3rd SEPTEMBER 2017 LEICESTER V BATH
Bath Rugby beat Leicester Tigers at Welford Road for the first time since 2003, with a nail-biting 23-27 victory in the first game of the Aviva Premiership season.
It was end to end rugby in the opening exchanges with Bath starting positively, but it took 20 minutes for the deadlock to be broken. It was the home time, who took the lead through the boot of George Ford, who notched his first points in a Leicester shirt after Bath were penalised for not binding at the scrum. 3-0
Four minutes later, Leicester extended their lead with a well-worked try masterminded by Ben Youngs. The England international broke down the narrow side finding Telusa Veainu, who in turn offloaded to Brendon O’Connor on the left wing. The flanker used quick hands to send Manu Tuilagi over the try line. 8-0
Bath were quick to respond with a try of their own, two minutes after Tuilagi’s effort. Matt Banahan caught the Tigers’ defence off-guard on the left wing sprinting from halfway before setting Max Clark free for his first try of the afternoon. 8-7
The tries kept flooding in and Bath went in front for the first time after 31 minutes, with Clark crossing the whitewash for his double. The forwards used the pick and go to good effect and their patience was rewarded when Chris Cook sent a flat pass to Clark, who dived under the posts. Priestland adding the extras. 8-14
As the interval approached, Bath went in for their third try and this time, it was an individual masterclass from Semesa Rokoduguni. The winger, who turned 30 last weekend, intercepted a pass from Ford in his own 22 and ran the length of the field managing to evade the efforts of the back-tracking Jonny May. It looked as if May might catch Rokoduguni in the closing stages, but the Bath flyer used all his experience with a crucial sidestep to bamboozle the England international. Priestland maintained his 100% record with the boot to send his side into half-time with a 13-point advantage.
Half-time score – Leicester Tigers 8-21 Bath Rugby
It was a tense opening to the second period, but Bath continued to add points to the scoreboard, with the ever-reliable Priestland adding another three points with 56 minutes on the clock. 8-24
Ford gave his new side hope with a penalty of his own, but Priestland hit back to maintain Bath’s 16-point lead going into the last 20 minutes of the game. 11-27
The table started turning in the last 10 minutes when Kahn Fotuali’i was sin-binned for a high tackle on Ford. Leicester had two clear opportunities to score with an overlap in the next two minutes, but were unable to take their chances. However, May ensured a tense final eight minutes with the winger crossing to reduce the deficit to 11 points. 16-27
Further drama ensued when Bath were reduced to 13 men with Matt Garvey given a yellow card for a high tackle on Ben Youngs with five minutes left on the clock. With the numerical advantage Leicester piled the pressure on the Bath defence, with Banahan producing an outstanding try-saving tackle on Veainu before Jonathan Joseph bravely stopped his opposite number Tuilagi.
However, Bath’s defensive resolve was broken when May went in for his second try in the corner, with Ford adding the touchline conversion. 23-27
Moments later, and with little more than 60 seconds left, Bath were reduced to 12 men with Banahan this time the man to see yellow. With the clock ticking into overtime, Leicester had one last chance from the line-out, just a few metres from the line. Step-in Luke Charteris, who used all of his 6ft 10 frame to steal the line-out and give his compatriot Priestland the opportunity to put the ball dead.
Final score – Leicester Tigers 23-27 Bath Rugby
3 September 2017
Referee: Luke Pearce
Half Time score: 8-21
Tries: Tuilagi (23), May (72, 77)
Conversions: Ford (78)
Penalties: Ford (20, 58)
Tries: Clark (26, 31), Rokoduguni (34)
Conversions: Priestland (27, 31, 36)
Penalties: Priestland (55, 62)
9th September 2017 Bath v Saracens
Two late tries from Semesa Rokoduguni, helped Bath Rugby maintain their 100% start to the Aviva Premiership season, with a 31-21 victory over European Champions Saracens at the Recreation Ground.
It was a strong start from Saracens, who came within touching distance of adding the first points of the game. A clever chip over the Bath defence found the chasing Duncan Taylor, but an excellent covering tackle from Anthony Watson dislodged the ball from the Scotland centre with the try line in his sights.
It was then Watson who showed his attacking intent with nine minutes on the clock. The fullback gathered the ball deep inside his own 22 gliding past the Saracens defence, before Alex Lozowski maded the crucial intervention to stop Watson crossing in the corner.
