Bath Rugby opened their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign with a hard-fought 22-26 win over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
A flawless kicking display from Freddie Burns yielded 16 points from the tee for the fly-half, coupled with tries from Ben Tapuai and Levi Davis, gave the visitors the victory in an open game where both sides were looked to run the ball and try to break down the opposition defence.
Tapuai’s score came after just four minutes of play. A dominant scrum against the head from the Bath pack earnt the penalty, and from the resulting lineout Tapuai broke through the midfield, jinking his way round the defence to go straight in under the posts. Burns added the conversion, 0-7.
Irish were determined to get parity on the scoreboard, turning down a series of penalties in favour of going for the corner. Bath’s defence held them at bay before a miss-pass opened up space and allowed David Paice to find Max Northcote-Green with a offload out the back of his hand. The flanker powered through and touched down. 5-7.
Burns extended Bath’s lead on 19 minutes with a very well-struck penalty from 45 metres out. 5-10.
Bath continued to stretch the Irish defence, however it was the home side that scored next – Northcote-Green reaching out to touch down in the corner for his second try after some strong carries by Irish in the midfield. 10-10.
Burns ensured Bath were back in front at half-time though, sending another penalty sailing through the posts from 35 metres out.
Half-time: London Irish 10 – Bath Rugby 13
Within two minutes of the game re-starting, Irish had their third try. A catch and drive took them within two metres of the line, and a series of pick and goes saw Paice burrow over from short range. Brendan McKibben secured the extra two, giving Irish the lead for the first time. 17-13.
Ten minutes later, and Bath were back in front. Playing under a penalty advantage, Burns spotted the opportunity and kicked across the field, finding Davis on the touchline. The debutant leapt high, gathered and then juggled the ball under pressure from the Irish defence, before eventually getting the ball down over the line to score his first try in Bath colours. Burns added the tricky conversion from out wide to re-take the lead. 17-20.
The topsy-turvy scoring pattern continued as the game entered its final quarter. Irish got their bonus point try on 57 minutes – Alex Lewington finding himself in space and darting over in the corner – before two further penalties from Burns sealed victory for Bath.
The final kick – 40 metres out, but dead in front of the posts – came with just over 10 minutes to play, and it was a nervy wait for the vocal Bath supporters who had travelled to Reading as their team closed the game out.
Irish kept fighting, and a series of pick and goes took them ever closer to the try line. The Bath defence held firm though, forcing the hosts to spread the ball wide, but they weren’t able to find their man with the final pass. Instead, Darren Atkins dived on the loose ball, and replacement Max Green – on for his debut appearance in the Blue, Black and White - had the simple job of kicking it to touch to end the game.
Final score: London Irish 22 – Bath Rugby 26