On a glorious early spring afternoon, Bath Rugby made hay in the sunshine and returned to winning ways with a rousing 36-25 victory over in-form Newcastle Falcons at the Rec.
The blight of the second half jitters that had permeated recent performances, were again evident, but Bath showed great character to hold out for a win that re ignites their Guinness Premiership campaign.
On a sun drenched early spring Saturday, Bath were in the mood to make amends for recent stuttering performances and started superbly, with Butch James landing a penalty after just a minute to lift the Rec faithful.
The aggressive onslaught continued with Andy Beattie, James and Shaun Berne displaying excellent interplay to allow a gain in ground and a foray into threatening territory. However, the Falcons, having enjoyed a run of six victories, were matching Bath's ferocity and after 11 minutes Jamie Noon and captain Phil Dowson escaped into the home side's 22, where the ball went across to the opposite wing for Tim Visser to cross the line for the opening try.
Bath have not experienced difficulties with attacking rugby this season and were able to claw back to within one point of the leading visitors six minutes later with a move of clinical excellence.
James, playing at his best, made an inviting pass to Abendanon who, in turn, set up Banahan to blast up the wing. Unable to penetrate the white defence, the ball was passed back inside for prop, David Flatman, to force his weight midfield. The pressure did not result in a try on this occasion but the Falcons were penalised for not rolling away and James kicked over the sticks for a second penalty taking the score to 6 - 7 at 17 minutes.
A stalemate followed for the next 12 minutes despite both side's best efforts to cross the white line. Even the strong efforts of Beattie and hooker Rob Hawkins driving up to the line, the home team were forced to settle for three points to slip them into the lead with a James penalty, which was followed six minutes later by a further penalty after Newcastle failed to roll away from the ball.
Bath were beginning to get into their stride and the high-paced brand of attacking rugby was beginning to cause the Falcons problems. Duncan Bell, set the returning Michael Lipman charging midfield inside the opposition half.
The ball was recycled inside and Crockett launched Bath inside the Falcons' 22 once more. Again, despairing defence prevented the try, but again the Falcons conceded a penalty and James stretched the lead after 39 minutes.
Bath's half was not finished and Hawkins, proving time and time again that he has stepped up in the absence of Lee Mears and Pieter Dixon, blasted a hole in the Falcons defence from which Joe Maddock gratefully finished off the move to score Bath's opening try to give the home side a 22-7 lead at the interval.
Returning to the field, thoughts of a second half faltering were stirred once more as Newcastle chipped away at the arrears through the boot of May two minutes after the restart.
To further compound matters for Bath Rugby, the next nine minutes brought greater pressure as the home side could not find top gear and Brent Wilson was able to break free from a Daniel Browne tackle on the wing to ground the ball for a second try. Newcastle had brought themselves to within five points of the leaders.
When Bath's chance came, it took all of their best efforts to score the try. Banahan appeared to have forced his way over the whitewash from a lineout, but the home side were denied the score owing to the mass of bodies making it impossible for the referee to award the try.
The resulting scrum saw Browne forced his way over the line, but a dropped ball seemed to have thwarted Bath once more. However, Beattie, showing superb support skills, swept up the ball and grounded for a much-needed try. James's successful conversion allowed Bath to extend the score divide again to 29-17 at 60 minutes.
The match continued in nail biting fashion, as the Falcons, in a rich vein of form, were unrelenting in energy and execution. At 65 minutes James was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle, which gave May another opportunity to kick at the sticks and with the penalty falling just where it should, they crept back up behind Bath once more, trailing just nine points behind.
However, leading Guinness Premiership try scorer Joe Maddock put his speed and skill into play once again after Alex Tait attempted to pass to Andrew Fenby, but Maddock was ready and pounced upon the ball, finishing off his interception with his second try of the match. The conversion by Shaun Berne propelled Bath to a 36-20 lead.
With James in the bin, Bath had to use all their energy to defend against a spritely Newcastle side and it was the Falcons who hit back with a try by winger Fenby.
Bath pressed for the bonus point try, but despite their best efforts they could not quite get there and the match finished 36-25.
15. Nick Abendanon, 14. Joe Maddock, 13. Alex Crockett, 12. Shaun Berne, 11. Matt Banahan, 10. Butch James, 9. Scott Beman, 1. David Flatman, 2. Rob Hawkins, 3. Duncan Bell, 4. Justin Harrison, 5. Stuart Hooper, 6. Andy Beattie, 7. Michael Lipman (c), 8. Daniel Browne
16. Mark Lilley, 17. Aaron Jarvis, 18. Jonny Faamatuainu, 19. James Scaysbrook, 20. Mike Baxter, 21. Tom Cheeseman, 22. Michael Stephenson
15. Alex Tait, 14. Tim Visser, 13. Jamie Noon, 12. Tan Tu'ipulotu, 11. Andrew Fenby, 10. Tom May, 9. Micky Young, 1. Jon Golding, 2. Rob Vickers, 3. Carl Hayman, 4. Tim Swinson, 5. Geoff Parling, 6. Phil Dowson (c), 7. Brent Wilson, 8. Adam Balding,
16. Matt Thompson, 17. Micky Ward, 18. Mark Sorenson, 19. Russell Winter, 20. Hall Charlton, 21. Spencer Davey, 22. Steve Jones