The attacking momentum paid off when after 18 minutes, Rhys Priestland coolly slotted the opening points of the half. After a number of well-worked phases in the Saracens 22, Kahn Fotuali’i sent the ball back to Rhys Priestland, who sent his drop-goal attempt straight through the uprights. 3-0
Midway through the first 40 minutes, Bath increased their lead with a superb flowing move finished off by Francois Louw. The ball was recycled from right to left to find Jonathan Joseph, who used quick hands to send Matt Banahan into space. The winger used all his experience to draw in the Saracens defence, before offloading to Louw, who fended off attentions Alex Goode and Michael Rhodes to score a memorable try. 8-0
Priestland kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties, to give the Blue, Black and White a 14-0 lead going into the interval.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 14 – Saracens 0
Two minutes into the second-half Lozowski reduced arrears with a penalty of his own, which gave the visitors a new-found confidence. Lozowski’s replacement Owen Farrell added another three points to put Saracens within eight points, but Bath hit back through Priestland, who notched his second drop-goal of the game. 17-6
However, the visitors’ comeback was well and truly on course, when referee Wayne Barnes stepped in to award a penalty try after sustained pressure from Mark McCall’s men. Saracens used the catch and drive to good effect from the line-out, only for it to be hauled down by Taulupe Faletau, who was adjudged to have collapsed the maul. Barnes signalled for the try and Faletau was sent to the sin-bin, with the tie closely poised at 17-16.
With seven minutes left on the clock, Saracens went in front for the first time at the Rec through replacement Ben Spencer. Farrell, who was at the centre of Saracens’ comeback in the second-half was pivotal in a dangerous attacking move. The England fly-half got the ball rolling, before Chris Wyles found Spencer with an inside pass and the scrum-half did the rest. 17-21
With four minutes to play and with Bath down to 14 men after Watson left the field injured, step-in Semesa Rokoduguni. After his 80m effort last week against Leicester Tigers, the Bath flyer was back in the act weaving his way through the Saracens defence. Rokoduguni evaded the clutches of four diving tackles before crossing the whitewash to put Bath back in the ascendancy. 24-21
If the supporters thought they had seen it all, they were in for another tense finale. With Saracens pressing in the Bath 22, Vunipola tried to offload out wide only to find that man again – Semesa Rokoduguni. There was no stopping the prolific winger, who made it a second length of the field effort in as many weeks to send the Rec into raptures in the final play of the game.
Final score: Bath Rugby 31-21 Saracens
15th September 2017 Northampton v Bath
Northampton Saints ended Bath Rugby’s unbeaten start to the season with a 24-6 victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
It was a dominant performance from Jim Mallinder’s side and their attacking promise was rewarded early on, when Courtney Lawes crossed the whitewash after just three minutes. After a well-worked line-out, the ball was swept left, with Tom Collins offloading in the tackle to find Lawes, who made a stretch for the line to score, despite the best efforts of Kahn Fotuali’i. 5-0
Bath were quick to respond through two penalties from the ever-reliable boot of Rhys Priestland, which took the visitors into a 5-6 lead with half an hour gone on the clock. However, with the half-time whistle little more than a minute away, Saints made their long spells of first half pressure pay off with a second try of the evening. The home side used the catch and drive from the line-out to good effect, with Bath unable to stop the momentum of the rolling maul. It was left to David Ribbans, who found himself at the bottom of the pile to take his side into the interval with a six-point advantage.
Half-time score – Northampton Saints 12-6 Bath Rugby
Northampton kicked on from where they left off after half-time, and it was Ribbans again, who notched his second try under the Friday night lights at Franklin’s Gardens. After Charlie Ewels was penalised for a high tackle, Harry Mallinder sent the ball deep into the Bath 22, giving his side further attacking momentum. The set-piece, which was strong throughout the 80 minutes, worked to the home side’s advantage once again and it was left to South African Ribbans to drive over the line from close range to put Saints firmly in control of the game. 17-6
Despite going through a number of phases in the midfield in the second-half, Bath were unable to find the killer instinct, which saw them beat Saracens last weekend at the Recreation Ground. After losing Matt Garvey and Kahn Fotuali’i in the first half, Bath’s task was made even more difficult when the impressive Sam Underhill was forced to leave the field with the 13 minutes left to play.
Down to 14 men for the rest of the game, Northampton continued to pile on the pressure on the Bath defence. Despite the brave efforts to hold the home side out, they fought their way over the line to claim a bonus point, with a fourth try of the evening. Centre Luther Burrell and Mallinder used their quick hands to put George North through on the overlap to make it a night to remember for Saints.
Final score – Northampton Saints 24-6 Bath Rugby
23rd September 2017 Bath v Newcastle
Newcastle fought back in the closing 20 minutes to claim a dramatic 32-33 victory over Bath Rugby at the Recreation Ground.
The visitors came flying out of the blocks and found themselves in amongst the tries after just eight minutes. It was Santiago Socino, who was at the centre of the attack, as the hooker rampaged his way through the Bath defence. The Argentinian offloaded in the tackle to find Sonatane Takulua, who finished under the posts. 0-7
Four minutes later, Falcons crossed the whitewash for the second time of the afternoon through Rob Vickers. It was Socino again causing havoc with ball in hand, as he powered his way to just short of the Bath try line. The attack was rewarded with Vickers bundling his way over from close range. 0-14
It got even better for the Falcons, when DTH van der Merwe crossed for a try on his debut after 17 minutes. It was Craig Willis who unlocked the Bath defence with a clever grubber kick, and van der Merwe was there to pounce in the corner. 0-19
Bath were centimetres from getting their first points on the board five minutes later. Quick hands from Matt Banahan set Chris Cook free down the left wing and over the whitewash. However, the decision went to the TMO and the effort was ruled out, with Cook’s foot just scraping the touchline.
