Bath Rugby fought tooth and nail to claim a 23-33 victory against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium this evening, surviving a spirited comeback by the Exiles.
It was Irish who drew first blood in the opening stages, as Bath were penalized following some strong counter-rucking; captain and inside centre Shane Geraghty kicking his side into an early 3-0 lead.
Only moments later, Gavin Henson drew the scores level after Irish were penalised for entering the tackle from the wrong direction. 3-3.
The Welsh fly-half doubled his tally in the 15th minute with another penalty to make it 3-6 to Bath.
In a first half strewn with penalties, mainly to the visitors, the Irish defence held strong – but at a cost. Almost half an hour into the match, and after the referee had frequently warned the home side about their infringements at both set-piece and breakdown, Irish tighthead Halani Aulika was given a yellow card.
Following Aulika’s marching orders, Henson took the scores to 3-9. Eight minutes later, frequent re-sets at Bath’s attacking scrum on the Irish 5m forced the referee to give the visitors the penalty try. Henson converted from in front of the posts. 3-16.
There was still time for more points in the first half, albeit it was Irish who took them, with Bath penalised at a lineout in their 22. Geraghty kicked well to make it 6-16.
Half time: London Irish 6 – 16 Bath Rugby
Bath couldn’t have asked for a better start to the second half, with none other than tighthead prop Henry Thomas benefiting from a deft offload in the midfield from Henson to shrug off three would-be defenders and sprint away to score. Henson added the extras and Bath now had a commanding 6-23 lead.
Irish played the waiting game: six minutes to be precise, as their penalty lineout saw them work their way patiently to Bath’s line, before hooker David Paice forced his way over. Geraghty made it 13-23 with his conversion.
In the 51st minute, Bath were found guilty of pulling an opponent at the scrum, which allowed Geraghty to draw his team ever nearer with a further three points. 16-23.
When Henson hoisted up a very high ball into Irish territory, Semesa Rokoduguni chased with purpose – enough to pressure Geraghty into dropping the ball and giving the scrum to Bath.
Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, Bath’s pack dominated the scrum and ensured Henson a simple position from which to take the penalty kick. 16-26.
Ten minutes remained in the match when replacement scrum-half Chris Cook made something out of nothing, his break and evasion of two tackles then saw him roly-poly over the line to score a wonder try. Henson was again on hand to make the conversion. 16-33.
It was then that Irish started to show some serious urgency in attack, throwing caution to the wind and running the ball from everywhere – including deep inside their own half.
Lock Dom Day was sin-binned in the 73rd minute, and while Bath did well to turn the Exiles over as they were camped in the visitors’ 22, no sooner had they done that than Irish were again in possession. They went wide and scored through replacement wing James Short, and Geraghty converted. 23-33.
Bath worked tirelessly in defence for the final remaining minutes, and they needed to, such was the strength of the Exiles’ desire to find a way over the line. The visitors left the Madejski with a well-earned win that holds them in good stead in the Aviva Premiership.
Final score: London Irish 23 – 33 Bath Rugby