In the week leading up to arguably Bath Rugby's biggest match this season, Head Coach Steve Meehan had only one ambition in mind - simply to win! With a group of former Bath greats parading before kick-off and rousing the crowd, there was never any doubt of the immensity of the derby clash against Bristol. With Bath Rugby displaying a consistently passionate performance throughout the match, they sealed their 28 - 13 victory in convincing fashion.
Bath stamped their mark on the game within four minutes with a penalty by Barkley giving them an instant three-point lead and although he failed to slot the second penalty kick three minutes later, a try by Andrew Higgins at 10 minutes saw the scoreboard flick to 8 - 0 to Bath, having burst through the light blue shirts, after an offload from Andy Beattie.
Having predicted that club captain, Steve Borthwick, would have an "immense match", Meehan was proved right, as Borthwick's inspirational leadership of the pack, enabled Bath to set the tone for the first half. After a chip and chase by Nick Abendanon that was tapped into touch by a Bristol hand, a scrummage followed that gave Daniel Browne the chance to peel strongly from the back, and with some clever interplay between Peter Short and Michael Claassens, the back row were able to set the platform for an aggressive drive. Moments later, Matt Banahan exploded through midfield and although he was taken down mid-flight, he found the tireless Michael Lipman who burst over the line for Bath's second try. As Barkley successfully converted, Bath Rugby took the score up to a ten-point lead.
It was not until 26 minutes that Bristol were able to put some numbers on their side of the scoreboard. After a rare breech of the Bath defence, and looking as though they may be able to score a try, a good tackle by Higgins stopped Bristol in their tracks. However, after a Bath infringement, the visitors had to content themselves with three-points instead, after a successful penalty kick by Jason Strange.
The remaining ten minutes before the half-time whistle allowed Bristol to narrow the deficit, with a further three points after another penalty kick by Strange, but the home-side's forwards engaged in an aggressive drive to the halfway line. When the maul finally collapsed, Matt Banahan was at hand to slip the ball to the wing where South African pairing, Michael Claassens and Butch James made good headway, but as the ball fell dead, the half-time whistle prevented any further scores being made.
Bristol attempted to gain some momentum in the second half and the try by David Lemi at 62 minutes, gave them a glimmer of hope, but the unwavering determination of Bath meant that the extra seven-points won by Bristol, with only 13 minutes left of play, was not enough to allow them victory.
In one of his most formidable performances this season, Michael Lipman punched a hole in Bristol's defence, and fed the ball to Claassens, who off-loaded to James and Higgins. Feet away from scoring, Higgins was taken down and the ball was cleared to Bristol's 10 metre line, but Bath were quick to regroup as Matt Stevens went on the rampage. The loosehead prop found Beattie, who swiftly delivered to Mears, and in turn, Lipman, and eventually Bristol buckled under pressure and a penalty was awarded to the home side. Barkley planted the ball perfectly over the posts, taking the score to 20 - 6 to Bath.
At 67 minutes, Barkley struck his third and final penalty kick, after Bristol had enjoyed their only try of the match. Shaun Perry had successfully reduced Bath's lead over the visitors, having sprinted into the 22 and feeding the ball to Lemi for the try, but it the seven points were not enough, as five minutes before the final whistle, Bath's Banahan slammed another try.
After a brilliant counter-attack by Bath from a turnover on their 22, Matt Banahan, who now flies out to play for England in the IRB Sevens World Series tournament in Dubai, made the most of the interplay between Abendanon and Berne and sealed the victory for Bath with a final score of 28 - 13 to Bath.
Bath: 15. N Abendanon (M Stephenson 75min); 14. A Higgins, 13. S Berne (T Cheeseman 74min), 12.O Barkley, 11. M Banahan; 10. B James, 9. M Claassens (N Walshe 74min); 1. M Stevens, 2. L Mears (P Dixon 75min), 3. L Ward (P Ion 52min), 4. S Borthwick (capt), 5. P Short, 6.A Beattie (J Faamatuainu 52min), 7. M Lipman, 8. D Browne (J Scaysbrook 73min).
Bristol: 15. L Arscott; 14. L Robinson, 13. R Higgitt, 12. N Brew (D Hill 55min), 11. D Lemi; 10. J Strange (J Taumalolo 68min), 9.S Perry (capt); 1. A Clarke (D Crompton 55min), 2. M Regan (D Blaney 68min), 3. J Hobson, 4. R Winters, 5. S Hohneck, 6. A Blowers, 7. J El Abd (A To'oala 50min). 8. D Ward-Smith.