Although both sides have showcased patchy form going into this tie, it felt like a real crunch occasion with a win being a huge outcome for both sides to start their 2021 off with a bang. Tigers have definitely improved under the new stewardship of Borthwick and co, but it hasn't exactly been the Blackett story that many were expecting after Murphy's departure. Bath on the other hand have been floating around in the mid-table wilderness for a while now, if they want to push on and up the table like they did last season, now is the time to start getting results... How did it go down?
When it goes right for England, Ford's name is nowhere to be seen, when it goes wrong, he's the person plastered in the headlines alongside Youngs and Vunipola. I think that's largely telling of the depth and pressure within his position in the country at the moment. However, Ford had this game in his pocket and put on the standout performance for standoff's this weekend. He melted Bath's back three with pinpoint accurate bombs, tasty spirals and tidy territory gains; he saw a weakness, adapted after the first quarter and exploited it all game. When we talk about England's current weaknesses, it tends to be around their lack of expansion or invention, but it largely comes down to them not playing the game that's in front of them. Ford did just that and although he still has the tendency to put boot to ball with assessing his options on the outside, it worked really well in this match... He was the difference.
Anthony Watson... A day to forget...
For all the criticism that Bath can come under when they are out of form, you can usually rely on their electrifying back three to put in a strong performance week in, week out. However, the back three for Bath lost them the game on this rare occasion with both Watson and Rokoduguni putting in less-than-stellar performances throughout the full 80 minutes. Watson fumbled, looked out of position and lacked precision in the air; even when collecting the ball he looked too lateral and indecisive in attack. Perhaps this puts the argument of him being England's best 15 to bed? He has definitely looked far more comfortable on the wing over the last 18 months (when fit) so I can imagine the same mistakes won't be made moving forward. For all the stick Watson was getting though, Rokoduguni had an absolute mare. He was largely anonymous throughout the match, looked passive in the air and never really stepped off his wing to combine in the midfield.
Youngs vs Spencer, who won?
Despite the score line, Spencer won this battle quite convincingly. With a try-of-the-season contender, Spencer split Leicester in two, exploiting the lazy defence around the fringes and using his gas to collect his hacked through ball (despite Nadolo's best efforts to body him out of the way). His box kicking, though very short, did allow Bath to continuously compete and he put in some key hits when required. Youngs on the other hand, again, looked largely anonymous (not something you want to hear about your Scrum Half). Terrible floated passes, slow recovery speed around the breakdown and offered nothing in defence, Tigers looked rejuvenated as soon as they brought him off the pitch for a younger, far nippier no.9. Youngs had moments where he spotted half gaps and tried to break through, but as usual his offloading and passing cut his own opportunities off just as he gained that momentum. He still has it in him to turn a defence inside out, but boy does he need to work on that passing!
Where to improve?
Although it was an incredibly exciting, back and forth match for the neutrals, there are some interesting areas both sides can improve moving forwards. Leicester's pack looked far more accomplished with Cole, Genge, Green and Wiese putting in abrasive, frenetic and intimidating performances a-piece. Ford looked far more settled at 10, Nadolo showed his class in both defence and attack, and Steward won the aerial battle throughout. Moving into their next match, I would start van Poortvliet at Scrum Half and potentially encourage the centres to play similarly to how Booj and De Jongh played against Exeter; pack mentality, tackling in pairs, offer go-forward when called upon. Bath on the other hand I felt lacked fitness. From 1 - 15 they have class up and down the pitch, but they just seem to switch off for 10 - 15 minute intervals. First quarter of the game, they looked unstoppable, then next 20 minutes, they couldn't string a pass together, fell off of easy tackles, got counter-shoved in every ruck and looked away with the fairies. Focus, fitness and ferocity, they added that to their game at the trail end of last season, they just need to re-find that form.
George Ford - Outstanding MOTM performance, caused havoc with his kicking and exploited Bath's key weaknesses in the backfield.
Callum Green - Brave effort throughout the match, huge hits and lots of them, strong carries when called upon and consistent in the lineout.
Jasper Wiese - Despite the yellow card, Wiese was a powerhouse throughout. Huge carries, thumping hits and game changing involvements, a star performance all round.