MATCH SUMMARY - BATH RUGBY 61-29 SARACENS
Bath Rugby qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup with resounding win over a youthful, energetic Saracens side at The Rec.
They were made to work hard for their fourth win in a row. In a Chucklevision ‘to me, to you’ style, the first period saw seven tries scored – four to three in Sarries’ favour.
Miles Reid got the first before being cancelled out by Rotimi Segun, and Tom Dunn then traded finishes with Olly Hartley.
The Saracens centre grabbed his second before Beno Obano powered over and hooker Ethan Lewis turned things back in the visitors’ favour prior to the interval.
Bath turned the screw in the second half and asserted their dominance. First Obano crossed for his second and Dunn completed his hat-trick of maul tries.
Manu Vunipola added a wonder try to give Saracens hope, however Chris Cloete and Orlando Bailey – his first senior try for Bath – put the hosts on the edge of qualifying for Europe’s big competition.
With the clock nearing the red, Ollie Lawrence broke through to send The Rec into pandemonium and seal a top eight finish.
Van Graan named an unchanged starting XV for the final match of the season, with Players’ Player of the Season Matt Gallagher and captain Ben Spencer taking on their former club.
Dave Attwood returned to the squad among the replacements to make his 175th and final Bath appearance, and subsequently the last of a wonderful 18-year career.
British & Irish Lion Elliot Daly came back from injury for Sarries and was by far their most experienced player selected.
The Men in Black awarded Premiership debuts to five players, resting a number of established names ahead of their play-off semi-final with Northampton Saints next weekend.
Bath Rugby: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer ©; 1 Beno Obano, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Josh McNally, 5 GJ van Velze, 6 Ted Hill, 7 Chris Cloete, 8 Miles Reid
Impact players: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Max Green, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Jonathan Joseph
Saracens: 15 Elliot Daly (cc), 14 Rotimi Segun, 13 Josh Hallett, 12 Olly Hartley, 11 Ben Harris, 10 Manu Vunipola, 9 Ruben de Haas; 1 Eroni Mawi, 2 Ethan Lewis (cc), 3 Christian Judge, 4 Alex Wardell, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 6 Nathan Michelow, 7 Toby Knight, 8 Ollie Stonham
Replacements: 16 Samson Adejimi, 17 Robin Hislop, 18 Harvey Beaton, 19 Kaden Pearce-Paul, 20 Max Eke, 21 Charlie Bracken, 22 Dom Morris, 23 Tobias Elliott
As the Stadium Consultation on the outfield displayed plans for Bath’s future in the heart of the city, it was a homegrown talent that got the points up and running.
Dunn, Cloete and Ted Hill all had strong carries in narrow quarters and Number 8 Reid finished off a positive start from close range with Spencer converting.
But Saracens weren’t to be despondent by their early setback. Daly’s flat pass to the right wing hit the breadbasket of Segun who jinked inside to dot down.
It wasn’t long until another Academy graduate was on the scoresheet for his 10th try of the season, shortly after Fiji prop Eroni Mawi had been sent to the bin. Hooker Dunn was marched over the whitewash by his dominant pack and Spencer again added the extras with aplomb.
However, Sarries fought straight back for the second time. Centre Hartley punched a nice short line on to a popped Vunipola pass to have a free run to the line and the assist-maker got his first points on the board from the tee to make it 14-12.
The topsy-turvy nature of the first half continued as Bath’s attack almost led to a third home try. Following a tap and go move that went to ground, GJ van Velze went inches from brushing the line for five points but unfortunately fumbled at the last.
Back for a penalty, Will Stuart was then held up under the sticks and Saracens managed to clear the danger. The visitors showed their determination despite their young selection and Hartley’s quick tap saw him bust a tackle to score on the stretch.
Stunned into silence, the crowd were reawakened by Matt Gallagher’s monster punt to the corner to put the pressure on. A few phases later after being denied an inch out by some staunch Sarries defending, Obano muscled over and Spencer’s kick off the post put the hosts back in front.
That looked to be how it would stay going into the break; Saracens had other ideas. Daly’s launch to the corner was fielded by Ruaridh McConnochie who was forced into touch by Segun. From the line-out, the away backs joined the maul and helped Lewis flop on the line.
Bath’s fast start to the first half was mirrored in the second. From a well-worked line-out move, Ted Hill carried hard in the midfield and quick ball saw Obano barrel home from a few metres for his brace.
This time there was no reply from Saracens as the home team kept their foot on the throttle. The maul, which has proved so vital over the course of the season, was successful once again and Dunn added his 11th try and second of the afternoon. Soon after it was a hat-trick and firm hands on the Top Try Scorer trophy. Another maul, another Dunn score. Three of the close-range best for the Clubman of the Year!
Vunipola galloped into open field and arced a run into the corner for a stunning solo effort to reduce the deficit to 13 points but not for long.
On 67 minutes, moments after Attwood trudged on to the field to rapturous applause on his last professional appearance, Cloete peeled away from a maul and sent Joe Cokanasiga to hammer the Saracens defence. When he was brought down, Cloete was quick to pounce and bounce to five points, with Spencer kicking his seventh conversion from seven attempts.
The scrum-half played his part in the next score too. Taking a penalty at speed, he made 40 metres before being hauled down and found Hill in support. The blindside flanker, BT Sport’s Player of the Match, found a supporting Bailey who placed the ball down on the swivel to setup a tense finale.
Instructions were being shouted on with the points needed to secure a top eight finish. That looked unlikely when Saracens won a scrum penalty inside their own 22. However, up stepped England man Lawrence who burst through a gap, kicked up his heels and slid in for a moment to savour.
Heineken Champions Cup rugby will be coming to Bath in the 2023/24 season.
Thank you to the Blue, Black and White faithful for all their support!
pol Roger performance of the match