Six-nation fallow weeks are double-edged swords — especially for those on the verge of international recognition. Players can play themselves in or out of competition, while those who stay in camp can find themselves usurped in the pecking order without even tying a boot for their club.
There were plenty of thought-provoking displays for Steve Borthwick as Leicester Tigers moved up to third in the Premiership table with a bonus-point win over Bath. George Martin and Joe Heyes – both topped by Eddie Jones, the England head coach’s predecessor – put on a monstrous physical display in the Tigers’ victory, with the former making more tackles than anyone else on the field and the latter’s performance all the more important to Borthwick since Will War Stuart, Heyes’ opponent, retired in the second half with a head injury.
“We’re definitely going to give the old boss some headaches,” said Richard Wigglesworth, the Tigers’ interim head coach. “George Martin’s performance for a second row has been amazing in recent weeks. But he’s also a real six.
“Sometimes we were really good, but we teed off for 30 minutes, which annoyed me a lot.
The star of the Leicester show was the uncrowned Wing Harry Potter, wreaking untold havoc on Bath with the ball and tormenting her without it. Potter is qualified for England and just last December Borthwick – in his penultimate game as Tigers head coach – hailed Potter’s Test potential. The Australian-raised wing could not have done more to live up to his word from his former boss on Sunday.
However, the same assessment could not be given to Bath. Although the visitors left with a bonus point lost – Fergus Lee-Warner saw off Tom Whiteley late on – Bath also returned to the West Country in 2023 battered, injured and still without a win. As were Stuart, Sam Underhill and Jaco Coetzee had to leave, while Alfie Barbeary hobbled away after just 10 minutes on his debut for the club he joined in November following the death of Wasps.
“None of the injuries are looking good,” said Johann van Graan, Bath rugby director. “Sam, Jaco and Will were awesome. And I can’t imagine Alfie being anything but serious.”
Of these two historical rivals, one seemed a real contender for the top 4 and the other seemed light years away. At half-time Leicester had wrapped up the bonus point thanks to attempts from Potter, Julian Montoya – the first of two for the hooker – Handre Pollard – who scored 21 points overall – and Hanro Liebenberg.
Bath managed two first-half attempts of their own – through Matt Gallagher and Ben Spencer – but they also caught two first-half yellow cards as their discipline deteriorated and their line-up imploded with Josh McNally and Tom Dunn in the scapegoat. Leicester raged, leading by 18 points at half-time and recording their highest first-half total points since 2018.
McNally and Lee-Warner kept in touch with the visitors but Leicester Bath’s rear guard neutralized ahead of distinguished former players like Peter Wheeler and Paul Dodge. Montoya added a second, Wells went under the sticks after a brilliant break from Mike Brown, and the Tigers were back in playoff settlement. However, England could be the unintended beneficiary.
Scoring order: 0:5 Gallagher Try, 5:5 Potter Try, 7:5 Pollard con, 12:5 Pollard Try, 14:5 Pollard con, 19:5 Montoya Try, 21:5 Pollard con, 21:8 Spencer Pen, 24- 8 Pollard Pen, 24-13 Spencer Try, 29-13 Liebenberg Try, 31-13 Pollard Con, 31-18 McNally Try, 31-20 Spencer Con, 34-20 Pollard Pen, 39-20 Montoya Try, 41-20 Pollard con, 46-20 Wells try, 48-20 Atkinson con, 48-25 Lee-Warner try, 48-27 Spencer con. HT: 31-13
Leicester Tiger: M brown; H Potter, M Scott, J Gopperth (G Porter 46), H Simmons; H Pollard (C Atkinson 67), B Youngs (T Whiteley 68); T West (F van Wyk 55), J Montoya (c) (C Clare 67), J Heyes (W Hurd 60), G Martin, C Henderson, H Liebenberg (O Cracknell 52), T Reffell (H Wells 60), J Wies.
bath: T de Glanville; R McConnochie (L Schreuder 59), J Joseph, C Redpath (M Ojomoh 68), M Gallagher; O Bailey, B. Spencer (c); B Obano (J Schoeman 64), T Dunn (N Annett 65), W Stuart (D Rae 55), J McNally, GJ van Velze, F Lee-Warner, S Underhill (C Cloete 46), J Coetzee (A Barbeary 38 , M. Reid 48).
yellow cards: Dunn 20, McNally 23