Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill is pretty happy with his side’s performance at the half way mark of the season, after his side snatched a draw from the teeth of defeat against Bath yesterday (Sunday).
It took 79 minutes for Leicester to pull in a rampant Bath side who had scored three stunning tries to take a 10 point league. But with just a minute to spare flanker Jamie Gibson became the hero of the day, touching down for a try in the corner to make it 27-27.
The flanker used every inch of the width of the Welford Road pitch but the television match official confirmed he had resisted the tackle of Banahan to score. Bringing a crushing roar from the 22,000 fans.
Fly-half Owen Williams had a chance to claim a famous and unlikely win but his conversion effort narrowly drifted the wrong side of the upright.
Tigers are making remarkable comebacks something of a habit, after scoring in the last minute against Montpellier to stay alive in the Heineken Cup last month.
Cockerill said: “The game is 80 minutes for a reason. It’s not 79 minutes. We just play for 80 minutes and see where we get to. And we had to.
“It could have gone either way. But all in all it was a good game.
“It is disappointing for us. I thought both sides had an attitude to play.
“We battled hard and to get back into the game was good. To be in with a shout of winning it with the last kick is fair play to the players.”
Miles Benjamin opened the scoring for Leicester after being released by good handling from Toby Flood, playing at inside centre, and second row Louis Deacon.
Bath then took command of the match.
An untidy line-out was whipped wide and Nick Abendanon and Anthony Watson combined to beat Leicester’s cover and put the young winger in.
Just minutes later Tigers were cut open with ease, twice by Kyle Eastmond in a matter of seconds, and then by George Ford who evaded the tackle of Julian Salvi and probably could have scored himself but wisely gave it to South African flanker Louw who finished with a dive for the cameras.
Ford, on his return to Leicester after leaving in the summer, also created the third try. The fly-half slipped the ball to centre Jonathan Joseph to power over.
However from that point on the balance of the game tipped back into Leicester’s favour and never righted itself.
The home side began to win some territory and managed to camp Bath into their own 22. With the penalties mounting Williams and Flood kicked Leicester into the corners and Tigers’ legendary pack went to work driving the ball over the line.
They were initially repelled, although only through the illegal play of Bath skipper Stuart Hooper who was shown yellow. But eventually the telling try came. David Mele and Thomas Waldrom brought a real impact off the bench and it was the former England international Waldrom who crashed over at the back of a maul from a catch and drive line-out.
In the final minute Gibson went over to earn the draw.
Cockerill said: “The two points keep us in the mix and the next two weeks are pivotal with Europe, which could give us a home quarter final in the best scenario. And we are still fifth in the league with ten games to go. So its not the end of the world with the players we have missing.
“The guys we will have back make a long list of very good players we don’t have at the moment.
“We are pretty positive with where we are at and we will keep battling away.”
The league takes a break for a month now while Leicester battle it out in Europe, starting with Treviso next weekend before a crunch match with Ulster,
Leicester currently sit top of their group in the LV= Cup with the final two rounds played at the end of the month.
In other news
Tom Croft is proving to be the Lazarus of the rugby world.
Having returned from a broken neck a year ago, Croft went on to represent England in the Six Nations and the British and Irish Lions in the summer.
But in the opening game of the Aviva Premiership in September the flanker tore his anterior cruciate ligament and was ruled out for the season.
However Croft is reported to be on track to make an unexpected early comeback in March or April, in time for the business end of the season.
While Cockerill warns the international will not be rushed back before he is ready his return would be a huge boost to the club.