Amidst a torrential downpour, Bath Rugby ended their pre-season campaign tonight with a 5-3 win over Llanelli Scarlets. The victory completes an undefeated run and puts the squad in good stead ahead of their first Guinness Premiership match next Saturday.
As Bath Rugby ran out for their final pre-season friendly before they begin their season campaign against derby rivals Gloucester, this was the last opportunity for the team to work through what they had taken from the last match against Llanelli Scarlets and put it into practise before the points start to really matter.
Running out to a torrential downpour, the conditions did little to dampen the spirits of the supporters or of the squad and the first 10 minutes were a clear demonstration of how the West Country boys were determined to play. Against a strong Scarlet defence, Ryan Davis kicked the ball down the field for Tom Cheeseman to chase and whilst the centre had gained good ground by the move, which was assisted by the support of Julian Salvi to drive Cheeseman onwards, a Bath penalty handed the ball back to the opposition to clear to the 40 metre line.
The Scarlets attempted to follow up their move as Rob Higgitt made a quick pass to Sean Lamont on his right and then to captain Mark Jones to make a break. However, Bath Rugby was displaying a strong defence themselves and the men in red were unable to shake off the swarming blue, black and whites.
As the clock ran into the 17th minute, the only respite the Scarlets were able to enjoy was as Bath were penalised for failing to roll away from the ball and Daniel Evans stepped up to take the penalty kick as the thunder began to crack in the sky. The full-back slotted the ball between the sticks, snatching three points for the travelling team and placing them in the lead after 20 minutes - demonstrating that this match was not going to be high scoring for either team -whilst the rain cascaded over the Rec.
With 10 minutes left of the first half and the sun looking as though it might just about creep through to give the teams a small break from the rain, a Scarlets offence handed Davis the chance to take a kick at goal or go for the try and the young fly half booted the ball to the corner. Some swift passing from Matt Carraro, Shontayne Hape, Cheeseman and Nick Abendanon fed the ball out to Maddock on the wing and the New Zealander planted the ball just over the line for the try. Davis missed the conversion though and Bath were left only two-points up as the whistle blew for half-time.
Returning to the pitch, the rain might have finally stopped raining, but the tempo failed to abate. The early minutes looked likely to give Bath some more points to extend their lead on their visitors, but whilst the action was being played predominantly closer to the Scarlets territory than Bath's, the hosts were unable to clinch some more of those much-needed points.
However, new signing Ben Skirving helped to drive the pack back towards the Scarlets 22, offloading to captain Michael Claassens, who found Hape and Abendanon, before replacement Matt Banahan blasted down the left wing and deep inside the Welsh men's territory. Bath inched closer and closer to the try line, but as they went down for a ruck, mere feet away, a Bath offence for holding on ended their chance to cross the line after 60 minutes.
The visitors responded seven minutes later getting breathtakingly close to scoring five points of their own, after Richie Pugh chipped and chased the ball from the 40 metre line putting in good pace to career towards the try line. Thankfully for Bath, giant wing Banahan put in strong chase and managed to pull him down before he was able to add numbers to the score board.
As the clock counted down the last five minutes of the match, Abendanon made a break midfield, sprinting rapidly away from the Scarlet defenders, before booting the ball to the try line for Cheeseman to finish the move. With inches left before the ball reached the white line, it slipped just far enough out of the centres reach that he was unable to ground it for the try.
The whistle blew on a two-point lead on the visitors and a 5-3 win and Bath Rugby can now be confident that their gruelling pre-season regime coupled with the impact of the new signings can now take them forward to a successful season.
15. Nick Abendanon, 14. Joe Maddock, 13. Tom Cheeseman, 12. Shontayne Hape, 11. Matt Carraro, 10. Ryan Davis, 9. Michael Claassens (c), 1. David Flatman, 2. Pieter Dixon, 3. Duncan Bell, 4. Stuart Hooper, 5. Danny Grewcock, 6. Andy Beattie, 7. Julian Salvi, 8. Ben Skirving
16. Lee Mears, 17. David Barnes, 18. Aaron Jarvis, 19. Peter Short, 20. Jonny Faamatuainu, 21. Mike Baxter, 22. Nicky Little, 23. Michael Stephenson, 24. Matt Banahan
15. Daniel Evans, 14. Mark Jones (c), 13. Rob Higgit, 12. Jon Davies, 11. Sean Lamont, 10. Dan Newton, 9. Martin Roberts, 1. Iestyn Thomas, 2. Ken Owens, 3. Rhys Thomas, 4. Lou Reed, 5. Dominic Day, 6. Dafydd Day, 7. John Edwards, 8. David Lyons
16. Phil John, 17. Deacon Manu, 18. Emry Philips, 19. Damien Welch, 20. Richie Pugh, 21. Simon Easterby, 22. Lee Williams, 26. Gareth Maule