It wasn’t long before the home side got back into the game, through Matt Banahan. A superb break from Jack Walker set-up the Bath attack, before Max Clark combined with the fullback, who helped to close the gap on the scoreboard. 7-19
With a minute left to play in the first half, Rhys Priestland slotted a penalty from the Falcons’ 10m line, to send the sides into the break closely-poised at 10-19.
Half-time – Bath Rugby 10-19 Newcastle Falcons
The fightback continued into the second-half, as Bath continued to pile the pressure on the Falcons’ defence. Their efforts were rewarded on 43 minutes, as the ever-reliable Priestland kicked Bath to within six points. 13-19
A second try of the afternoon for Bath followed two minutes later, and it was another piece of magic from the man in form, Semesa Rokoduguni. It was a spectacular effort from the winger, who collected the loose ball on halfway and in doing so, sent the Falcons defence into disarray. The winger circled the visitors’ defence, before gliding down the right wing, to score his fourth try of the season. 18-19
The comeback was complete three minutes later, when Charlie Ewels crashed over. A delayed pass from Priestland opened the gap for Jonathan Joseph, who in turn offloaded to Ewels, and the forward did the rest. 25-19
Joseph then went from provider to try scorer, as Bath made it three tries in 10 minutes. A quick tap penalty found Joseph on halfway and there was nothing stopping the England international. The centre evaded the Falcons tackles with his trademark quick feet and he jinked his way to the try line, for a bonus-point score. 32-19
With 14 minutes to play, Falcons gave themselves a lifeline with a try of their own finished off by Chris Harris. A sweeping move from the visitors saw Falcons back rower Will Welch put Harris in the clear and put his side within six points. 32-26
With the clock ticking and the pressure mounting, a second comeback of the afternoon was in reach. With four minutes to play, Falcons made the territory count, as Mark Wilson drove over from close range, with Joel Hodgson adding the crucial conversion. 32-33
Bath fought valiantly in the closing stages to regain the lead, but Falcons held strong to close out the game.
Full-time – Bath Rugby 32-33 Newcastle Falcons
23 September 2017
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Half Time score: 10-19
Tries: Banahan (28), Rokoduguni (44), Ewels (47), Joseph (54)
Conversions: Priestland (29, 47, 56)
Penalties: Priestland (39, 42)
Tries: Takulua (8), Vickers (11), Van Der Merwe (17), Harris (66), Wilson (75)
Conversions: Takulua (9, 13), Hodgson (67, 76)
1st October 2017 Wasps v Bath
A late try from Semesa Rokoduguni secured a 9-25 victory for Bath Rugby in an edgy encounter with Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.
Rokoduguni’s fifth try in as many games came in the 77th minute and whilst Bath led by nine points at the time, the winger’s crossing of the whitewash guaranteed the result for the visitors.
A gritty, absorbing first 40 minutes yielded nine points apiece, with the tight, nervy encounter on the pitch being reflected on the scoreboard.
Jimmy Gopperth opened the scoring for the home side after a big scrum from his pack presented the first opportunity to go for goal after five minutes. Rhys Priestland drew level for the first time some six minutes later after Nathan Hughes was penalised for a challenge on his opposite number, Taulupe Faletau. 3-3.
Gopperth landed another three points straight after, with Bath infringing at the re-start, before Faletau went on a powerful run from half-way and Wasps were caught offside. Priestland slotted the penalty to draw level once more. 6-6.
A further score each from Priestland and Gopperth cancelled each other out as half-time drew near, Priestland adding another three with an assured drop goal and Gopperth tying the scores with a third penalty.
Half-time: Wasps 9 – Bath Rugby 9
Minutes into the second-half and Bath were in the ascendancy and piling on the pressure in the 22, ultimately forcing Wasps to infringe at the breakdown. Priestland’s penalty from in front of the posts edged the visitors into the lead once more. 9-12.
Freddie Burns replaced the Welshman at pivot minutes later, and with almost his first act of the game stepped up to secure another three points from out wide. 9-15.
Whilst both sides were still trying to find fluidity in attack, it was the stubborn defence of Bath that was coming out on top. A scrum penalty in the last 10 minutes saw Burns advance the lead to nine, before Rokoduguni beat all comers to touchdown following a neat grubber kick through from Jonathan Joseph. Burns added the conversion to seal the win and take Bath up to fifth in the Aviva Premiership table.
Final score: Wasps 9 – Bath Rugby 25.
