A strong first-half performance from Bath Rugby saw them clinch a 31-34 derby victory over Bristol Rugby in their opening pre-season game.
Whilst the home side – who already had one game under their belts coming in to today’s derby - were enjoying the majority of possession in the opening stages, it was Bath who struck first. A strong scrum yielded a penalty, which was followed quickly by another blow of the referee’s whistle in the visitors’ favour. Debutant Josh Lewis stepped up to the tee and confidently struck the ball through the posts. 0-3.
Jack Walker extended the lead after 15 minutes, powering over the try-line from short range. The hooker was on hand to score after Max Clark had chipped ahead and the on-rushing Bath attack pressured the Bristol defence into holding on inches from the line. The resulting penalty was sent to touch, and the lineout drive allowed Walker to break free and touch down. Lewis added the extras. 0-10.
The visitors continued to control the game, adding a third try just before the 20-minute break. Rory Jennings broke through the midfield, finding Josh Bayliss and Matt Garvey on his shoulders in support. Garvey offloaded to Zach Mercer five metres out, allowing the England U20 captain to canter over the line. Lewis was once more on target with the conversion. 0-17.
Bath made it four tries without response on the 24th minute, Darren Allinson sniping over from a quickly taken tap penalty after more solid work from the forwards. Lewis converted. 0-24.
With 26 minutes on the clock Bristol got their opening try, Tom Varndell crossing in the corner after quick hands from the base of the scrum saw the ball moved wide to the wing. Ian Madigan added the extras, 7-24.
Two quick unconverted tries followed, both from the visitors. A stable set-piece platform saw Mercer set Allinson free, who in turn found Jack Wilson on the touchline. The winger kept the ball in play and dived to score in the corner.
From one wing to another, Matt Banahan was next to increase the lead. Allinson’s box-kick was well tracked by Bayliss, with the young back row claiming the ball in the air and then bursting away from the defence. Banahan was in support, and the winger had an open field in front of him as he cantered to the try line.
Half-time: Bristol Rugby 7 – Bath Rugby 34.
Where Bath had dominated the game in the first-half, it was Bristol’s turn in the second.
Adam Chapman went over from close range after patient build-up, quickly followed by Jordan Williams sprinting away from the defence to add his own five pointer. Callum Sheedy converted the later try. 19-34.
A yellow card to replacement Darren Atkins for a deliberate offside allowed Bristol to continue the fightback - back row Dan Thomas darted through a gap to close the deficit to ten points on the hour mark.
The set-piece functioned well throughout the game for Bath, and a series of lineouts in Bristol’s 22 saw them close to extending the lead as the clock counted down the final minutes. Instead though, the home side scrambled to clear the ball, and Luke Morahan finished off a sweeping team move to go in under the posts. Billy Searle converted with the final kick of the game.
Final score: Bristol Rugby 31 – Bath Rugby 34.