'A derby in every way apart from location'
September 12, 2013
Bath vie for the ball against Leicester - a rivalry that has lasted a century © Getty Images
A century ago, almost to the day, 30 men took to the field at Welford Road in front of a crowd of 3,498 eager spectators. Fifteen of the players donned green, white and red with their opposition sporting blue, black and white. It was the first meeting between Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby.
On Saturday, Bath entertain Leicester at the Rec in the 182nd meeting between the two teams. It will be a far cry to the original game back on September 13, 1913. Leicester won that original match-up 19-5 scoring five tries to Bath's one - for what it's worth, the Tigers' efforts came from Sam Hunter, Dr GE Timms, James Hargrave, Jimmy Allen and Sos Taylor with G.G Powell grabbing Bath's.
The rivalry is still hotly contested to this day and has produced some of the best matches English domestic rugby has ever seen. Last season, three players were sent-off in a match that boiled over at Welford Road and later in the campaign Francois Louw's last-gasp try gave Bath a 27-26 win over the Tigers at the Rec.
They are matches which are seldom boring and linger long in the memory. Although they were closely matched during the 1980s and early 90s, Leicester have now sprinted ahead both in the trophy stakes and the head-to-heads. As things stand going into Saturday's game, the two teams have met 181 times with Leicester winning 109 of those games with 12 of them ending in draws.
Martin Johnson leaps for the ball against Bath in 1995 © Getty Images
It is a rivalry which defies geographical logic and while Saturday's game will see two teams at different stages in their evolution come up against each other, it should be physical and thrilling. To mark the century of matches between the two teams, ESPNscrum has spoken to a few of their legends about their memories of facing their fierce foes.
"Both teams clearly have been the very best in England. I played them a few times and the first time, was inspiring. They had the likes of Les Cusworth, Clive Woodward, Paul Dodge and Dusty Hare and we were a bit of a rag-tag bunch. They just looked so confident and at Welford Road they had a massive partisan crowd. You saw those guys and we thought 'bloody hell, we'll do well to come second!'
"But year by year we got better and it was a matter of believing you can't lose. In the early days, first team players at Leicester used to work behind the bar after the game. I have vivid memories of Dean Richards and John Wells serving and it was great fun ordering four normal drinks then throwing in some curve balls like a 'Babycham' or a 'Creme de menthe frappé' to see if they could add them up without taking their shoes and socks off.
"I also remember going up to Welford Road one year and we had a guy at No.8 called Howard Thomas, he was quite the professional. I think he had been identified as a possible threat and about 15 minutes in a Leicester forward accidentally tripped and his foot ended up on Howard's head. His head split open like a melon and he needed 30-40 stitches. I was only about 20 at the time and I had no idea how much a head wound bled; his whole face, shoulders and his shirt were bright red inside seconds.
"Leicester also had this move where Cusworth would catch the ball, then put it on the ground and run away. Then someone like Dusty Hare would come through and pick it up and go in the opposite direction. I'd never seen anything like it before or since, it was bizarre. But it's a rivalry which is hard to put into words, they were just great games."
"The first years we were down there, we played against Chilcott and Graham Dawe, we used to have a bit of fun against them - Dawe especially as he was a little bit mad. Then we came up against the likes of John Mallett, David Barnes and Victor Ubogu. I've got some good memories from that match.
"It was always as fierce as it gets in the Premiership. There was always a bit of niggle from the start. Dawe was great value though as you could wind him up. There was one game where he might have missed as he had a suspected broken toe, but he ended up playing. So the first thing Cockers [Richard Cockerill] did, in the first scrum, was jump on his toes. Those things used to go on a few years ago.
"You always used to have a bit of banter in there. I remember the Cup final clearly when we got beat and Neil Back pushed the referee over, back in 1996. I also remember when Rory and Tony Underwood were travelling to the Rec off their own back and they were late so Jamie Hamilton went on the wing and scored the winning try.
"It continued in a testimonial match we had a couple of years ago for Leon Lloyd and Matt Perry. I came off with nine stitches in the front of my head courtesy of John Mallett and Rory Underwood also got stitches in his thumb, the first he'd ever had he told me. It was a great rivalry, brilliant."
Darren Garforth (right) celebrates their Heineken Cup success © PA Photos
"I played in the amateur days and those days of the Courage League, the Leicester game was the game. It was always us or them for who was going to win the league. For us, you've got the Gloucester game, but the Leicester match always had added spice. There was nothing sweeter than winning, especially away from home. You always had to throw the form books out.
"My first away game was against Leicester who had Dean Richards and co. My memories as a youngster, playing alongside Graham Dawe and these other guys, was that no matter what, you stuck together. The first scrum, no matter what happened, everyone was in. The referee could have easily sent 16 guys off; it had to be all-in to establish the ground. I have wonderful memories, but they were ferocious, ferocious games.
"It's still the game for both sides. There's always been one memory I just can't get out of my head. It was my first game against the Tigers and it was the first lineout. I was standing opposite Dean Richards and just as the ball came in, he stood on my toes and I remember him stamping on my feet just to let me know my place while he smiled at me with a great toothless grin. It was a case of 'welcome to the big league'."
