Josh Lewis scored 13 points as Bath Rugby got their European Rugby Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start with a home 23-0 victory over Benetton Rugby.
On his first start for the Club, Lewis showed no sign of nerves as he calmly slotted two penalties within the opening six minutes to put his side in control on the scoreboard. 6-0
Benetton re-grouped and began to show the form that saw them claim the scalps of Ospreys and Edinburgh in the Pro14. A break from Sebastian Negri mid-way through the first half nearly got the Italian side on the scoreboard. The flanker offloaded to his fellow back rower, Robert Barbieri, and five points looked almost a certainty. However, Aled Brew stepped in to save the day with a superb tackle to prevent the number eight from touching down.
Despite missing out on the try, the attacking momentum remained with Benetton and they continued to press the Bath defence. The set-piece was causing Bath all sorts of problems, with four penalties going against the Blue, Black and White at the scrum metres from their line. Referee Mike Adamson subsequently sent Nick Auterac to the sin-bin with just under 15 minutes to play before the half-time break.
There was no respite for the Bath defence and they were soon in try-saving mode again. Benetton switched play from right to left and Tommaso Benvenuti proceeded to make his dive for the line. What the Italian international didn’t see coming was Semesa Rokoduguni, who came flying towards the wing and, with a superb tackle, dislodged the ball before it could be grounded.
Against the run of play and with a minute left in the half, Bath gave themselves a bit of breathing space with a fine breakaway try. Jonathan Joseph offloaded to Rokoduguni on halfway and the winger showed a characteristic burst of pace down the right wing before sending the ball in field to Heineken Man of the Match, Chris Cook. The scrum-half showed his quick-thinking, a deft pass setting Zach Mercer through on the 22 and the back rower used every ounce of energy to finish an impressive move. Lewis added the extras to send Bath into the break with a 13-point advantage.
Half-time score: Bath Rugby 13-0 Benetton Rugby
Bath restarted with real urgency and it was Lewis who came within inches of scoring a try six minutes into the second-half, pouncing on a loose ball in the midfield and hacking forward into the Benetton 22. The Welsh fly-half collected the ball and made his charge for the line, but was stopped just short by some desperate defence. However, Benetton were subsequently penalised for slowing the ball down and Federico Ruzza was sent to spend 10 minutes on the sidelines. Lewis kicked a routine penalty in front of the posts to put Bath further in front. 16-0
With 20 minutes to play, Bath were reduced to 14 men for the second time in the match, with Tom Dunn given the yellow card for an illegal charge at the ruck. Despite the numerical advantage, Benetton couldn’t find their way through the impressive Bath line, which stood firm in defence.
After scoring twice in last weekend’s victory against Worcester Warriors, Brew found himself amongst the points once again. The returning Francois Louw combined with the Welsh flyer, and he tore through the Benetton defence to finish impressively from 40m. 23-0
Bath closed out the remaining 10 minutes to ensure they head to Scarlets with four points on the board.
Final score: Bath Rugby 23-0 Benetton Rugby