Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Priestland holds his nerve to ensure Champions Cup rugby for Bath

Blackadder’s men edge late success at Leicester.

Bath’s Rhys Priestland kept his nerve late on at Leicester (Tim Goode/PA)
Bath’s Rhys Priestland kept his nerve late on at Leicester (Tim Goode/PA)

Bath claimed a last-gasp 32-31 win at Leicester to seal a top-six Gallagher Premiership finish and a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

Jacques van Rooyen’s 78th-minute try was converted by Rhys Priestland In a dramatic finale at Welford Road to ensure a bonus-point success for Todd Blackadder’s side.

In what was centre Matt Smith’s last match before retiring, Leicester led 26-15 at the break thanks to tries from Will Spencer and Brendon O’Connor and the boot of George Ford.

Anthony Watson and Joe Cokanasiga crossed the whitewash in the first half for Bath and Beno Obano got their third try to get the visitors on the comeback trail.

Clayton Blommetjies’ try and Ford’s display looked like giving Leicester victory, until Van Rooyen had the last laugh.

Bath were dealt a pre-match blow as England flanker Sam Underhill was forced to withdraw due to illness, to be replaced by Francois Louw.

The visitors made a dream start as Ruaridh McConnochie,  tipped for an England call-up, soared clear. Max Wright and Will Chudley were in support with Watson left to finish.

It was a fine way for the full-back to mark his 100th Bath appearance and Freddie Burns converted.

Former Bath man Ford hit back with a Leicester penalty and then kicked to the corner where a driving line-out ended with the Tigers piling over the line for a try.

Television match official Sean Davey confirmed the score which was awarded to Spencer and Ford kicked the goal, but the early scoring continued.

Cokanasiga finished off a neat Bath move from turnover ball in the corner. Zach Mercer’s final pass looked forward, but Burns’ quick drop-goaled conversion attempt – which went wide – ensured it couldn’t be checked.

The home crowd’s mood was not improved by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys then ruling out an O’Connor effort for Blommetjies’ foot in touch – but Ford did kick a penalty to make it 13-12. A second Leicester try soon arrived.

Again Maxwell-Keys called on Davey for assistance and he decided it was second time lucky for O’Connor. Ford improved the effort and kicked two more penalties as Bath’s Max Lahiff was yellow carded for playing the man without the ball.

Burns had left the field for a head injury assessment and his replacement Priestland kicked a penalty on the half-time whistle.

Leicester wing Sam Aspland-Robinson was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on when the game resumed and Bath prop Obano capitalised by reaching for the line from close range.

Burns, who had returned for the second half, converted, but Blommetjies ensured the tit-for-tat scoring continued with another TMO-assisted try in the corner.

Watson was replaced, much to his annoyance, by Semesa Rokoduguni for Bath and his England colleague Ellis Genge also left the field for Leicester due to injury.

Priestland, back on the field permanently for Burns, kicked a penalty, and Bath smashed away in search of a match-winning late try.

After repeated pressure it finally arrived via replacement Van Rooyen. Priestland had to convert to win the game and he did so nervelessly.



From Belfast Telegraph