Match Summary – Bath Rugby 13-15 Bristol Bears
Bath Rugby were narrowly beaten by Bristol Bears in Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Bears took the lead through James Williams before they were pegged by Miles Reid's score.
Piers Francis kicked Bath into a half-time lead but Siva Naulago's try turned the game in Bristol's favour.
Another Francis penalty made it a one-point game which changed to two when the visitors' MacGinty nailed a shot at goal to win the contest.
Bath welcomed back Tom de Glanville to the starting XV with Quinn Roux also earning his first start since returning from injury.
Max Ojomoh and Niall Annett were reinstated at centre and hooker respectively while long-term injury absentees GJ van Velze and Jaco Coetzee were selected among the replacements.
Bristol selected Sam Jeffries and Charlie Piutau after a period on sidelines and Harry Randall captained the side from scrum-half.
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Cameron Redpath, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Matt Gallagher, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Ben Spencer ©; 1 Beno Obano, 2 Niall Annett, 3 D’Arcy Rae, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Quinn Roux, 6 Josh Bayliss, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Miles Reid
Impact players: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Will Stuart, 19 GJ van Velze, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Chris Cloete
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piuatu, 14 Siva Naulago, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 James Williams, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Harry Randall; 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Harry Thacker, 3 Max Lahiff, 4 Joe Joyce, 5 Chris Vui, 6 Sam Jeffries, 7 Fitz Harding, 8 Magnus Bradbury
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 George Kloska, 19 Jake Heenan, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23. Ioan Lloyd
Not a seat was left in the house as a raucous Rec welcomed the teams out whilst lasers beamed from the outfield.
Expectations were high for a hotly contested derby match and Bristol tested the width of Bath’s attack as AJ MacGinty and Randall got their hands on the ball, but as the moved in field the hosts’ physicality forced errors.
Beno Obano set a marker at the first scrum of the night, winning a penalty through destructive work, although Yann Thomas followed suit with similar power as Bath enter Bears’ 22 for the first time.
Bristol showed their intent to run everything when Piutau carried from his goal area following a kick from Francis that was just short of success, and their willingness to throw offloads almost resulted in Matt Gallagher diving over but for a dubious Bath knock on.
Ojomoh had half-a-burst through the 10-12 channel and Fitz Harding trucked up the left wing in response with his inside ball well-fielded by captain Spencer.
Seconds later Bristol took the lead. Semi Radradra cut a hard line and sent Williams over under the posts with a hint of a forward pass, not looked at by the officials.
Brutal counter-rucking propelled Bath up the pitch for their escapade in the opposition half. Spencer happily retrieved possession and pelted the ball with his left foot into the south-east corner. Naulago collected and as he tried to bounce Niall Annett who produced a superb chop tackle; Reid then swooped in to jackal to perfection.
When the following maul was halted well by Bears, Spencer took traffic to the touchline and Ojomoh was a toe away from a successful dot down.
Back play went for a Bath tap and go five metres out and Reid barged his way across the whitewash with Francis levelling the scores.
Bears’ reply was almost immediate. From the kick-off, Naulago knocked on much to everyone associated with the Blue, Black and White's delight as Harry Thacker slid in.
Johann van Graan’s side did manage to turn proceedings fully on their head just before half-time. Francis’ strike was on the money to make it 10-7 in a closely-fought first 40.
Bristol got off to the best possible start in the second half. MacGinty cut an excellent line and quick ball to the right set Naulago on a sprint to the corner which he finished with aplomb.
The Bath front row, starting and the bench, played a massive contribution to sneak Bath back in front. D’Arcy Rae’s huge shot on Randall thwarted the Bears’ momentum and Obano’s carries caused two or three men to have to commit to the tackle.
Then on came England duo Tom Dunn and Will Stuart whose introduction was to dominate at the scrum before getting their hands on the ball and making yards.
With a penalty advantage, Gallagher went inches away from catching a crosskick before Francis fired over three points from the tee for a one-point lead.
It was a scrappy, nervy occasion. Both sets of fans were on edge. Those emotions were eased slightly from a Bears perspective when MacGinty clipped over a penalty with 15 minutes remaining.
Evenly poised going into the latter stages, Bath kicked to compete and advanced up stream. One more penalty presented an opportunity and Francis came a whisker away from securing victory but it wasn’t to be.
pol roger perfORmance of the match
NEXT UP AT THE REC
England Under-20s are coming to The Rec in March, taking on France Under-20s in Round 4.
If you want to watch the country’s future in action against the talented French, get yourself a ticket for the fixture taking place on Friday 10 March (kick-off 20:00).