7th October 2017 Bath v Worcester
Aled Brew notched a double as Bath Rugby secured a bonus-point 29-13 victory over Worcester Warriors at the Recreation Ground.
The home side got off to a flying start with their first try of the afternoon coming after just nine minutes. After Jonathan Joseph’s kick was charged down in his own half, his midfield partner Ben Tapuai pounced on the loose ball and made a break through the Warriors’ defence. The Australian drew his man before offloading back to Joseph, who fended off the attentions of a couple of defenders to score impressively in the corner. Freddie Burns, who was making his first start since his return to the West Country, added the extras from the touchline. 7-0
The visitors hit back five minutes later through the boot of Jamie Shillcock to take his side within four points on the scoreboard. A minute later, Tapuai was back causing havoc in attack, showing his quick feet to blast through the gap into the Warriors’ 22. However, in the resulting play, Warriors hacked a loose ball up field and it turned into a foot race between Anthony Watson and Jonny Arr. With the ball bouncing just short of the Bath try line, Watson raced past Arr to prevent an obvious try-scoring opportunity. 7-3
Warriors continued to test the resolve of the Bath defence and their efforts were finally rewarded mid-way through the first-half. Jackson Willison combined with Shillcock and the fly-half found the surging Dean Hammond, who finished off a well-worked move. 7-8
With the Warriors having enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, Bath reclaimed control of the game in the last 15 minutes of the half. The Blue, Black and White spent six minutes in the Warriors’ 22 and their persistence was rewarded with Brew diving over in the corner for his first try of the afternoon. 12-8
With the clocking heading into the red, Bath ensured they would go into the break with an 11-point advantage, with Tapuai scoring a deserved try. Zach Mercer picked up where he left off in his Man of the Match performance against Wasps last weekend, and left the Warriors’ defence for dust with a powerful run from half-way. The back rower set Tapuai charging through on the 22 and the centre ensured the half finished with a flourish. Burns added the conversion.
Half-time score: Bath Rugby 19-8 Worcester Warriors
Worcester hit back six minutes into the second-half through Shillcock. After good initial work from the attacking line-out, the fly-half dived over from close range, to reduce Bath’s lead to six points. 19-13
With both teams fighting for the crucial next score, it was Bath who took advantage, with a second score of the afternoon for Brew. After stealing the Warriors’ line-out, Bath ground out the hard yards, pressing for a third try. A moment of quick-thinking from Burns saw the fly-half send a long looping pass out to Brew and the Welsh winger had the simple task of touching down in the corner. 26-13
With 17 minutes left on the clock, Bath were reduced to 14 men when Burns was sent off for a tip tackle on Josh Adams. Despite being a man down, the home side continued to control the game and assert their authority in attack and defence, stamping out any comeback from the Warriors.
With four minutes to play, Josh Lewis added his first points in a Bath Rugby shirt, with a composed penalty from Warriors’ 10m line. Warriors made one last attempt to score, but Bath’s excellent defence held strong to claim the bonus-point victory.
Final score: Bath Rugby 29-13 Worcester Warriors
29th October 2017 Bath v Gloucester
Gloucester Rugby scored with the last kick of the game to clinch a 21-22 victory over Bath Rugby at the Recreation Ground.
The visitors scored the opening try of the afternoon through their captain Willi Heinz after just five minutes. Gloucester’s in-form centre Henry Trinder made the initial break, darting through the Bath defence on half-way before offloading inside to the supporting Heinz. The scrum-half used the dummy to good effect, creating the space for him to dive over in the corner. 5-0
Bath responded with a spectacular length of the field try 10 minutes later. Jonathan Joseph created the initial break, storming into the Gloucester half before finding Anthony Watson. The fullback used all his experience to draw the defender before releasing Rokoduguni for his sixth try of the Aviva Premiership season. 5-5
Bath continued to pile the pressure on to the Gloucester defence, and were rewarded with three points from Rhys Priestland, whose neatly struck penalty gave the home side lead going into the interval.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 8-5 Gloucester Rugby
Owen Williams opened the scoring in the second-half with a penalty, which was quickly cancelled out by Priestland to leave the game closely poised at 11-8.
Despite spending large parts of the first-half on the back foot, Gloucester found their way back into the game with their second try after 53 minutes. John Afoa picked the ball up off the back of the ruck and surged into the Bath 22 before sending a reverse pass to Heinz in the tackle. The scrum-half gathered the offload and ran in for his second try of the game, and Williams converted. 11-15
Bath closed the gap to a single point on 65 minutes – Priestland adding another three points from the tee. 14-15
With time ticking away, Rokoduguni put Bath back in front as he added another try to his tally. The move, which was started by a superb 40m run from Taulupe Faletau, gave Bath the platform to build an attack deep in the Gloucester 22. The ball was spread wide and a looping pass from Watson found Rokoduguni, who beat three defenders. Priestland’s conversion gave Bath a six-point advantage with three minutes to play. 21-15
However, Gloucester were not ready to concede the game and continued to test the Bath defence. The Cherry and Whites spent five minutes trying to edge their way over the whitewash and their persistence finally paid off. With Bath camped on their own line, Ed Slater dived through a number of bodies, and the decision was left with the TMO. After the try was given, it was left to Williams to slot the crucial conversion and give Gloucester the victory.
