Match summary – Bristol Bears 25-20 Bath Rugby
Bath Rugby suffered an agonising five-point defeat to Bristol Bears in the West Country derby, but can take away a huge amount of positives going into the bye week.
Fly-half Callum Sheedy kicked an early penalty to get the scoreboard up and running but a Will Muir score and five points from the boot of Orlando Bailey turned the game around.
Steven Luatua and Semesa Rokoduguni traded first-half tries ahead of Muir finishing a sublime period of Bath play to extend the visitors’ lead.
However it wasn’t to be for the Blue, Black and White as two second-half sin bins aided the Bears’ attempts to win the contest with a Penalty Try and Jake Kerr’s 67th-minute dot down doing just that.
Josh McNally and Will Stuart appeared for the first time this season after recovering from injuries while Beno Obano and Jacques du Toit completed a new-look front row.
Tom Ellis earned a start at blindside flanker in the only other Bath change meaning five of the backline were set to experience an away West Country derby with a crowd for the first time.
Prop Lewis Boyce was named in the 23 for the first time since November 2020 while Anthony Watson was included after his obligatory British & Irish Lions rest period.
Similarly, Kyle Sinckler returned from Lions duty to start for Bristol who made eight alterations to their side which began the 44-8 defeat to Wasps in Round 2.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Ioan Lloyd, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall; 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Will Capon, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Ed Holmes, 5 Joe Joyce, 6 Chris Vui, 7 Jake Heenan, 8 Steven Luatua ©
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Fitz Harding, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Antoine Frisch, 23 Alpati Leiua
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Will Muir, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ollie Fox; 1 Beno Obano, 2 Jacques du Toit, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Josh McNally, 5 Charlie Ewels ©, 6 Tom Ellis, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Josh Bayliss
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Max Green, 22 Max Clark, 23 Anthony Watson
The scene was set for a pulsating encounter as pyrotechnics welcomed the teams out on to the field and following an early successful Sheedy shot at goal, Bath exploded into life.
First it was the away side’s defence which forced several errors. Tom de Glanville folded in from the right touchline to make Charles Piutau pass into touch and an early Rokoduguni kick chase resulted in the hosts knocking on under pressure.
In attack, it all looked so seamless. A sweeping move from left to right and back resulted in Jonathan Joseph sending a deliciously floated delivery into the breadbasket of Muir who released Ellis on a charge up the flank. With Bristol scrambling, Charlie Ewels hit a superb line and looked certain to score, only for Ed Holmes to dislodge the ball from his grasp in the tackle.
England man Joseph was a particular bright spark for Bath, and he came close on two occasions to crossing the whitewash. The first came via a transition attack as smart defending from Josh Bayliss denied a clear run to the line for Bristol and when possession arrived in Joseph’s hands, he quickly grubbered in behind and was inches away from regathering but for a wayward bounce.
Another hack on from the centre saw the ball evade him once more as it skidded off the glistening surface out of play, but the pressure was building and soon told.
Ex-Sevens man Muir hit a fantastic hard line and coasted through a gap to gallop home for his first of the season.
Demonstrating how fierce their new style can be going forward, Bath needed to show resilience in defence at the same volume. Time after time Ewels rose highest to spoil a clean catch for Chris Vui and Bailey benefitted from an aerial slap back from his captain, taking an exciting, arced run with a number of dummies.
His efforts were pulled back for obstruction and when Harry Randall decided to go quick and catch those in white off guard, he and his Bristol teammates didn’t expect the scrambling opposition to match their speed and Sam Underhill crunched Will Capon to force a knock on.
Bath stretched their lead to seven through Bailey following another segment of brilliant play involving Joseph, Underhill and Beno Obano but the gap was cut to two points just past the half-hour mark. Following what looked like a Randall knock on, All Black Luatua sold the dummy well and scooted into the corner much to the delight of the Ashton Gate crowd.
They were forced to chew their fingernails as the Blue, Black and Whites continued to produce relentless attacking moments. Senior Academy midfielder Max Ojomoh thought he had scored in the corner only to be called back for contentious knock on which has proved not to have touched anyone.
Moments later, he collected a lovely Josh McNally pass – one for the second row’s highlight reel – and on the run, the 21-year-old chipped over the top and like Joseph early, was thwarted at the last.
The half did end on a deserved high for Stuart Hooper’s men. Rather than be content with a two-point advantage at the break, Bath wanted more. They kicked to the corner and smart hands from Bailey with the double pump, then de Glanville and Underhill sent Rokoduguni into the corner.
Wounded by the try on the stroke of half-time, Bristol came out firing and Joe Joyce sliced through for a great chance, but Luatua fumbled at the last under extreme away pressure.
Sheedy did manage to hit a penalty to make the scoreline 15-11 and the Bears frustration was evident with carry after carry ending with Randall hitting the backfield with no way through.
Ojomoh’s second dink and gather went close to sending Bayliss away before a real phase of magic. Bailey exposed space in behind Ioan Lloyd with a cute kick and Muir slid on to it, lofting the ball up for the onrushing Ojomoh. The latter didn’t panic when his body found grass and instead returned to the former who earned the final yards for his brace.
A 23,000-strong attendance in BS3 roared in response and the Bears edged ever closer to the Bath line. They didn’t need to brush the whitewash for their next points as referee Ian Tempest determined Bath had illegally pulled down a fast-moving maul and therefore awarded a Penalty Try and showed Ellis a yellow card.
Down to 14, Bath needed to be vigilant, and they held out well until the next maul opportunity for Pat Lam’s side. In almost a carbon copy of their latest try, Bristol rallied, and the backs joined the host of bodies heaving the maul on. Tom Dunn joined Ellis in the bin as a result of forcing a stoppage and the Bears crossed through Kerr at the second attempt.
Five points down, Bath weren’t dissuaded to move away from the style that had suited them well for a large majority of the game. They battled until the very end and very nearly made the headlines, though it wasn’t to be despite a whole lot of heart which would have been evident to the Rec’s supporters.
1 October 2021
Referee: Ian Tempest
Half Time score: 8-15
- Tries: Luatua (30), Kerr (66)
- Conversions: Sheedy (67)
- Penalties: Sheedy (7, 46)
- Tries: Muir (16, 51), Rokoduguni (41)
- Conversions: Bailey (18)
- Penalties: Bailey (28)