Bath book semi-final spot

Leicester 12 Bath 15

Leicester 12 Bath 15

Bath produced a remarkable rearguard action to silence Leicester’s roar at the Walkers Stadium and reach their first Heineken Cup semi-final since they were crowned European champions eight years ago.

The west country club held out despite having props David Flatman and Taufa’ao Filise sin-binned late on and finishing a punishing contest with 13 men.

Leicester’s revered forwards laid siege to the Bath line but culd not break down their defensive resistance – although the jubilant visitors were helped by Tigers fly-half Andy Goode wasting a three-man overlap as the seconds ticked away.

Fly-half Chris Malone kicked all Bath’s points through five penalties – while Goode responded with four for a shell-shocked Tigers, who started the clash as red-hot favourites.

Flatman and Filise were both dismissed for scrummaging offences between the 69th and 71st minutes – and although Leicester pleaded for a penalty try during an incessant spell of pressure, Bath prevailed on the back of heroic individual displays by key forwards Danny Grewcock and Andy Beattie.

They now face Biarritz or Sale Sharks – who clash in San Sebastian tomorrow - at the semi-final stage later this month.

But whatever happens, Bath have guaranteed their best Heineken Cup campaign since Andy Robinson coached them to victory over Brive in 1998.

Leicester, Heineken Cup winners in 2001 and 2002, are now left to concentrate on domestic success this term – and it will take a huge effort for them to recover mentally from such a shattering loss.

Leicester, bidding to book a fifth Heineken Cup semi-final appearance, recalled England squad hooker George Chuter after he missed last weekend’s Guinness Premiership victory over Bath because of suspension.

Bath went into battle without knee-injury victim Steve Borthwick – so James Hudson replaced him alongside Grewcock in the second row, while number eight Zak Feaunati took over as captain.

Elsewhere, Olly Barkley made his first appearance since suffering a thumb injury, and there was also a start for Tongan prop Filise who was preferred to Flatman.

Goode, scourge of Bath when Tigers triumphed 19-12 at the Recreation Ground seven days ago, made an ominous start from the visitors’ perspective by rifling over a 50-metre penalty after just two minutes.

But Bath were not ruffled, and Malone landed an equalising strike three minutes later before sending a 51-metre chance just wide.

Both packs cancelled each other out during the opening quarter, and a predictable goal-kicking duel developed between Goode and Malone.

The rival fly-halves completed penalty hat-tricks by the 34th-minute as French referee Joel Jutge pounced on every minor indiscretion – and attacking opportunities were at a premium, given two well-organised defences.

Bath looked to stretch Leicester, with wing Andy Higgins denied only by some quality covering work from Tigers full-back Sam Vesty, and the visitors shaded a tense opening period in terms of territory.

Bath suffered a setback two minutes before the break when Hudson limped off to be replaced by ex-Leicester forward Peter Short.

Chuter left the action at half-time – James Buckland took over in the front row – and there was an immediate snap injected into Leicester’s game as scrum-half Harry Ellis almost freed wing Geordan Murphy.

Bath found themselves under serious pressure for the first time, and Tigers made it count when Goode slotted an angled penalty that restored their lead at 12-9.

Malone hauled Bath level through a second successive penalty from inside his own half; yet Leicester were more constructive in attack, with Irish Triple Crown star Murphy a constant threat.

Bath coach Brian Ashton sent Flatman on for Duncan Bell with 30 minutes left - and the visitors had a huge let-off, courtesy of Goode botching an easy penalty chance before Austin Healey arrived to replace Ellis.

Bath looked to have weathered the storm, especially when Malone stroked over his fifth penalty for a 15-12 lead.

But Leicester responded immediately, and centre Ollie Smith did not receive a kind bounce after charging down Barkley’s attempted clearance behind the Bath line.

Bath centre Alex Crockett departed the action nursing a facial wound as tension mounted, with Leicester camped on their opponents’ line following powerful surges by Buckland and captain Martin Corry.

Flatman’s yellow card quickly followed; then Filise departed two minutes later - leaving Bath in a desperate state, down to six forwards and with Tigers pressing for the winning score.

As a result of Jutge’s actions, scrums became uncontested and there seemed no way Bath could hold out.

But a Healey knock-on allowed the visitors breathing space, and Malone gratefully cleared to touch before the frantic finale.

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