Bath Rugby secured Heineken Cup rugby for next season with a tight 11-14 victory over Newcastle Falcons.
Bath started brightly, playing with speed on the ball to break through the Newcastle defence repeatedly. However, their early dominance wasn't fully taken advantage of, as an early penalty attempt was pushed wide by Butch James, as was one by Jimmy Gopperth for Newcastle.
The Falcons were slowly finding their rhythm though, and started attacking the Bath line with gusto. After some desperate try-line scramble defence from the visitors, Newcastle were awarded a penalty, and Gopperth made no mistake, slotting the three points to give the home side a 3-0 lead with 23 minutes gone.
Bath hit back from the re-start though, and were immediately making their way back into the Newcastle 22. With Michael Claassens playing a pivotal role in spreading the ball across the pitch, as the try-line got closer the forwards made a series of pick and drives. Seeing a gap, Claassens picked the ball up from the bottom of the scrum and dove over the line from close range. Whilst James missed the conversion, the five points gave Bath the lead in an increasingly tight game. 3-5
Bath continued to make headway in attack, driving hard through the centres and keeping quick ball flowing across the line, but were unable to breach the home defence, and it was the home side who broke the stalemate, with another Gopperth penalty just six minutes from the end of the first half.
Once more though, Bath refused to let the advantage continue, and a fantastic shove at a scrum gave them valuable momentum for the final minutes of the first half. With Bath driving towards the line once more, they were eventually awarded a penalty, which James duly converted, giving the visitors a narrow lead as the two sides went in at half time. 6-8.
With both sides coming out from the break determined to take the upper hand, a tense game was developing. Both defences were working hard, keeping any promising attacks at bay. It wasn't until just over ten minutes of the second half had been played that the deadlock was broken, as Bath were awarded a penalty. Sam Vesty slotted the ball neatly through the uprights, extending the lead to 6-11.
Whilst Bath were fighting hard to make a break towards the try-line, it seemed hard for the visitors to get any cohesion together, as Newcastle tackled well and disrupted play.
The visitors cause was further hindered as, with David Wilson already off injured, Duncan Bell also left the field because of injury, meaning Bath were down to 14 men, and uncontested scrums were used for the remaining ten minutes of the game.
The disadvantage didn't seem to stop them at first however, as James once more found the middle of the posts, securing another three points after a Bath jumper was taken out in the air in the lineout.
The home side were fighting for their Premiership lives however, and knowing that they needed at least a losing bonus point to give some security going into next weekend's fixtures. Taking advantage of the man overlap, Luke Fielden broke away, chasing Tane Tu'ipulotu's kick. Whilst it looked like Abendanon had beaten Fielden to the touchdown, after consulting with his touch judge, the referee awarded the try, giving Newcastle the vital points to take them within the losing bonus point range.
As the try was scored with just a couple of minutes left of the game, it became the last significant play of the game. On the ref's signal, Micky Young kicked the ball out of play to signal the end of the game, to rapturous cheers from the home crowd who were seemingly more than happy with the losing bonus point. Bath meanwhile had sealed their place in the Heineken Cup next season, and taken another step closer to the play-offs, with all to play for next weekend when the Falcons visit the Rec. Final score 11-14.