Final score: Bath Rugby 21-22 Gloucester Rugby
4th November 2017 London Irish v Bath
Bath Rugby opened their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign with a hard-fought 22-26 win over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
A flawless kicking display from Freddie Burns yielded 16 points from the tee for the fly-half, coupled with tries from Ben Tapuai and Levi Davis, gave the visitors the victory in an open game where both sides were looked to run the ball and try to break down the opposition defence.
Tapuai’s score came after just four minutes of play. A dominant scrum against the head from the Bath pack earnt the penalty, and from the resulting lineout Tapuai broke through the midfield, jinking his way round the defence to go straight in under the posts. Burns added the conversion, 0-7.
Irish were determined to get parity on the scoreboard, turning down a series of penalties in favour of going for the corner. Bath’s defence held them at bay before a miss-pass opened up space and allowed David Paice to find Max Northcote-Green with a offload out the back of his hand. The flanker powered through and touched down. 5-7.
Burns extended Bath’s lead on 19 minutes with a very well-struck penalty from 45 metres out. 5-10.
Bath continued to stretch the Irish defence, however it was the home side that scored next – Northcote-Green reaching out to touch down in the corner for his second try after some strong carries by Irish in the midfield. 10-10.
Burns ensured Bath were back in front at half-time though, sending another penalty sailing through the posts from 35 metres out.
Half-time: London Irish 10 – Bath Rugby 13
Within two minutes of the game re-starting, Irish had their third try. A catch and drive took them within two metres of the line, and a series of pick and goes saw Paice burrow over from short range. Brendan McKibben secured the extra two, giving Irish the lead for the first time. 17-13.
Ten minutes later, and Bath were back in front. Playing under a penalty advantage, Burns spotted the opportunity and kicked across the field, finding Davis on the touchline. The debutant leapt high, gathered and then juggled the ball under pressure from the Irish defence, before eventually getting the ball down over the line to score his first try in Bath colours. Burns added the tricky conversion from out wide to re-take the lead. 17-20.
The topsy-turvy scoring pattern continued as the game entered its final quarter. Irish got their bonus point try on 57 minutes – Alex Lewington finding himself in space and darting over in the corner – before two further penalties from Burns sealed victory for Bath.
The final kick – 40 metres out, but dead in front of the posts – came with just over 10 minutes to play, and it was a nervy wait for the vocal Bath supporters who had travelled to Reading as their team closed the game out.
Irish kept fighting, and a series of pick and goes took them ever closer to the try line. The Bath defence held firm though, forcing the hosts to spread the ball wide, but they weren’t able to find their man with the final pass. Instead, Darren Atkins dived on the loose ball, and replacement Max Green – on for his debut appearance in the Blue, Black and White – had the simple job of kicking it to touch to end the game.
Final score: London Irish 22 – Bath Rugby 26
4 November 2017
Referee: Ben O’keeffe
Half Time score: 10-13
Tries: Northcote-Green (16, 36), Paice (42), Lewington (57)
Conversions: McKibbin (43)
Tries: Tapuai (3), Davis (51)
Conversions: Burns (3, 52)
Penalties: Burns (19, 39, 62, 69)
10 November 2017 Bath v Leicester
Bath Rugby staged a late comeback to seal a hard-fought 33-31 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at the Recreation Ground.
Tom Hardwick put Leicester into an early lead with a penalty after 10 minutes, and the visitors extended their lead with the first try of the evening soon after. Freddie Burns looked to create an opening from his own half, but his kick was charged down and chased by three Leicester attackers. Jonah Holmes managed to gather the loose ball and make his way over the try line at the second time of asking, despite the defensive efforts of Tom Homer, who looked like he’d stopped the winger short of the line. 0-10.
Burns quickly bounced back with two quick-fire penalties to put Bath within four points on the scoreboard with nine minutes remaining in the first half. However, two minutes later, Leicester hit back with another try through Adam Thompstone. Hardwick gave his forwards the perfect platform for an attack, with a kick to touch that landed five metres from the Bath try line. The visitors used the catch and drive to good effect, and Thompstone found himself under a pile of bodies over the line. 6-17.
Two minutes before the interval, Burns produced a moment of brilliance to reduce the deficit against his former side. Inside the Tigers’ 22 and with penalty advantage, the fly-half collected his own kick over the top of the defence to touch down and score. His conversion took Bath to within four points.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 13-17 Leicester Tigers
Bath pulled back another three points a couple of minutes into the second-half, with the ever-impressive Burns continuing his 100% record from the tee. 16-17.
