cheers from the away supporters and sealed a place in the final of the competition for the first time since 2008.

Bath: 15 Sam Vesty, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Francois Louw (c), 6 Ben Skirving, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Duncan Bell, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Charlie Beech.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 David Flatman, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Guy Mercer, 20 Carl Fearns, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Olly Woodburn, 23 Jack Cuthbert.

Leicester Tigers: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Andy Forsyth, 12 Billy Twelvetreees, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 George Ford, 9 James Grindal, 8 Ben Pienaar, 7 Craig Newby (c), 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Calum Green, 3 Julian White, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Logoviii Mulipola, 19 Julian Salvi, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Jeremy Staunton, 23 Matt Smith.

Referee: David Pearson

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