Bath Rugby kicked off their Heineken Champions Cup campaign this afternoon, but it was Ulster Rugby who ground out a 16-17 victory at the Rec.
Bath had the first scoring opportunity five minutes into the game, with Ulster penalised just inside their own half. Rhys Priestland stepped up and connected well, but the fly-half’s long-range effort swayed just wide of the uprights. [0-0]
Just under 10 minutes later, the visitors scored the opening try of the game against the run of play. A charged down kick saw John Cooney capitalise and the scrum-half proceeded to hack the ball forward and gather to dot down under the sticks. Cooney, who was a pivotal figure throughout for last season’s quarter-finalists converted his own score. [0-7]
Bath enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, with their defensive effort epitomised by some crunching tackles from Beno Obano. Their patience was rewarded 26 minutes in with Freddie Burns notching a monstrous kick just shy of the halfway line. [3-7]
The Blue, Black and White found themselves within a point moments later, after the Pro14 outfit were penalised for offside after play had moved into the 22. Burns pointed to the sticks and slotted the routine penalty to reduce arrears. [6-7]
It looked like Ulster would extend their lead in the red, but Cooney uncharacteristically missed a penalty from just to the right of the posts to leave the tie closely poised at 6-7.
Half-time – Bath Rugby 6 Ulster Rugby 7
Ulster came out of the blocks firing in the second-half and were agonisingly close to their second try of the game 10 minutes in. The chance was orchestrated by Luke Marshall, who broke through the Bath defence, with a subsequent offload finding Cooney. However, with the try line at his mercy, the scrum-half was unable to hold on to the ball five metres from the try line.
Seven minutes later they got their reward for the persistent efforts in attack. Full-back Will Addison put a neat kick down the touch line which allowed Rob Lyttle to run on to the ball and score in the corner. Cooney made no mistake to add the extras to put his side eight points in front. [6-14]
Bath responded well and found themselves back in the game with less than 20 minutes remaining. The ball was shipped wide to Jonathan Joseph, who in turn found Gabe Hamer-Webb out wide. Hamer-Webb, who was part of the Bath Rugby programme at Beechen Cliff School last year, soared past Addison to score with his first touch. Burns put his side within a point. [13-14]
Shortly after the try, the hosts had the opportunity to go in front for the first time in the game, with Priestland setting his sights on another long-range penalty. The fly-half kept cool under pressure to ensure a tense finale at the Rec. [16-14]
With 10 minutes to go, Cooney had the opportunity to put his side back in the lead, and the Heineken Man of the Match made no mistake from 15 metres out.
A Bath Rugby infringement gave Cooney the opportunity to put his side back in the lead from close-range and he made no mistake just 15 metres out. [16-17]
The Blue, Black and White diligently worked the ball deep into the Ulster Rugby half as the clock went into the red. Chris Cook found Zach Mercer with a clever offload just outside the 22, with the number eight gathering momentum in the danger zone. Mercer looked to find Semesa Rokoduguni out wide from less than 10 metres out, but Jacob Stockdale and Cooney halted the move to secure the points for the away side.
Bath Rugby will now travel to Harlequins on Saturday 23rd November for round two of the Heineken Champions Cup at Twickenham Stoop.
Full-time – Bath Rugby 16 Ulster Rugby 17