Bath Rugby succumbed to their first defeat of the season at Allianz Park this afternoon, losing 31-17 to a determined Saracens.
The first points of the game came from a penalty awarded to Saracens after Bath were judged to have not rolled away at the ruck close to their own posts, fly-half Owen Farrell taking the simple kick to make it 3-0 to the home side.
Saracens knocked on at the restart, under pressure from the oncoming Bath defenders. A sustained series of attacks on the home tryline – a position which came from a powerful burst from outside centre Matt Banahan – resulted in a penalty to Bath in front of the posts, which fly-half Tom Heathcote duly converted. 3-3.
A Saracens ball was stolen at the lineout by Bath, only to bounce into loosehead prop Mako Vunipola's hands, before being shipped out wide for David Strettle to score. Farrell's conversion made it 10-3 after 10 minutes.
The home side were soon back in Bath's half, and while the visitors' defence scrambled well, fullback Alex Goode took little time to profit from some good work from his forwards, scoring close enough to the posts for Farrell to convert with ease. 17-3.
When Bath failed to roll away from a ruck, Saracens opted for the lineout in the exact same spot. Bath's defence was good, but hooker Rob Webber was unlucky to be shown a yellow card for offside in the same phase of play. Down to 14 men, tighthead Matt Stevens showed great aerial prowess to dive over for another Saracens try, with Farrell adding the extras. 24-3.
A magnificent tackle by the resolute Dominic Day knocked the ball from Saracens' grasp in Bath's 22, relieving a final quarter of relentless pressure from the home side. The clearance kick was retrieved by Goode, who soon found wing Chris Ashton. Saracens knocked-on, but the following phases of play all belonged to Saracens, and Strettle was again the grateful recipient of an easy run-in in the left-hand corner. With Farrell on target, Saracens were 28 points ahead going into the break.
Half-time: Saracens 31 – Bath Rugby 3.
The match restarted with the away team restored to a full complement of men, and a renewed sense of determination to take some control of the game.
Whilst Bath had the upper hand territorially in the second-half, Saracens' first venture into their 22 was very nearly a prosperous one, until some sharp awareness saw Semesa Rokoduguni latch onto a miss-pass intended for Strettle and sprint the length of the field to score under the posts. Ford converted. 31-10.
A breakaway run moments later from Bath blindside Alafoti Fa'osiliva, during which he evaded the attention of three tacklers, was further proof that Bathhad the go-forward spirit in them.
When the visitors were awarded a penalty after Saracens held on at the ruck, their touch-finder was accurate. The lineout on Saracens' 5m turned into a driving maul, but the ball was knocked-on. With Bath winning the ball against the head for the third time in the match, they decided to go pack down once more.
A marvellous stolen ball by prominent replacement Matt Garvey enabled George Ford to run all the way from his 22 deep into Saracens territory; Ashton's last-ditch tackle putting him into touch agonisingly close to the whitewash.
From there, Bath won a free kick, which second row Dave Attwood used to brutal effect, swatting away the would-be defenders and scoring from close range under the posts. Ford converted, 31-17.
Saracens' response was immediate, and they looked close to scoring a fifth try until some aggressive work by Leroy Houston at the breakdown gave Bath a penalty, not to mention some respite. The Bath lineout that followed was deemed to be not straight, but their strength at the scrum shone through again and they won the ball against the head. A second penalty for Saracens not releasing enabled Bath to tap and go, making good inroads into Saracens territory.
A knock-on ensured Bath wouldn't be leaving Watford with a losing bonus point, but they could take some consolation in keeping the home side pointless in the second-half.
Final Score: Saracens 31 – Bath Rugby 17.