Bath Rugby recorded their second victory of this season’s European Rugby Champions Cup with a last-gasp win over Wasps at the Ricoh Arena, 23-25.
With Wasps 23-18 up in the final seconds of the game, fullback Anthony Watson raced over in the corner to draw level. All eyes were on George Ford as he lined up the touchline conversion, but the fly-half took his time and steadied himself, sending the ball straight and true through the middle of the posts to seal the win.
The intent of both teams to play fast, expansive rugby was clear in the opening minutes. First, a superb take in the air from Semesa Rokoduguni saw the winger sprint over the line after two minutes, but referee Jerome Garces had spotted a knock-on so no score was awarded. Moments later Wasps thought they had scored through James Haskell, but the Television Match Official ruled no try. They were awarded a penalty though, and Ruaridh Jackson dutifully sent the ball sailing through the posts to open the scoring. 3-0.
Ford drew the visitors level after a sniping break from Niko Matawalu nearly led to a try for the scrum-half. As it was, he was hauled short but the penalty from Ford got Bath on the scoreboard. 3-3.
A strong defensive tackle from Academy lock Tom Ellis on Jackson created the first try of the game on 14 minutes. The fly-half lost the ball in contact and Jonathan Joseph showed his quick reactions to scoop it up and sprint to the line. Ford added the conversion. 3-10.
Elliot Daly reduced the arrears to four points shortly after with a trademark long-range penalty, before live-wire Matawalu created havoc in the Wasps defence. The Fijian pounced onto a spilt ball from Haskell, but was kept from collecting his own chip ahead. Joe Simpson tried to clear the danger for the home side, only for his kick to find Watson out wide. The fullback gathered and passed to Matawalu, who rampaged down the wing with Matt Banahan on his shoulder. All that was needed was a simple pass inside to the giant winger, who strolled over for the visitors’ second try of the game. 6-15.
Whilst Bath may have had the better of the scoreboard, Wasps weren’t letting them have it all their own way on the pitch. Two successive penalties from Jackson in the closing stages of the half meant there was just a three point gap between the two sides as the half-time whistle blew.
Half-time: Wasps 12 – Bath Rugby 15
Ford extended the lead after the forwards had earnt the penalty at the scrum, but Jackson quickly replied in kind, and the home side went on to enjoy their most dominant phase of the game. Wave after wave of pressure was soaked up by the Bath defence, before they were stretched too wide and Rob Miller went over in the corner. 20-18.
Replacement Jimmy Gopperth looked to have wrapped-up the victory for the home side with a penalty on the 74th minute, but instead an incredibly tense ending played out, with Bath not willing to settle for a draw when offered the chance to take three points.
Instead, captain and Heineken Man of the Match Francois Louw pointed to the corner. Successive lineout drives were strong from the Bath pack, and Wasps were left with no choice but to stop them illegally – first replacement prop Lorenzo Cittadini and then flanker George Smith saw yellow, leaving the home side with just 13 men to defend their lead.
With time up on the clock, and Bath again with penalty advantage after Smith’s dismissal, Louw signalled to go for the scrum five metres from the line. With Wasps unable to field a complete front-row, an uncontested scrum was taken, and it gave Bath the platform to spread the ball left and right. A series of pick and goes from the forwards inched Bath closer to the line, before the ball was flung wide to Watson to score. A quick check with the TMO confirmed the try, and then it was just down to Ford to add the conversion and the valuable extra two points.
Final score: Wasps 23 – Bath Rugby 25.