Leicester Vs Bath: Heineken Cup Quarter Final preview
Two of the three English clubs remaining in Europe’s premier domestic competition clash in the second match of the quarterfinals. Such representation shows the game in England is in better than rude health.
Bath, the current European Challenge Cup champions (the “junior” Heineken Cup), will clash with the Tiger’s in only their second match against each other. The first was the epic quarterfinal clash in 2006, which saw Bath defy the odds with only 13 men at the death to down the Tigers 15-12 at Walkers Stadium.
For both sides, currently in the top four of the Guinness Premiership, they have contrasted recent fortunes. Especially considering that throughout the late 80s and early 90s these two teams were the Goliaths of the English club history.
The Tigers can lay convincing claim to being the finest team in the professional era in English rugby. They lead the Premiership table, and between 1998 and 2002 under the control of Martin Johnson, were practically unbeatable—winning four straight English titles and becoming the only team to ever win back to back Heineken Cup crowns.
They are the only English side to have qualified for every Heineken Cup, and as well winning two titles and two runners up “gongs”, they have only three times not finished in the final eight.
Bath, though, have not fulfilled the pedigree displayed in their earlier years. From 1988 to 1996 Bath won six English championships, and in only their second year in Heineken Cup competition, won Europe’s premier title.
But since then Bath, despite coming close, have won but one title in the last decade, last year’s Challenge Cup.
The heights of success have been matched by the depths of despair, with the club almost relegated in 2003. It was here Bath aggressively recruited, with John Connelly and Brian Ashton appointed successive coaches.
From here, Bath’s pack was built into one of the more impressive outfits in the competition, and since then Steve Meehan has helped evolve Bath into one of the sparkling attacks in Europe.
But as Captain Alex Crockett has said, it is one thing to be the entertainers, but Bath and their supporters would take silverware even at the cost of their more expansive game.
The Tigers emerged from a tough pool first, where only bonus points separated themselves, Ospreys and Perpignan—both of whom inflicted defeats on Leicester. They will carry the equal best offensive record, scoring an impressive 23 tries during the pools.
Julian White will miss this match after being banned for swinging handbags at Andrew Sheridan, but otherwise the Tigers will be at full strength.
Captain Martin Corry and test flanker Tom Croft will both be instrumental in the pack and will no doubt look to slow down the faster phase play the Bath like to promote. Croft, surprisingly, is the second fastest man on the Tigers roster, and will look to cement what looks like a certain Lions berth.
In the backs, the England combination of Harry Ellis and Toby Flood will be instrumental, considering the Baths attack has stuttered of late. In front of parochial home support, two apparently evenly matched teams could see the advantage swing to the Tigers.
For Bath, Butch James has been cleared after allegedly stomping Riki Flutey, and much will rest on the World Cup winning Springboks shoulders. This will be his 80th match for club and country in two years, and some believe he is looking tired and not fit for the highest level.
Question marks exist over Bath, with the 3-19 loss to Harlequins last week that exposed some frailties in the set piece, which the Tigers would have duly noted.
These are familiar grounds and situations for the English giant, and the Tigers should feast beating Bath by eight.
Leicester, champions in 2001 and 2002, runners up in 1997 and 2007, are the second most successful European championship team after Toulouse.
Bath Road to the Quarter: L W W W W D
Last match: Bath 3 – 3 Toulouse
Leicester Road to the Quarter: W W W L W L
Last match: Leicester 9 – 15 Ospreys
Previous Heineken Cup encounters: Bath 1 – 0 Leicester
Last match: Saturday 1stApril 2008, Quarter Finals, Leicester 12 – 15 Bath