West Country derbies always have a little bit of extra fizz about them, and tonight's game was no different as Bath Rugby battled hard for a 31-25 win over old rivals Gloucester Rugby.
The game started at a break-neck pace and continued that way for the full 80 minutes as Tom Heathcote's accuracy from the boot proved the difference between the two sides in a six try thriller.
An electric break from Kyle Eastmond led to the first score of the game just three minutes, as the visitors were pinged for holding on in the tackle. Heathcote stepped up and slotted the first three of his 16 points.
And it was a break from Eastmond's centre partner Matt Banahan that led to the first try of the game as, ]having turned the ball over deep in the Gloucester half, the Jersey giant barged his way through the Gloucester tacklers before chipping ahead. This set up a foot race between Tom Biggs and Charlie Sharples, and as Biggs hacked the ball on further it looked as if the Bath man was going to get there first. However, as the flying winger looked to touch the ball down, it appeared he was tackled early by the Gloucester man. Referee Tim Wigglesworth consulted with the Television Match Official before running between the posts to award the penalty try, with Sharples being shown a yellow card for his troubles. The conversion was simple for Heathcote, and it put Bath 10-0 up after just five minutes.
Freddie Burns missed his first chance to put the Cherry and Whites ahead from the kicking-tee, however Henry Trinder struck lucky minutes later after he charged down Nick Abendanon's attempted clearance kick and raced in to score in the corner. 10-5.
It looked as if the side down to 14 men would be the next to score. A good break from Burns down the left saw him put Jonny May away in the corner. Wigglesworth called upon the help of the TMO once more however, and the try was not awarded due to a forward pass in the build-up.
Gloucester were fighting hard to get back into the game, and it paid off on 24 minutes when a well worked try saw May go over in the corner. Burns converted, nudging the visitors in front for the first time in the match.
The lead didn't last long however, as Heathcote soon stepped up to send another kick cleanly through the posts after some good work by David Wilson saw the England prop earn the penalty. 13-12.
With just over ten minutes to go in the first-half, Heathcote and Eastmond combined to score a superb try. The fly-half broke straight through the centre of the pitch, with Eastmond coming in on his shoulder in support. The centre received the ball, switched angles and hit a cracking line to evade the three Gloucester defenders and score between the posts.Heathcote added the extras, taking the score to 20-12.
Gloucester snuck three points back with a penalty from Rob Cook just before half-time, and the two sides went in just five points apart following a frantic and exciting 40 minutes of rugby.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 20 – Gloucester Rugby 15
Heathcote and Cook traded penalties early on in the second-half as both sides looked to gain the upper hand in this nail-biting match-up.
With the score at 23-18, Gloucester hooker Darren Dawidiuk saw red after a tip tackle on Dave Attwood. Heathcote was on target with another penalty, before the numbers on the pitch were even once again after Carl Fearns was shown a yellow card.
Biggs was next to weave a beautiful line and evade the defence to score, after lovely hands from Eastmond and Abendanon in the build-up saw the winger receive the ball, cut inside and sail over the try-line. Heathcote just nudged the touchline conversion wide, his first miss of the game, but there was daylight between the two sides. 31-18.
The daylight wasn't there for long however, as Gloucester attacked from the restart and after some good work in the 22, the Bath defence was stretched far enough for Jonny May to go over in the corner for his second try of the game. Cook added the extras, taking the visitors to within six points.
Heathcote and Gloucester replacement fly-half Ryan Mills missed a long-range penalty a-piece as the game drew to a close, but both teams were still throwing everything they had at each other; Bath hunting the try bonus point, and Gloucester looking to steal the win.
In the end, it was the Bath pack, who had been in emphatic form all evening, who had the final say. They won the final penalty which, with time dead on the clock, Heathcote duly dispatched to touch, sending the Rec faithful into rapturous applause following a highly entertaining game between two sides who were going all out for the win.
Final score: Bath Rugby 31 – Gloucester Rugby 25.