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RUGBY: Leicester 27 Bath 27
4:31pm Sunday 5th January 2014 in Sport
LEICESTER fly-half Owen Williams missed a conversion on the stroke of full-time as the Tigers fell agonisingly short of completing their comeback in a 27-27 Aviva Premiership draw against Bath at Welford Road.
Bath led 27-17 as the final quarter approached and appeared to be on the brink of securing their first victory at their old rivals' stronghold in a decade.
But Leicester responded with a late assault that ended with flanker Jamie Gibson crashing over in the right corner with a brilliant finish as Matt Banahan sought to bundle him into touch.
The stage was set for Williams to claim the Tigers' seventh league win of the season but his kick slid the wrong side of the right upright, ending an entertaining title showdown.
Williams finished with 12 points, but missed four more kicks with tries from Miles Benjamin and Thomas Waldrom keeping Leicester in touch.
Bath's quest for a first Premiership double over the reigning champions since 2003 was led by fly-half George Ford, who was involved in most of his team's best moments.
Ford created tries for Francois Louw and Jonathan Joseph and kicked 12 points just four days before England head coach Stuart Lancaster names his elite player and Saxons squads.
It was a profitable afternoon for England with other notable contributions from fringe RBS 6 Nations contenders Anthony Watson - who also crossed - Benjamin, Nick Abendanon and Kyle Eastmond.
Nine minutes were on the clock when 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, although a slight pause in Benjamin's stride gave Bath half a chance of defending the score.
Stung into action, Bath responded with two tries in four minutes, both created by their threequarters and aided by poor tackling from Leicester.
Abendanon sliced through Leicester's defence as they attacked from a line-out before sending Watson over with wing Niall Morris stranded.
The second try was even better as 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 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 sprang into life as they 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 Waldrom grabbed the ball from the line-out and powered over.
Once again Flood pointed for touch as an unlikely victory beckoned, only for Williams to fluff his lines.
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