Bath Rugby take derby spoils in European clash

Bath Rugby took the spoils over West Country rivals Bristol Rugby in the two sides first competitive meeting for seven years, winning 22-6 on a chilly night at the Recreation Ground in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.

Rhys Priestland kicked five penalties before Matt Banahan - the only player still in the Bath squad to have taken part in a Bath v Bristol derby - rounded off the scoring with a try in the 80th minute.

Six minutes in, Bath were the first to register points on the board as Priestland knocked over a penalty from just inside the half after the visitors infringed at the ruck. Billy Searle had the opportunity to level the scores four minutes later, but sent his relatively simple kick left of the uprights.

Energetic work from the Bath forwards created another chance for Priestland to kick for goal - James Phillips guilty of holding on in the ruck. The Welshman nailed his kick to double the lead. 6-0.

Bath did not let up on their West Country opponents – Aled Brew was the next to flex his muscles down the left and worked a good position for the hosts before a knock-on halted their progress.

Both sides then exchanged kicks before Bath experienced a solid spell of possession – recycling the ball well before seeing the move break down on the right hand side.

Bristol then struck back through a penalty of their own, Searle making no mistake with his second attempt of the evening to cut the lead to three.

Priestland landed another impressive kick from right out on the touchline to make it 9-3 after more attritional play in the centre of the pitch, giving the hosts a six-point lead heading into final five minutes of the half.

As Bristol’s penalty count increased, the home side turned the screw and presented Priestland one final attempt at goal before the interval, and he did not disappoint, sending the hosts in with a healthy 12-3 lead.

Half-time score: Bath Rugby 12 – Bristol Rugby 3

After a blistering start to the second half, the tempo slowed after a number of infringements from both sides.

Despite this, Bristol managed to work a decent opportunity, and after a Bath knock-on and misdemeanour at the scrum, replacement Shane Geraghty clawed the visitors back to within a score. 12-6.

Moments later, Zach Mercer injected some pace into the game with a barnstorming run down the middle and after Banahan crashed through two tackles, the hosts were just metres from the whitewash. Will Hurrell was caught offside, and Bath opted to bank three more points, Priestland tapping the ball over from under the posts to reinstate the  nine point lead.

Jack Tovey was then sent to the sin bin for taking out the home scrum-half, Will Homer, and Bath immediately looked to make their neighbours pay.

Another excellent carry from Zach Mercer put the hosts in a good position, but they could not make the illusive breakthrough, even with a clever Banahan kick and chase.

With just under ten minutes remaining, Rec favourite Leroy Houston came off the bench to make his farewell appearance – and received a fittingly boisterous welcome from the home supporters.

After reviewing a no-arms tackle on Brew, referee David Wilkinson then sent Geraghty to the bin, meaning Bristol were down to 13 men for an overlap of two minutes.

The pressure finally tolled on the Bristol line with the last play of the game. After Tovey dropped the ball on halfway, Tom Dunn pounced on it, passed to Houston – and with his only touch, he found Banahan who ran the ball in from half-way to a rapturous reception. Priestland kicked the simple extras to seal the derby win.

Final score: Bath Rugby 22 – Bristol Rugby 6

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