But the topsy-turvy nature of the game continued, as 60 seconds later Leicester once more extended their lead with a well-worked try. A burst from centre Jordan Olowofela into the Bath 22 was halted, but the centre managed to find the on-rushing Jonah Holmes in support, who ran in to score. 16-24.
Bath weren’t giving up without a fight and Matt Banahan came agonisingly close to a score himself. The home side worked patiently through a number of phases before the centre powered over the line. However as he reached for the whitewash, the ball was dislodged from his grasp. Bath maintained the pressure though, and the near-capacity crowd were treated to another three points from Man of the Match Burns to take it to a five-point ball game with half an hour to play. 19-24.
The score kept going back and forth and it was Leicester who scored next, securing their bonus-point try through Ben White who latched on to an offload from Harry Simmonds to give his side a 12-point advantage going into the last 20 minutes. 19-31.
The game started to turn in Bath’s favour when replacement Zach Mercer continued his strong start to the campaign with a try after 65 minutes. The home side – who were dominant at the scrum throughout the 80 minutes – piled on the pressure at the set-piece deep in the Leicester 22. Against the head, the pack drove Leicester back and James Phillips did enough to cause Fred Tuliagi to lose control at the base. Mercer was on hand to pounce on the loose ball and score, and Burns’ conversion ensured that Bath would go into the closing stages needing just a converted score to secure victory. 26-31.
A frantic last 10 minutes followed and the pack were once again on hand to deliver the crucial blow. With play five metres from the Leicester line, Bath earned penalty after penalty at the scrum. Joe Maksymiw was shown a yellow card for persistent infringements at the set-piece, and the man advantage paid-off when Greg Macdonald signalled for the penalty try to give Bath a two-point lead with a minute to play.
The Blue, Black and White closed out the final stages and after contributing 21 points, it was fitting that Burns was the man to kick to touch and bring an end to the game.
Final score: Bath Rugby 33-31 Leicester Tigers
10 November 2017
Referee: Greg MacDonald
Half Time score: 13-17
Tries: Burns (40), Mercer (65)
Conversions: Burns (41, 67)
Penalties: Burns (25, 32, 42, 50)
Tries: Holmes (16, 44), Thompstone (35), White (60)
Conversions: Hardwick (18, 36, 45, 61)
Penalties: Hardwick (9)
19th November 2017 London Irish v Bath
Bath Rugby were made to work right to the final whistle, as they claimed a hard-fought 18-22 victory against a spirited London Irish side at the Madejski Stadium.
It was Irish, who got the scoreboard ticking over, with Tommy Bell kicking the home side into an early lead with just three minutes on the clock. However, Bath hit back just four minutes later with a well-worked try finished off by Matt Banahan. Aled Brew was the architect of the move, as the Welsh winger offloaded to Paul Grant on the touchline, before the centre found his midfield partner to score. 3-7
Burns extended Bath’s lead to seven points six minutes later, before Irish reduced the deficit with their first try of the afternoon. The home side took a quick free-kick in the midfield, before switching play to the left wing, where Joe Cokanasiga put fullback James Marshall through over the whitewash. 8-10
Midway through the half and with Bath dictating play in the Irish 22, Kahn Fotuali’i found Burns in the pocket, and the fly-half showed his composure to slot a drop goal. 8-13
With just 13 minutes until the interval, Burns was back on the scoreboard once again. After Irish were penalised at the scrum on halfway, Burns called for a long range kick at goal. The distance was no problem for Burns, as he continued his recent scoring form in impressive fashion. 8-16
Irish then found themselves within touching distance of their second try, but for the intervention of Fotuali’i, who denied Marshall with the try line in his reach. Alex Lewington made the initial break down the left wing before finding Marshall, who was momentarily halted by captain Matt Garvey. As the Irish fullback regained his feet and made his dive for the line, Fotuali’i came sweeping across to bundle his man into touch.
However, Irish weren’t finished for the half, clawing back a further three points through Bell to put his side within five points.
Half-time score – London Irish 11-16 Bath Rugby
Burns increased Bath’s advantage to eight points seven minutes into the second-half, taking his tally to 14 points for the afternoon. It was quickly 17 points for Burns, as he helped put a bit of daylight on proceedings with another pinpoint penalty with 20 minutes to play. 11-22
Irish continued to show their resilience, as they fought their way back into the game. With penalty advantage looming in the Bath 22, Irish made the pressure count, as Scott Steele found his way through the Bath tacklers to make it a tense final five minutes. 18-22.
Bath spent the remaining few minutes of the match camped on their own line, but the visitors managed to survive the Irish onslaught and close out the game.
Full-time score – London Irish 18-22 Bath Rugby
19 November 2017
Referee: Tom Foley
Half Time score: 11-16
Tries: Marshall (18), Steele (74)
Conversions: Tonks (75)
Penalties: Bell (2, 40)
Tries: Banahan (7)
Conversions: Burns (8)
Penalties: Burns (13, 26, 46, 59)
Drop goals: Burns (23)
2nd December 2017 Exeter v Bath
Bath Rugby rescued a try bonus point in the final ten minutes of their Aviva Premiership encounter with a ruthless Exeter Chiefs, who ran out 42-29 winners.
