They say a draw is like kissing your cousin. You’re glad you’ve not lost but disappointed not to have won. Some people get really wound up by draws in Rugby. I’ve never really understood that attitude, a good draw is as worthy an afternoon’s entertainment as any other.
But it could have been more. But it might have been less.
But it could have been more. But it might have been less.
Jamie Gibson capped a fine performance squeezing into the corner to seal the draw with next to no time left on the clock. Owen Williams had the conversion to steal the win at the death. But it drifted wide. It was hard lines for Williams who missed all three conversions he attempted. All were from the touchline and were close but that is no consolation.
Tigers had done well and showed terrific resolve to get back into the game. After 50 minutes it was grim reading for the home fans as Jonathon Joseph’s try gave Bath a 10 point lead. How the TMO failed to spot the forward pass to Joseph is a mystery. Even under the modern, sexy, southern hemisphere interpretations of where the hands go it was forwards.
To rub salt in the wounds Bath had knocked on in the earlier lineout and were, at least accidentally, offside when it was re-gathered into the maul.
Whilst the lack of call on the attack is disappointing Tigers also will be less than pleased over the tackling in that first 50 minutes.
Tigers started the match well, gaining good territory inside the Bath 22. After Jordan Crane set up the mid field ruck Owen Williams spread it out to Toby Flood who committed his opposite number before releasing Louis Deacon on the outside. Deacon did a lovely take and give to put Miles Benjamin in space.
Showing the predatory instincts that brought him to Tigers attentions in the first place Benjamin finished the try with a superb inside shimmy, holding the defence to give him the room to score in the corner.
Williams kick faded wide but he was on the mark with a penalty 4 minutes later after Matt Garvey failed to roll away in the ruck.
Bath responded immediately. Ben Youngs cleared the kick off to around half way. It was a scrappy win for Bath and Stringer juggled the knock down. Off the right arm and it was forward but he got his left on it in the nick of time.
The bouncing ball attracted Tigers inside defence, sniffing the dominate tackle, but Ford showed coolness to float it over Flood towards Nick Abendanon. Abendanon took Goneva on the outside, the Fijian will be disappointed with his effort, and drew in Mat Tait as last man to feed Anthony Watson. The try still needed some finishing though as Watson powered through Niall Morris’s tackle to go under the posts.
Bath didn’t rest on their laurels and were quick to test the Tigers defence again. Kyle Eastmond, a league convert, was effervescent in attack as he round Marcos Ayerza to break the defensive line. On fast ball George Ford weaved inside Tom Youngs and just outside of Julian Salvi’s grasp to set up a switch ball for Francois Louw to power over for Bath’s second try in 5 minutes.
This was good play from Bath but the litter of missed tackles from Tigers in the build up to the first and third tries especially will be aggravating for the coaches in their analysis. You can prepare your team as well as you like but when individuals miss tackles you will concede tries.
Williams and Ford then traded penalties before Miles Benjamin had a great chance for Tigers. Jamie Gibson managed to free the ball from a ruck and Benjamin was away down the G.N.C. Stand side; with only Ford to beat his decision to chip and gather was perhaps not the best. Easy with hindsight and it was close to coming off.
Williams then Ford scored more penalties to make it 14-20 at half time; Perenise had failed to roll away from a ruck for Bath then Ed Slater was adjudged to have played the scrum half from the ruck.
After half time Williams cut the gap to only 3 with a monster 48 meter penalty following Paul James boring in at scrum.
Joseph’s try, remarked upon above, then put Bath 10 clear and the writing was on the wall for the Champion Tigers. Already long short of the Saints in second place if Tigers have serious designs on Twickenham in May they need to make a statement and deny Bath the win.
And the Try Bonus Point. Joseph’s try was Bath’s third, just one short of the required for a bonus point. So when they again gained the favour J.P. Doyle it was no surprise to see George Ford kick for the corner.
This was a massive moment. A bonus point win for Bath at Welford Road would have seen Tigers season holed below the waterline.
Webber threw in to the lineout and Bath forwards were repelled by a humongous effort from all the forwards but Tom Youngs and Ed Slater in particular. This was arguably the turning point in the match as it signalled the end of Bath’s positive play as they slowly retreated into their shell.
Tigers brought David Mele and Thomas Waldrom on from the bench. Ben Youngs and Jordan Crane had played well but we needed fresh legs to lift the tempo and change tack in attack.
A midfield penalty was kicked by Flood to the corner. He signals the side together for a huddle. What was said? And by who? A deep tactical analysis from Flood or Mele perhaps, or a cry from the heart by Louis Deacon?
When in doubt go back to the basics. The weapon that has skewered Bath time and again. The rolling maul.
They take it down. We go again. They take down again. Captain Hooper is binned for his part. We go again. Penalty again. But for Bath! On as a sub for Ed Slater it is Sebastian De Chaves who is ruled to have blocked the Bath defence.
But soon sanity is restored and Tigers are going for it again; 4 minutes later we have a line out 10m from the line. Catch by Gibson, drive by the pack with Waldrom secure with the ball at the back. He breaks for the line. Takes Matt Garvey with him and swoops through the legs of Devoto to find the ground. With help from Mele’s guiding finger Doyle sees the grounding and awards the try.
Again Williams is agonisingly wide as his conversion just gets caught on the wind.
Tigers were going for it now and Bath was hanging on. Whether it was fitness or, more likely, nerves their body language and tactics had gone negative. They seemed to forget they were only one try from a 5 point win. Thank god.
It took long enough and for a while it seemed like it was never going to happen. But Tigers found the referee’s grace with 4 minutes on the clock and Flood kicked the penalty deep into the Bath 22. The drive was halted by what seemed to be a Bath player round the side but no penalty was forth coming and Tigers went on.
First Williams tried himself; then it was Dan Cole and Tom Youngs. It came back to Toby Flood, going left, who again tried his luck before Mele moved it right and towards Gibson. It took two phases and another Williams drive but Gibson got the ball with the line at his mercy. Banahan tried his best to dislodge the ball but under heavy pressure Gibson got it down.
The telling feature in the end was that Bath’s tries were central, whilst we were forced to the fringes. With easier conversion Williams would surely have landed at least one. It is also worth remembering that whilst Ford had the best of the kicking this day his season’s percentage is still only 70% whilst Williams’s remains over 80%.
Tigers are now level on points with Quins in 4th, with players like Manu, Parling, Croft, Mulipola and Allen still to come back a play off place is there to be taken. And from then who knows?