Proving that fans didn't have a long wait to enjoy yet another victory at The Rec, Bath Rugby slammed home an exhilarating 10 - 5 win against rivals Gloucester last night, once again throwing open the Guinness Premiership title race, as Bath sit two points behind.
With the rain pouring down and the pitch sodden, the game was in doubt right up until kick off. Starting 15 minutes later, after some excellent water expulsion by Bath's ground staff, Bath Rugby wasted no time in displaying the form that they would continue for the full 80 minutes. Although no scores were won before the 31st minute, the forward dominated contest saw both packs continue to barrage each other in a fierce tussle for possession.
Despite the atrocious conditions, Bath's positive start demonstrated the brand of rugby that has made them such a success so far this season. With both teams kicking for field position, Abendanon cleared to the halfway line to be followed by a line-out. The resulting drive from Lipman, gave Banahan the chance to put his legs in motion as he burst down the wing. Leon Lloyd was quick to halt the giant though, preventing him from scoring the tries that have made him a Rec favourite this season.
With tempers flaring and Gloucester feeling the brunt of the offence, Barkley stepped up to kick the ball straight over the top of the East Stand and into touch. Moments later, the intensity of the match forced Gloucester's captain, Marco Bortolami, to concede a penalty as he hauled down the line out. Olly Barkley was handed the first chance to win some points, but suffering from the bad pitch conditions, the long-range kick that was taken from the 10 metre line, fell just short of Gloucester's posts and the Rec faithful were forced to wait a further ten minutes to enjoy some rewards.
After 31 minutes, an incisive break, sparked by the Bath backline, carried the home-side inside Gloucester's 22, where, under pressure, Bortolami once again was forced to concede, having been caught offside. Barkley made no mistake this time, proving, once again, why he is the Premiership's best marksman, stepping up to put his left foot into action and planting three points on the scoreboard. With time running out in the first half, Gloucester made some ditch attempts to score, but time and again came up against Bath's determined defence, as highlighted by Danny Grewcock, who halted a run by James Bailey with consummate ease.
The opening minutes of the second half saw Bath retaining 91% of possession, wasting no time to set up camp inside the muddiest end of the pitch inside Gloucester's 22. A series of strong drives epitomised by David Barnes and Michael Lipman, who demonstrated international credentials, kept the ball within a few metres of the try line. But after a clearance kick by Mike Tindall, the pressure was relieved for Gloucester - but only momentarily.
Responding to Gloucester's attempt to repel Bath's advances, Lipman carried the ball straight back into the visitor's territory, taking the tackle before the ball was thrown out wide to Banahan. The wing burst towards the touch line, but the move broke down as Gloucester made a desperate fly-hack away from danger. Abendanon, displaying immense peripheral vision, found Joe Maddock, unmarked on the right wing, after a call from Olly Barkley and launched the ball cross-field to meet the in-form New Zealander for an exhilarating try in the 49th minute. Barkley's touchline conversion took the score to a 10-point lead.
With the points all on Bath's side, Gloucester answered by instantly taking the ball into Bath's danger zone, but it didn't stay there long. Shaun Berne, having only just entered the park, joined Barkley to drive back up the midfield and with the conditions so sodden, even the referee, Wayne Barnes, slipped in the mud and lost his whistle!
Chris Paterson, who had only come on the pitch moments before, gave Gloucester the chance to rack up their own points, as he broke through the Bath defence, for a much-needed try in the corner. But with the conversion hitting the left upright, the Scotsman failed to award his team with more than five points.
Bath came straight back with grit and determination as first Berne and then Banahan took play back deep into Gloucester territory, where the remainder of the epic contest would be played out. Bath's courageous attempts to put more points on the board and deny their visitors a bonus point, didn't provide the deserved rewards and as the clock counted down the final seconds, Michael Claassens kicked the ball into the crowd to end the game, sealing Bath's 10 - 5 victory over Gloucester.