Bath Rugby produced an emphatic and scintillating display of running rugby at Ashton Gate, scoring eight tries to beat West Country rivals Bristol Rugby 22-57 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
There was early drama with Anthony Watson nearly giving Bath a dream start after just a minute into game. After some flowing play from the visiting side, the winger bundled his way over in the corner, but he was adjudged to have knocked-on in his attempt to ground the ball.
Billy Searle got the first points on the board with a penalty for the home side, however, it was not long before Bath had their first score courtesy of a try from Tom Dunn after seven minutes. After Bath pinched Bristol’s line-out in the home 22, the hooker brushed off two challenges from the opposition defence to muscle his way over the try line. George Ford added the conversion. 3-7.
Heineken Man of the Match Ford, the architect of much of Bath’s play in the first-half showed his quick-thinking to release Tom Homer and open up a nine-point lead with just 15 minutes gone. A loose ball was quickly grasped by the England fly-half, who sent a huge looping pass to evade the on-rushing Tom Varndell and find Homer in acres of space to cross the line for the second Bath try. Again Ford was on target with the conversion. 3-14.
Starting his first game since his arrival, centre Robbie Fruean was the next to cross the whitewash. Camped inside the Bristol final third, the industrious Ford found a gap in the middle of the home side’s defence before offloading in the tackle to give Fruean the simple task of touching down from close range for his first try in Bath colours. The fly-half continued his form from the tee, adding the extras. 3-24.
There was no let-up in the scoring from the visitors as they pressed every advantage they were given. The influential Kahn Fotuali’i scored the bonus point try by picking up from the back of the ruck and leaving Bristol powerless to stop the on-coming scrum-half from adding the fourth try just after the half hour mark. Ford again converted. 3-31.
The home side hit back three minutes later with a try of their own as Varndell combined with captain Olly Robinson in a Bristol breakaway. The move from Robinson was initially halted by a back-tracking Nathan Catt, who produced a superb try-saving tackle. However, that proved to be in vain, as Varndell picked up the ball and dotted down. Seale converted. 10-31.
Just before the sound of the half-time whistle, Ford left the Bristol defence motionless, as he stormed through the gap to score a well-deserved try, which he duly converted maintaining his 100% record with the boot.
Half-time: Bristol Rugby 10-38 Bath Rugby
The second-half started in similar fashion to the first, with Watson once again denied a try by the Television Match Official in the opening stages after another sweeping move from the Bath attacking line.
Eight minutes after the restart, Fotuali’i used his instincts to add his second try of the evening. Following good work from the forwards, the Samoan cleverly picked the ball off the back of the maul to finish from close range. Ford added the extras, which was his last task of the evening, leaving the field with 20 points to his name. 10-45.
Bristol didn’t give up, and they were next to score with centre Tusi Pisi darting through a gap and setting Rhodri Williams free to cross under the posts. 17-45.
Two minutes later, Semesa Rokoduguni bought up 50 points for the Blue, Black and White showing his undoubted strength as he handed off Varndell to dance his way down the touchline and finish in style. 17-50.
It was a fruitful evening for the scrum-halves, and this time it was the turn of Bath replacement Chris Cook, who took advantage of a lapse in the opposition defence to sprint down the wing and continue the onslaught. Homer added the conversion with an excellent kick from the touchline. 17-57.
The last action of the game saw Jack Tovey reduce arrears in the 80th minute with a try in the corner, which was given after consultation with the TMO. However, it was Bath who finished victorious and will now look ahead to another crucial encounter with French side Pau at the Recreation Ground next Saturday, kick-off 15:00, in the final pool game of the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Final score: Bristol Rugby 22-57 Bath Rugby