On an afternoon of high drama, the eagerly anticipated encounter between bitter rivals Bath and Gloucester at Kingsholm, resulted in less tries than pundits expected. Yet, the riveting action kept the fans on the edge of their seats as Bath's hard fought battle failed to clinch the victory required for a home semi final, as Gloucester became narrow victors with a final score of 8 - 6 to Gloucester.
The match was intense from the start. Both sides were putting in hard hits and hard yards in an attempt to be the first to score. With the weather muggy, the temperature was just as hot on the pitch as off and Bath wasted no time in battling up inside Gloucester's 22 with some good runs from Olly Barkley and Andrew Higgins.
With the pressure on both camps, Bath were the first to offend. Barkley was penalised for a knock-on after attempting to chase a chipped pass from Butch James and the play moved back towards the halfway line. The scrummage that followed saw the Bath contingent once again suffer the referee's whistle and this time Ryan Lamb stepped up to take a penalty kick. Gloucester squandered their first opportunity to win some points as the fly half's kick fell just wide of the posts after six minutes.
Unperturbed by the miss, Gloucester's Iain Balshaw exploded down the wing, where he made a swift pass to Mike Tindall before Michael Claassens put in a strong tackle. And although Rory Lawson attempted to continue the rampage, Butch James's textbook low tackle prevented a probable try.
Feeding off the pressure, Bath's giant winger, Matt Banahan, burst down the wing from Bath's own 22 to deep inside Gloucester's. A tackle by Balshaw finally took down the 6ft 7 man from Jersey, and the subsequent ruck led to the first replacement of the match, as Mike Tindall came off limping.
Minutes later, Gloucester were able to put some points on the board, as a Bath offence allowed Lamb to repair his earlier failure and kick three points.
Entering the final fifteen minutes of the first half, the tempo rose dramatically as Butch James made a chip and chase down the wing. He was met with an impenetrable Gloucester line, but Matt Stevens came out of the ruck to charge through the 22 and head straight for the white line between the posts. Feet away from making the try, Stevens was tackled and halted in his stride by James Simpson-Daniel. Although Bath were held back from the five points, moments later the visitors were able to win three, as a Gloucester indiscretion allowed Barkley the chance to level the score.
Gloucester, insistent on establishing their lead, took the ball rapidly inside the visitors' danger zone. Former Bath player, Gareth Delve, made a strong sprint on the left wing, before he was thwarted by Andrew Higgins. Claassens swiftly passed to Joe Maddock who kicked down the pitch. Lesley Vainikolo was there waiting for the ball and, in the fashion fans are accustomed, the 6ft 2 winger shot back towards the Bath 22. Against strong defence, Simpson-Daniel was able to break through and having been passed the ball from across the wing, the speedster slammed down for the try.
Lamb failed to convert, and with just two minutes left on the clock before the half-time whistle, Barkley struck his second penalty to narrow the score divide. Half time score: 8-6 to Gloucester.
Both sides were back on the pitch with the same aggression and pace as the first. The opening ten minutes after the break saw equal territory gains for both sides as long kicks and runs gave each team the opportunity to score.
The relentless commitment of both sides meant that after 57 minutes, neither had scored any further points. A run from Jonny Faamatuainu looked as though it was going to result in a much-needed try for Bath, but after the Samoan offloaded to Claassens, who in turn slipped the ball to Tom Cheeseman, it failed to do more than expose Gloucester's fragile hold of the score line.
With just over ten minutes left on the clock, a lost line out by Bath failed to halt fly half James from executing a cross-field kick. Banahan was perfectly positioned to receive, but he missed the catch and the ball was turned over. Gloucester thought they had sealed off the game, when Vainikolo started a move that was rounded off by the supporting Luke Narraway, but the home side celebrations were shortlived as Dave Pearson disallowed the try, owing to a knock-on.
As time ran out, Bath pressed for the elusive try, but Gloucester held on to the ball and in the dying minutes, the visitors were unable to claw back to take home the victory. The final score of 8 - 6 sees Bath face London Wasps next Sunday at Adams Park.