Coaching team left dazed and confused
The Bath coaching team was left feeling as dazed and confused as Leicester centre Anthony Allen after an afternoon at Welford Road dealt out more cards than a poker den.
Three red cards and two yellows – all of them, bar one, awarded against Bath – meant the visitors played a chunk of this contest with just 12 men on the pitch. Playing Leicester on their own patch with a full complement of 15 is tough enough, and it was to Bath's credit that they managed to come away with a losing bonus point. They could even have sneaked a win with a line-break in the dying moments, but a victory would have been a touch more than they deserved.
"That was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever been involved in," said Bath first-team coach Toby Booth after witnessing Francois Louw and Matt Banahan's red cards and Simon Taylor and Stephen Donald's yellows. "Everyone was planning for the next part of the game and then chaos ensued. I'm a bit shell-shocked."
The match's tipping point was Louw's dismissal on the hour for elbowing, an offence described by Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill as deserving of a yellow card "at worst". At that point, Bath were 12-6 up and two-tries-to- none to the good.
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But Leicester capitalised on the extra space on the field – and were able to do so even more following Banahan and Donald's departures.
With the benefit of a video replay, Banahan's straight red card for a high tackle on Allen looked unaccountably harsh. With Allen ducking into the challenge, there was little the Bath centre could do but catch his man around the neck, and had the Leicester centre not been knocked unconscious then Banahan would surely have remained on the pitch.
That challenge sparked a mass melee and Banahan received a blow to the face from Brett Deacon – an act of retaliation that had referee Tim Wigglesworth reaching for his deck again. But Cockerill, for one, had no argument with Bath's approach to proceedings. "Were they over-physical? I don't think they were," he said. "It was a good, hard game."
Booth argued that his side had had no option but to take on the Tigers head-on, but was left to rue the unfortunate decline in headcount.
"When you come to Welford Road you have to be extremely competitive, everyone knows that," said Booth. "We'd spoken about discipline a lot and it's something that we are working towards. Self-control is part of the professional player's make-up. Some of the issue we saw out there were potentially self-control issues, others were consistency issues.
"We're bitterly disappointed, we thought we had an opportunity today."
Adam Thompstone's try and George Ford's boot proved to be enough to see the Tigers home, but there were positive points for Bath. Nick Abendanon delivered a spritely attacking performance in the first half and a try-saving tackle in the second, while Simon Taylor adroitly tidied up matters from the base of an under-pressure scrum.
Donald, meanwhile, played with a bouncing enthusiasm. The New Zealander scored the game's opening try with a slinky 27m run and set up the second with a fizzing cut-out pass to Banahan, who then popped the final pass inside to Tom Biggs.
That second try signalled that a humdinger of a contest was on our hands. For rugby's sake, it's a shame this couldn't have stayed 15-a-side throughout.