Bath Rugby U18's were narrowly beaten 18-17 in a hard-fought West Country derby against Bristol Rugby U18's on Saturday in their opening fixture of their Premiership Rugby U18 League campaign.
The Blue, Black and White were edged out by a competitive and well organised Bristol Bears U18 outfit in a fixture that represented just the sort of challenge that is to be expected in this competition, where the best young players in Bath's region come together to play against their counterparts from other Premiership Academies.
In wet and extremely windy conditions it was the hosts who got the first points on the board after Deago Bailey scored just five minutes into the game to give Bristol an early five-point lead. [5-0]
Bath side responded well, and delivered an impressive first-half display, scoring three unanswered tries through the use of their effective driving maul. Jasper Spandler went over the for the first, which was successfully converted by fly-half, Orlando Bailey. [5-7]
Bath’s Frankie Read went over for the second and Spandler bundled over again for a quickfire third. [5-17]
Bath Rugby U18s ended the first-half in a strong position even after Bristol’s Tom Wilstead added a further three points from the boot after an infringement at the breakdown. [8-17]
Half-time – Bristol Rugby U18’s 8-17 Bath Rugby U18’s
As the second period got underway, Bristol reduced the deficit later on in the second-half with a try of their own which was scored and converted by Ollie Holiday. [15-17]
Bath fought hard to maintain their lead with some particularly strong contributions from forwards, Mackenzie Graham, Archie Stanley, Ewan Richards, Tom Cowan and Jasper Spandler. Their work in defence to shut down the opposition. The forwards ability to carry off influential playmaker Orlando Bailey gave the visitors some excellent opportunities to increase the lead.
However, the Bristol defence held strong and the young Bath side failed to convert any of their pressure into points.
With the game heading into the last three minutes, it was Bristol who secured the match-winning score. Wilstead boot proved to be the difference as he kicked a further three points after a penalty that was awarded at the line-out. [18-17]
Although the result didn’t go Bath’s way, it was a performance which provided a number of positives and the visitors will move forwards from both the fixture and the result with a focus upon learning from key moments in the game.
Full-time – Bristol Rugby U18’s 18-17 Bath Rugby U18’s
Bath Rugby Academy Manager, Craig Lilley said: “I am really proud of the performance that this squad produced today. The conditions made the game a real challenge and it was always going to come down to fine margins.
"There's no doubt that the 17-5 lead that we ultimately gave up is something we will look at with the players. It's a huge opportunity for us to review and to learn together as a group, which win, lose or draw, is our main focus within this competition.
This is another experience that the players have shared, they are incredibly disappointed with the result, but we are all looking forward to getting together again on Monday, and as a group of coaches. We're keen to hear their thoughts on how we can progress as a group going into Saracens next week.”