Eleven Bath Rugby Academy players helped Team Bath to defeat West Country rivals Hartpury in a fiercely-contested BUCS Rugby Championship quarter-final on Wednesday night.
The starting pack was made of seven Blue, Black and White youngsters with Jasper Spandler and Archie Griffin in the front row. Josh Dingley and Harvey Cuckson combined in the second row while Ethan Staddon, Thompson Cowan and Mackenzie Graham formed the back row.
Tom Carr-Smith began the game at scrum-half with Max Pearce, Scott Kirk and Louie Hennessey named as replacements.
Bath were trailing for much of the night against the three-times knockout champions but dug deep to come away with a 21-16 win thanks to tries from Spandler, Alfie Garside and Austen Emens, all converted by Luca Mignot.
The decisive try came 10 minutes from time and Team Bath stood firm under intense pressure in the closing stages to secure a semi-final visit to newly-crowned BUCS Super Rugby league champions Loughborough next Wednesday (5 April).
Team Bath and Hartpury had finished level on points in the final BUCS Super Rugby table, with a points difference of +60 and +61 respectively, so it promised to be a close-fought affair and that’s exactly how the contest played out.
Garside missed a chance to give Team Bath an early lead, dragging a penalty kick wide in the seventh minute, before Hartpury – with the wind behind them – gradually started to get on the front foot.
Three Joe Winfield penalties left Team Bath trailing 9-0 and they were struggling to get into the opponents’ half but when they were offered the chance to kick to touch in the 35th minute and unleash their trademark lineout drive, they took full advantage. A huge surge took them from the 22 to within five metres of the Hartpury line and while the visitors held up a couple of attempts, they couldn’t prevent hooker Spandler diving over for the first try of the night.
Mignot added the conversion and when Winfield was off target with a long-range penalty attempt from the last kick of the half, it meant Team Bath were just 9-7 down going into the break.
They had the conditions in their favour in the second half but immediately gave themselves more of a challenge as they conceded a try from the kick-off, a kick to the corner finding winger Josiah Edwards-Giraud in plenty of space and his offload sent full-back Brandon Wood over.
Winfield’s conversion put Hartpury 16-7 up but Team Bath were determined to get back in the contest quickly and laid siege to the visitors’ line. They forced four penalties before the pressure finally told when Mignot’s clever cross-field kick found Garside, who was tackled in the air but still managed to touch down as he landed.
Mignot’s excellent conversion from the touchline made it a two-point game again and that was how it stayed for the next 20 minutes as the two local rivals slugged it out.
Team Bath finally forged ahead for the first time in the 70th minute and in fine style. A chip from Mignot was kicked on by Wales U20 international Louie Hennessey, who then scooped the loose ball back for fellow replacement Emens to collect and and sprint through before diving over for an excellent try.
Mignot’s conversion made it 21-16 and that remained the score until full-time, despite Hartpury throwing everything at Team Bath in the closing stages. They found themselves in promising positions at least three times but the home defence held strong to secure a well-earned win.