A try from Will Chudley and 19 points from Freddie Burns gave Bath Rugby a hard-fought 14-24 victory against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.
The game started in tough conditions with both sides feeling each other out in the opening stages. An early clearance kick from Will Chudley from the first kick of the game gave Wasps possession and after going through the phases Wasps were able to build some early pressure. Bath conceded a penalty at the breakdown 11 phases into their defence and Billy Searle made sure of the early three point lead.
Bath restarted the game with a kick to the right corner of the Wasps half. They cleared their line with a kick into the Bath half. Semesa Rokodoguni made a huge line break giving Bath some possession at the opposition’s end of the field. The ball moved through two phases, however Bath failed to retain possession and conceded a penalty on the Wasps try line.
A tense and inaccurate start to the game continued when Bath lost their own line-out on half-way a few minutes later, resulting in Wasps taking possession into the Bath 22m area. Wasps came close to a score as their attack began to threaten and after a Billy Searle pass beat the aggressive but narrow Bath defence. It was only a last ditch tackle from Bath that denied the score as Wasps surged down the right edge through Ross Neal.
The referee took play back for an earlier Bath infringement, and Wasps attacked through a 5m line-out from the penally. Bath denied them the chance to build pressure and cleared their lines but after spending the majority of the first 10 minutes under pressure and without the ball Bath needed to find a way to establish themselves in the game.
Bath responded moments later after Wasps were penalised at the breakdown. Freddie Burns stepped up and levelled the scores from 40 metres out. [3-3]
Just two minutes after Burns had drawn the game all square, Wasps found themselves back in front with another penalty from Searle. Bath had to wait until the 22 minute mark for their next opportunity and it was Burns again, who provided the three points after Michael Le Bourgeois was penalised for not rolling away. [6-6]
The first try of the game was delivered by the visitors and it was Burns, who added to his tally with a superb solo effort. Dave Attwood cleverly drew his man as Bath switched play to the left wing before Burns stepped into the gap. It was a fabulous example of the show and go, as he sped through from the Wasps 10m line to score. The fly-half picked himself up to take the conversion, but his kick drifted just right of the upright. [6-11]
The Bath pack were beginning to establish some dominance in the scrum and another penalty was won on the 30 minute mark against the Wasps loosehead Ben Harris. Bath once again entered the Wasps half with a line-out to attack from. Bath established the drive but failed to control possession at the back of the maul to give Wasps another brief reprieve. Wasps needed to gain some control and possession from their scrum but another penalty for Bath gave the men in blue black and white a further chance to build their attack.
The resulting line-out from the Bath penalty unfortunately let them down giving Wasps a chance relieve pressure again and they sent the ball long, James Wilson received the ball and sent it out into touch for a Wasps lineout.
In the 35th minute Wasps were reduced to 14 men. Semesa Rokoduguni intercepted a pass deep inside Bath’s half and after an impressive run, the winger was taken out high from Nizaam Carr.
With the game still in the balance the breakdown penalties continued to come from Wasps, this time with a Thomas Young clearout beyond the breakdown giving Bath another platform. Burns took another shot at the posts from 43m out and sent it straight through the middle with a perfect strike from the right boot with just two minutes left until the half time whistle. [6-14]
With the clock in the red, it was Wasps who had the last say of the half, as Searle kicked his third penalty of the afternoon.
Half-time - Wasps 9-14 Bath Rugby
Bath got the first points of the second half, which came after strong work from the pack. Against the head, Bath forced the penalty and Burns stepped up once again to keep the scoreboard ticking over. [9-17]
With Carr returning to the field just after Burns' penalty attempt, the next score was crucial. It was Bath, who got the next points following some patient work into the Wasps 22. The Blue, Black and White held the ball well racking up over 15 phases on their quest for the line. The forwards showed their dominance to get within touching distance, before captain Will Chudley provided the finish. The scrum-half used all his experience to ground the ball at the base of the post. The call went to the TMO, but after a pensive few moments, the try was given. Burns converted to give Bath a 15-point lead with 25 minutes to play. [9-24]
Wasps produced a fantastic response with a try of their own just two minutes later. The pack used the catch and drive to good effect, before Thomas Young peeled off from the back to dive over in the corner. Searle was unable to add the extras leaving his side ten points adrift. [14-24]
It looked like Bath had scored their third try of the afternoon when Nathan Catt rumbled over from close range with 63 minutes played at the Ricoh Arena. Max Wright and Rokoduguni both made strong breaks before Catt went over the whitewash. However, after consultation with the TMO, the front rower's effort was ruled out for a double movement.
The home side buoyed by a 30,000 plus crowd, drew on the experience of Nathan Hughes and Dan Robson off the bench and their impact was noticeable.
The Wasps scrum was looking a lot stronger with replacement front row on the field and Henry Thomas conceded a penalty around the half way line. Wasps opted for the corner and look to their line-out to again build their score. Bath repelled the drive and showed some strong defence until Wasps found an offload on the right edge. The ball then moved to the left and more pressure continued to come through the speed of ball and ball movement that Wasps were displaying. Wasps won another penalty just 10 metres out from the Bath line and were clearly now getting on top. Bath responded by bringing on Max Lahiff, Jacques van Rooyen and Matt Garvey into the forwards.
The Wasps drive was again repelled and three phases later Lahiff made a big hit to force a Wasps error. Burns reacted with a quick clearance kick which found the Bath 22m line and gave Bath a brief chance to regroup. The gap remained at 10 points going into the final 10 minutes.
A long stoppage came as Brookes received treatment and this seemed to re-energise the Bath side and they never looked back as they looked to pressure Wasps and close out the win. A period of pressure from Bath gave them a scrum in the opposition 22m area, but with just six minutes on the match clock Wasps won a scrum penalty against the head and looked to move the play up field with a kick to touch.
With their line-out now functioning Wasps began to move the ball and increase the speed of their attack. Bath held firm and continued to present a wall of defence in front of the Wasps men. A sloppy pass from Dan Robson gave Bath a scrum and they moved the ball down field through kicks from Chudley and Burns. Wasps nearly broke from a counter attack down the left touchline, but time was now running out for Wasps to claw back the ten-point deficit.
Bath regained possession and looked determined to run down the clock and secure the much needed win. The forwards worked through the phases with a number of pick and go’s to set the platform for Burns to send it into the stands and draw the referees whistle.
Full-time - Wasps 14-24 Bath Rugby
23 December 2018
Referee: Matthew Carley
Half Time score: 9-14
- Tries: Young (55)
- Penalties: Searle (2, 14, 41)
- Tries: Burns (25), Chudley (52)
- Conversions: Burns (53)
- Penalties: Burns (12, 22, 38, 42)