Bath Rugby saw off West Country rivals Gloucester Rugby in tense fashion this evening, clinching a 15-13 win.
On a rain-soaked evening at the Rec, it was a match where tactical kicking was very much to the fore. George Ford peppered Gloucester with probing kicks from the outset, and first blood went to Bath in this historic fixture, as they were awarded a penalty with five minutes gone on the clock. Ford converted to rapturous applause from the home crowd. 3-0.
A dizzying break by Kyle Eastmond through the Gloucester defence lit up the first quarter, but any promise of a try was snuffed out by the extremely slippery ball.
With just over 20 minutes on the clock, Francois Louw displayed expert technique and strength to drive back Mike Tindall and turn the outside centre away from his support, earning a penalty for his side. The kick from Ford was fractionally wide, but it was a great statement by the returning Springbok flanker.
On the half hour mark, Bath won another penalty as Gloucester collapsed the scrum under overwhelming pressure from the home pack. Ford squeaked the ball between the posts from 30m out, doubling the lead to 6-0.
Soon after, Gloucester failed to roll away at the ruck after a bullocking run by Matt Garvey. Ford was once more good with the boot, adding the three points.
Gloucester registered their first points of the game with minutes to go until half-time, after Bath were penalised for going off their feet at the ruck, with Burns the points scorer, narrowing the gap to just six points.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 9 - Gloucester Rugby 3
Two minutes into the second half, Jonathan Joseph was tackled off the ball. From there, the penalty kick was swiftly put into touch by Ford. After winning their lineout, Bath knocked on at the maul in Gloucester's 22, but the increasingly dominant pack forced the opposition into giving away another scrum penalty, and Ford stroked the ball over sweetly. 12-3.
With half an hour to go, an impressive rolling maul from Bath's 22 took them up to halfway, with influential number eight Carl Fearns breaking away to make good yardage. Gloucester gave away a penalty in the tackle, and Ford kicked into their 22. From the lineout, Bath again used to their maul to great effect, Gloucester collapsing under the pressure and gifting a penalty to the home side.
This time, Ford opted for touch. The Rec began to rumble with the noise of the crowd. Gloucester were again penalised, this time on their 5m line, and Ford kicked for touch again. Bath knocked on at the lineout, but there was still the prospect of a scrum on 5m. Referee Wayne Barnes immediately blew the whistle in Bath's favour. As they attacked from the scrum, Gloucester illegally played the ball on the ground and lost tighthead Rupert Harden to the sin bin. Bath were unable to extend the lead however, as Ford's kick hit the upright.
Gloucester were offered a way in on the hour mark with a penalty 35m out, but Burns' kick hit the upright. Bath knocked on gathering the rebound, and the havoc was made worse when Burns charged down their clearance kick and won the race with Rokoduguni to touch down under the posts. His straightforward conversion made it 12-10, and Gloucester were very much back in the game.
Nearing the final ten minutes of the match, Gloucester failed to roll away at the ruck following some evasive, fancy footwork from Joseph. Bath won the resulting lineout and Gloucester were subsequently penalised for obstruction. Ford kicked a further three points for his side, extending the lead to 15-10.
Minutes later, Bath, down to 14 men following a yellow card to fullback Anthony Watson, found themselves only two points ahead after a penalty kick from Burns. But it was Bath's consistent effectiveness at the set-pieces that calmed the nerves.
Yet another break from Fearns raised the spirits of the Blue, Black and White faithful, coming as it did from an overturned Gloucester scrum. As they finally hauled Fearns to ground, the Cherry and Whites were then penalised for not rolling away. A chance to distance themselves on the scoreboard evaded Bath, though, with Ford's kick just short.
Bath, with fresh legs on in the front now, proceeded to win the ball against the head and the crowd had begun to reach a crescendo. But then Gloucester won a penalty on their 5m with a minute to go and Burns kicked to touch.
The crowd were now on their feet, especially so when Garvey stole the ball from breakaway Gloucester captain Tom Savage in full flight. With time up on the clock Garvey's support was good, and Stringer kicked to touch – to the audible relief and appreciation of a nerve-wracked home crowd.
Final Score: Bath Rugby 15 - Gloucester Rugby 13.