Despite being outscored three tries to one, Bath Rugby secured their first win of 2011 with a proud and passionate performance to beat London Irish 24-25 at the Madejski Stadium.
London Irish struck within two minutes of the kick-off after a very quick close down from Irish back row Steffon Armitage put pressure on Butch James who fumbled the ball. After the home side secured possession quick hands enabled Sailosi Tagicakibau to power his way over in the corner. Chris Malone added the extras. 7-0.
A few minutes later, Irish were in possession and a solid defence were penalised after over keen captain Luke Watson was deemed offside at the breakdown. Malone slotted the kick to take Irish ahead by 10 points.
Bath pressure on a clearing Irish defence gave the away side the opportunity to attack with a strong platform. An excellent line out with some outstanding forward play drove Bath towards the Exiles' line. The defending side couldn't handle the Blue, Black and Whites intensity and were punished with a penalty. Olly Barkley stepped up but couldn't find the middle of the posts.
However, just moments later Barkley had a long range chance to redeem himself. A superb strike sent the ball firing through the middle of the posts from the half-way line. 10-3.
Irish seemed to be feeling the sting of Bath's growing confidence when this time Steffon Armitage was penalised for holding on. Barkley closed the margin to six points with another successful kick. 10-6.
With just two minutes remaining in the half, Irish came surging back with a well worked try from the backs, allowing Delon Armitage loose down the wing who drew the Bath defence to let supporting Richard Thorpe cross the line for Irish. Malone was on form, adding the extras from out wide. 17-6.
Bath managed to scrape three points back before the end of the half with Irish being penalised in the scrum allowing Barkley to slot the penalty kick. 17-9.
The second half saw Bath show strong attacking phases with the forwards keeping it tight. Patience from the visitors rewarded them with an attacking scrum on Irish's five metre line. A superb backs set piece nearly put Barkley over the line but staunch defence prevented a score.
Bath's determination to score was clear and a massive lineout and maul drove the side close to the Irish try line and with the dismissal of Thorpe for pulling down the maul, Bath gained a man advantage. Fourteen phases later, still Irish refused to give in with the TMO referee denying Simon Taylor the touchdown.
Another scrum saw Taylor power his way towards the line from the back of the scrum, and the supporting Michael Claassens scooped the ball up from the floor, darted over the line and touched down to give Bath the try they had worked so hard for. Barkley made sure he didn't miss taking Bath to within one point of their opponents. 17-16.
Bath, now high in confidence, had their spirits increased with referee Greg Garner offering Bath a penalty after an Irish infringement Barkley kept his cool and slotted the kick to take Bath into the lead. 17-19.
Minutes went by and a neat grubber kick through caused Matt Banahan to hastily defend but take the ball over his line giving Irish an attacking scrum. Now with Thorpe back from the sin bin, a slick backs move cut open the Bath defence for Topsy Ojo to take Irish back in front. Daniel Bowden slotted the simple conversion. 24-19.
Determination was a true description of Bath's performance, and never giving up the visitors attacked and landed themselves with a penalty when Irish slowed down their attacking phases. Barkley again kept his nerve and answered Irish with another successful penalty. 24-22.
With less than five minutes on the clock the atmosphere in the stadium couldn't have been any tenser. A rampant Bath side only two points behind could sniff the win and knew patience was the key word. Phase after phase, the side attacked but without any real progress as London Irish's defence was seemingly impenetrable. All hope lay on the last attack, and the referees whistle finally blew for a penalty to Bath in front of Irish's posts. With the last kick of the game, Barkley struck the ball beautifully through the middle of the uprights, and with the roar from the Bath supporters, the victory was sealed.