At some point the callow Tiger cubs chosen to represent Leicester on Saturday will look back and reflect on the value of hard-earned experience. Sadly, however, this match was barely a contest with a significantly stronger Bath side helping themselves to a bonus-point victory which hoists them back to fifth in the Premiership table. For the first time in the 107-year history of this fixture, Bath have now won three games in a row at their rivals’ supposed citadel.
These are curious times, clearly, but even with such a crowded fixture schedule to negotiate this was a strange moment for Steve Borthwick to choose to rest the majority of his first-choice troops.
While the decision was clearly made with the forthcoming midweek fixture against London Irish uppermost in mind, large chunks of this one-sided affair resembled men against boys in front of the England coach Eddie Jones and his assistants.
If the plan was to check out a few immediate international candidates under intense match-day conditions, Jones will not have learned a huge amount. Maybe it was just as well there were no paying spectators present. Even a Leicester team with an average age of under 24 is not supposed to ship six tries at home and it was almost possible to hear the distant grumbling of the absent Tigers fans drifting in on the blustery east Midlands breeze.
With any threat of relegation lifted courtesy of Saracens’ demotion, however, Borthwick is clearly seeking to use the next few weeks to identify the likeliest lads among Leicester’s next generation. The socially-distanced press box was certainly united in hoping for some magic from the young winger Harry Potter on his club debut but the newcomer – formerly of Sydney University rather than Gryffindor – had few chances to perform much wizardry here.
Nor did many others in green, red and white stripes, other than defensively. If the first quarter was relatively respectable, with Bath initially sluggish and Johnny McPhillips kicking two penalties, the rest was mostly predictable. When it came to close-quarters power near the line, in particular, the hosts were brutally exposed from an early stage, with Bath’s entire front row all helping themselves to first-half tries.
There was also an eye-catching score for Ruaridh McConnochie who, as he had promised in the build-up, was clearly determined to show the England coaching contingent he has not lost the X-factor which earned him World Cup squad selection in Japan last year. The winger left three would-be tacklers sprawled on the turf behind him on his way to the line, and would be queuing up to play rugby every day of the week if this much space and possession were always guaranteed.
The only surprise was that the half-time margin of 26-6 did not widen significantly in the second 40 minutes. Before kick-off only Worcester and Leicester had scored fewer Premiership tries this season than Bath but this really was a heaven-sent chance for the attack-minded visiting backs to stretch their legs and show their class.
The rich promise of Cameron Redpath is already widely known but Bath fans will also be extremely keen to see how Tom de Glanville, son of the former England captain Phil, settles into a blue, black and white shirt. De Glanville came off the bench for the second half as a replacement for the sharp-looking Anthony Watson at full-back and has the precious gifts of pace and excellent spatial awareness. We should expect to hear plenty more about him in the coming months.
It was a slightly bulkier reserve, however, who made the swiftest impression after the interval. Beno Obano is an increasing handful against all comers and, within two minutes of appearing, there was no stopping the powerful loose-head from yet another close-range drive. Josh Matevesi, only just on to the field in place of Rhys Priestland, then sold a massive dummy in midfield before unselfishly putting De Glanville over and the rest, as far as Leicester were concerned, was a damage limitation exercise.
They were helped by a flurry of Bath replacements, also designed to preserve some key men for more intense battles ahead, and Taulupe Faletau’s trip to the sin bin which further disrupted the visitors’ rhythm. Dan Cole and Ryan Bower rumbled on to stiffen the Tigers’ front five and consolation tries for hooker Charlie Clare and flanker Luke Wallace offered the brief illusion of a proper contest to which Borthwick and his coaches could cling. There seems little wrong with the Tigers’ collective spirit and endeavour but, at this level, extreme makeovers do not happen overnight.