Exeter stunned their opponents in the first-half, piling on the pressure in close quarters with wave after wave of attack. Three of their first-half tries came from close range, Luke Cowan-Dickie grounding the ball for the first. Gareth Steenson added the conversion. 7-0.
James Short scored the second on 15 minutes, as the home side attacked from their own half. Short combined well with his fellow wing, Olly Woodburn, down the left touchline to score in the corner. Steenson converted. 14-0.
A series of penalties in Bath’s favour allowed the visitors to make their way downfield, with Freddie Burns getting three points on the board frim just outside the 22, but the home side were in a dominant mood, and first Mitch Lees then Don Armand drove their way over the white wash.
Half-time: Exeter Chiefs 28 – Bath Rugby 3.
Thomas Waldrom added to the Chiefs’ tally on 53 minutes, but Bath finally began to find chinks in the Exeter defence. Pressure from Jonathan Joseph forced Woodburn to knock-on, and the British and Irish Lion hacked on, gathered and raced away to score the breakaway try. The centre converted his own try.
Steenson collected a quick pass from Short to score his own seven-pointer moments later, but Bath were finding their rhythm as the final 10 minutes approached.
Anthony Watson was on the end of a sweeping move through the hands that started with a quick tap penalty from Priestland to attack the broken field. The replacement fly-half chipped ahead, Ben Tapuai gathered and gained vital metres before Aled Brew and replacement Chris Cook both kept the move alive, allowing Watson to go over in the corner. Priestland converted. 42-17.
Brew scored minutes later, with Joseph instrumental in the build-up. The centre first fed replacement Matt Banahan, who went on a surging run down the right wing, before the ball was moved quickly back infield. Joseph was again the link man, passing out to Brew, who did just enough to slide the ball over the line before he was forced into touch. 42-22.
The three Bath scores set-up a frantic final few minutes. With just twenty seconds left on the clock, the visitors were awarded a scrum – which had been solid for most of the game – 30 metres out. The pack stayed steady, and clean ball found its way to Banahan, who scythed through the midfield to score the bonus point try. Priestland added the conversion as the final whistle blew.
Final score: Exeter Chiefs 42 – Bath Rugby 29.
2 December 2017
Referee: JP Doyle
Half Time score: 28-3
9th December 2017 Toulon v Bath
Bath Rugby fell to a late Anthony Belleau try, as Toulon maintained their 100% start in the European Rugby Champions Cup with a 24-20 victory at Stade Mayol.
Bath got the first points of the afternoon from the boot of Rhys Priestland. It came after Ben Tapuai pounced on a fumble from Francois Trinh-Duc, before hacking up field from his own 22. The Australian and his midfield partner Jonathan Joseph gave chase and forced Semi Radradra into conceding a penalty. Priestland made no mistake, and put his side into a 0-3 lead with 12 minutes on the clock. 0-3
It got even better for the visitors two minutes later, with Anthony Watson finishing off a well-worked try. Joseph spread the ball wide to Aled Brew and the Welsh winger bulldozed his way through the tackle of Josua Tuisova before offloading to the on-rushing Watson, who extended Bath’s lead. Priestland made it a seven point score with the successful conversion. 0-10
With six minutes to play in the half, Toulon scored a try of their own. The home side piled on the pressure in attack, which created the numbers out wide for Ma’a Nonu to finish under the posts. 7-10
With the clock in the red, Priestland added another penalty to give his side a six-point advantage going into the interval.
Half-time – Toulon 7-13 Bath Rugby
Bath were reduced to 14 men nine minutes into the second-half, with Chris Cook seeing yellow for an infringement at the breakdown. In the set piece that followed, Alby Mathewson picked up from the back of the scrum and powered his way over the try line. Trinh-Duc’s conversion put Toulon in the lead for the first time in the game. 14-13
With a little less than 20 minutes to play, Bath found themselves back in front on the scoreboard, taking advantage of a sliced kick from Chris Ashton. Pegged back in the in goal area, the former England international aimed his kick for touch, but instead found its way into the hands of Joseph, who put Bath back in control on the scoreboard. 14-20
Trinh-Duc kicked his side to within three points, which meant a tense final 15 minutes at the Stade Mayol. Toulon were a fraction from their second try, but for a superb last-ditch tackle from Paul Grant, who managed to stop Ashton after a breakway move from the home side. 17-20
Toulon continued to press the Bath defence, and despite some resolute defending, French side managed to find their way through. It was a touch of magic from replacement Anthony Belleau, who pounced on his own grubber kick from five metres out to put Toulon in the driving seat with four minutes remaining. 24-20
Bath weren’t ready to throw in the towel, giving everything in the closing minutes with one final assault on the Toulon line. However, the three-time European winners stood firm and maintained their unbeaten start in the competition.
