Bath’S young winger Anthony Watson was the star of his side’s 27-27 draw with Leicester, according to his coach Mike Ford – but he still missed out on the man of the match award.
Watson, 19, scored Bath’s opening try and was lively throughout an entertaining Aviva Premiership clash at Welford Road that finished all square after Tigers flanker Jamie Gibson crossed in the 79th minute.
Ford said: “If Anthony Watson didn’t get man of the match, I don’t know who did. He was fantastic, on fire.” The award in fact went to Gibson.
Ford revealed England head coach Stuart Lancaster is visiting Bath on Monday and said: “Stuart has talked to me about [Watson] playing wing and that was the best he’s played all year, without a question.
“On that performance he’s ready to play for England.”
Bath No 10 George Ford in contention for promotion to the senior England squad in place of Toby Flood, who is destined to play in France next season and Ford was involved in most of his team’s best moments at Welford Road, creating tries for Francois Louw and Jonathan Joseph and kicking 12 points.
Third-placed Bath led 27-17 heading into the final quarter, only for Leicester to hit back through Gibson in the dying moments. Stand-off Owen Williams missed the potentially match-winning conversion.
Nine minutes were on the clock when Miles Benjamin ran in the opening try, benefiting from sustained pressure by Leicester as they crept towards the whitewash. The ball was spun right and Louis Deacon supplied the scoring pass.
Stung into action, Bath responded with two tries in four minutes, both created by their three-quarters and aided by poor tackling from Leicester.
Nick Abendanon sliced through Leicester’s defence as Bath attacked from a line-out before sending Watson over with wing Niall Morris stranded.
The second try was even better as Kyle Eastmond wriggled through a gap and found Ford who could have completed the run-in himself, but instead fed Louw who galloped over.
Ford’s kicking and a missed penalty from Williams put Bath 17-11 ahead, but it was Leicester who threatened next as Benjamin chipped into space only to be undone by an unkind bounce.
A timely steal from Matt Banahan eased the pressure on the visitors’ line but with centre Vereniki Goneva proving influential, it was soon back under attack. Williams hit the mark with a penalty, but Ford replied on the stroke of half-time as Bath crept 20-14 ahead.
Ford was instrumental as the visitors re-established their superiority, initially by producing a fine touch-finder and then delicately teeing up Joseph for his team’s third try. There was still plenty of work for Joseph to do from five yards out, but the England centre showed slippery footwork before reaching out to place the ball down.
Leicester launched waves of attacks, only to suffer a setback when lock Ed Slater was forced off following a heavy collision.
Bath captain Stuart Hooper was sin-binned for taking a man out at the line-out, but the Tigers declined to kick for goal.
On four occasions Toby Flood made the same decision, and on the last occasion it paid dividends as Thomas Waldrom grabbed the ball from the line-out and powered over.
An unlikely victory beckoned after Gibson’s score, only for Williams to fluff his lines.
Champions Leicester remain in fifth place and director of rugby Richard Cockerill was pleased with the fightback.
He said: “To battle back after trailing like we did and to be in with a shout of winning it at the last play is credit to the players,.
“We’re still fifth with 10 games to go so it’s not the end of the world.
“We have a long list of very good players to come back. We’re not in a bad place.”