Steve Ojomoh enjoys their Pilkington Cup success in 1996 © Getty Images
Ian 'Dosser' Smith(Former Leicester Tigers captain and coach - played 331 times for the Tigers)
"I grew up on Kevin Andrews' stories of what Bath was like and I remember the beauty of the place the first time I went there, it was something exceptional. It is a long-lasting memory, but not as long as the battles on the field as they were ferocious. I remember a game in the late 70s or early 80s where a good friend of mine John Palmer was injured. He stayed down for a while and we all remained in Bath before driving back to see how he was, the intensity of the whole rivalry dissipated. The relief was palpable when we found out his injury was not as bad as first feared.
"My main competition with Bath always revolved around the back-row where they had an amazing contingent. They had a guy called Parsons who had these unusual sideburns and was a Tommy David-style figure and I remember feeling the weight of his considerable force when I scored a try, he made a bit of a mess of me. The main rival for me was Roger Spurrell. He was ferocious - he once said to me 'the plan is that I lie on the floor, you guys ruck me to death and we win the penalties'.
"The 1989 game was also huge in what was Dusty Hare's last game. Bath had Jack Rowell and Brian Ashton coaching them, you will be hard pushed to find a better backroom staff than that, and Paul Simpson came on late in the game and turned the game. Then Barnesy [Stuart Barnes] waddled over in the corner and we had lost 10-6. The emotion still wells up in me when I see the photograph of the game, Dusty was applauding the Leicester crowd but you could see the emotion in his eyes.
"One of my best mates is Andy Robinson and I bumped into him at the school I now work at, Oakham School, as he was there to watch his son play cricket. We had a bit of a wrestle and he pinned me to the floor, I joked it was a shame he couldn't do that when we were playing. It is a rivalry that brings camaraderie and it stays with you for life."
The 1981 crop of Leicester Tigers line-up for the photocall © PA Photos
"They were always ferocious, intense games and supporters were more into the game, from what I can remember, than the players at times. It was all to do with the passion and the rivalry between the two sides. Whatever was going on in the league, the Leicester game was always an isolated affair and normally the pinnacle of the season.
"All the incidents that have occurred in the matches also adds to the mystique which surrounds the fixture. I do remember after one game at Welford Road, we had lost, and the importance of the game and the passion we had put into it burst over on the bus on the way back afterwards; West Country cider also played a part. It was that kind of game where if we lost, we would be frustrated and that frustration led on into the bus and there were a few scuffles.
Matt Perry vies for the high ball against Will Greenwood © Getty Images
"It showed the importance of the game and the legacy, for me, is something the players now should learn. Young players should learn about the history from where the two sides have come from as anyone who takes part in the match, is a small cog in the future of the games for the next 100 years."
"The best way of describing the match is that it is a local derby between two teams who are 140 miles apart. It's always had that flavour of a really intense rivalry that you only normally get, from a Leicester point-of-view, against Northampton who are only down the road. I struggle to explain why that is, but I think it's because during the 80s and 90s they were the two biggest clubs and that was a successful era for both of them.
"It is a derby in every way apart from location. There was always a bit of controversy and a bit of niggle. There is so much riding on it for both sets of supporters and the players that it is inevitable that tempers fray and things boil over. That sort of passion and commitment is the minimum expected in games like this. There've been a few punch-ups and dodgy decisions that have decided games.
"From my point-of-view, a couple of the games we lost down at the Rec to last minute tries from Butch James and Francois Louw smarted. On the flip side, we scored six tries down there a couple of years ago to win with a bonus point. I think that's as well as we've played in the last five years. It's one of those games that brings the best out of the teams and hopefully we'll get another showing like that this weekend."
George Chuter gets to grips with Justin Harrison back in 2009 © PA Photos
"I remember my first game against Bath, I was playing alongside Deano and faced Martin Haag, Steve Ojomoh, Nigel Redman and those sorts of players. The scrum time was a feisty affair with the second-rows throwing haymakers through to the opposite front-rowers. It was an old-school rivalry and great to be a part of.
"I grew up watching the Bath v Leicester games in the late 80s and I remember watching the game in 1994 when Jamie Hamilton scored that late try, it stuck in the memory. A Bath game against Leicester was one of the first games I was involved in and just being there and seeing the gnarly old bulls who were roaming around gave you a real understanding of what those battles were.
"In the last few years of my career, Bath started to really push again and we had a few play-off and Heineken Cup games against them. I remember one game where Bath had driven down to our 22 in the last few seconds and Butch [James] set up for a drop-goal but I managed to charge it down, I have fond memories of that moment.
"It was gutting that I never got to play against the old rivals when I joined Bath. I did commentate on one of the games and I was watching my old mates play for Leicester against the team you were then employed by. It was a mixed bag of emotions, but now I'm retired, my loyalty is always with Leicester but I have mates on both sides of the divide."
Lewis Moody crossed both sides of the Bath/ Leicester rivalry © PA Photos
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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