Full-time – Toulon 24-20 Bath Rugby
16th December 2017 Bath v Toulon
Bath Rugby recorded their 100th victory in Europe, with a 26-21 European Rugby Champions Cup triumph over three-time Champions Toulon at the Recreation Ground.
Bath got off to a blistering start scoring inside a minute of play. It was Aled Brew who created the attack, stealing the ball from the kick-off. The Welsh winger then made another strong carry before offloading to Beno Obano, who bulldozed his way over the whitewash from close range. Rhys Priestland made it a seven-point score with the resulting conversion. 7-0.
It got even better for the home side as Priestland added two quickfire penalties to make it 13-0 with as many minutes on the clock.
The visitors, who spent large parts of the first 40 camped in their own half, hit back with a try of their own. It was an opportunistic score, Alby Mathewson crossing after a well-worked move from the line-out. Francois Trinh-duc added the extras. 13-7.
With the game heading into the last 10 minutes of the half, Anthony Watson created a moment of magic to extend Bath’s lead. After receiving an inside pass from Jonathan Joseph on the right wing, Watson accelerated through the challenges of two Toulon defenders before powering his way over the line. 18-10.
After Trinh-Duc reduced arrears to five points from the tee, it was left to Watson to have the final word of the half. Tom Dunn and Obano created the attacking foundation with strong carries, and then the fullback finished the move in style. The England international made his way over to the left wing searching for the gap, but it wasn’t needed as he left his opposite number, Hugo Bonneval, for dust to finish in the corner for his second of the evening.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 23-13 Toulon
Toulon were out of the blocks quickly in the second-half, and owed their second try of the game to a superb break from Ma’a Nonu. The former All Black unlocked the Bath defence before offloading to Chris Ashton in support. With the line in his sights, the back-tracking Jack Wilson produced a try-saving tackle, however moments later the ball found its way to Samu Manoa, who bundled his way over the line, despite the brave efforts of Dunn who tried to halt the second rower. 23-18.
With 25 minutes left to play, Bath gave themselves a bit of breathing space with another Priestland penalty, much to the delight of the near-capacity crowd at the Rec. His French counterpart Trinh-Duc ensured that it would be a nervy finale with a penalty of his own. 26-21.
The three-time European Champions continued to pile on the pressure as they searched for a score that would see them claim a second victory over Bath in as many weeks. Toulon gave it their best shot, going through over 30 phases as they pressurized a resolute Bath defence, but the Blue, Black and White stood firm and closed out the game, the win taking them to the top of Pool 5.
Final score: Bath Rugby 26-21 Toulon
European Rugby Champions Cup
16 December 2017
Referee: Nigel Owens
23rd December 2017 Sale v Bath
Four second-half tries from a dominant Sale Sharks led to a 32-9 defeat for Bath Rugby at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Rhys Priestland opened the scoring for Bath in a cagey first-half, knocking over the penalty after a Bath lineout had been turned into a full penalty by referee Ian Tempest after Andrei Ostrikov had instigated some pushing and shoving on the touchline. 0-3.
The Welsh international doubled the lead two minutes later with another penalty from the tee, before AJ MacGinty got his side’s first points of the afternoon on 13 minutes. 3-6.
The home side turned down two kickable penalties in an attempt to drive their way over the line, but the stubborn defence of Bath held them out, and they came away empty handed.
As the opening forty minutes drew to a close, Bath came agonisingly close to scoring, twice being held up over the line. Instead, they had to settle for a further three points from the boot of Priestland. MacGinty then added another three of his own to narrow the gap once more on the stroke of half-time.
Half-time score: Sale Sharks 6 – Bath Rugby 9.
Sale came out of the changing rooms firing in the second-half, and quickly started dominating the game. They scored two quickfire tries – Josh Strauss got the first, barrelling over from short range, before Byron McGuigan went over out wide. 18-9.
Their third came on 60 minutes through James O’Connor, the fullback juggling the ball before finally holding on and finishing off a good break from MacGinty.
The fly-half was at the heart of Sale’s fourth try as well – putting in a neat chip ahead for the on-rushing McGuigan. The winger and Bath replacement Chris Cook raced for the ball as it went over the line, but the awkward bounce saw it come back to Will Cliff instead, who dotted down. MacGinty added the conversion.
Bath continued to try and work their way over the Sale line, but the Sharks, buoyed on by the cheering home crowd, held firm and closed out the win.
Final score: Sale Sharks 32 – Bath Rugby 9.
AJ Bell Stadium
23 December 2017
Referee: Ian Tempest
Half Time score: 6-9
Tries: Strauss (43), McGuigan (47), O’Connor (60), Cliff (71)
Conversions: MacGinty (43, 62, 72)
Penalties: MacGinty (13, 39)