Match Summary - BRISTOL BEARS 31-29 Bath Rugby
A heartbreaking end to a closely contested West Country derby as Bath Rugby were defeated 31-29 by Bristol Bears in Round 1 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Ben Spencer crossed for a first-half try with Piers Francis kicking 11 points as the Blue, Black and White went into half-time a point behind.
Fifteen minutes into the second period saw Tom Dunn burrow over and Francis’ boot kept the scoreline in Bath’s favour.
However, Bristol scored late on for a converted try to turn the match on its head with a late drop goal from Francis fading wide with the clock in the red.
Aranos Coetzee, Chris Cloete, Francis and Matt Gallagher made their starting debuts for the club while Dave Attwood made it appearance 158 in a Bath shirt on his return to his old stomping ground.
Tom de Glanville made it 50 for the Blue, Black and White in a backline containing new captain Spencer.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O'Conor, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Rich Lane, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Bryan Byrne, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Joe Joyce, 5 Chris Vui, 6 Sam Jefferies, 7 Jake Heenan (c), 8 Magnus Bradbury
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Ed Holmes, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Andy Uren, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Jack Bates
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13 Will Butt, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Matt Gallagher, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Ben Spencer (c); 1 Beno Obano, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Josh McNally, 6 Josh Bayliss, 7 Chris Cloete, 8 Jaco Coetzee
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Ewan Richards, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Richard de Carpentier
After the stunningly observed minute’s silence and National Anthem, Bristol started on the front foot with England international Ellis Genge crossing inside two minutes.
From there, Bath gradually grabbed hold of a gritty opening 15 minutes. Francis found field position with a number of kicks. Cloete charged up the track, as did Gabriel Hamer-Webb.
Defensively, the visitors dealt with Bristol’s strike plays well, turning over possession via a penalty much to the delight of the large number of Bath fans in attendance at Ashton Gate. Moments later, Francis nudged over his first penalty of the night and his side’s first points of the campaign.
At the set piece, things were improved too. A line-out steal allowed for an attacking opportunity. Replacement Richard de Carpentier rampaged up the middle followed by Beno Obano on the charge. At the ruck of the latter, captain Spencer sniped and with Josh McNally on his inside, he dummied to dive over.
Francis added another penalty to his tally ahead of Magnus Bradbury dotting down in the corner for Bears. A one-point game.
Bath’s maul defence and counter rucking was expertly carried out with Attwood at the heart each time. However, Bears did manage to sneak over through Luke Morahan while Will Butt was in the bin.
The fracas that followed resulted in cards shown to two players – a yellow to Callum Sheedy of Bristol and a red to replacement Niall Annett. This resulted in Tom Dunn remaining on for the entire 80 minutes for which he was outstanding.
It was proving to be a pretty feisty ending to what was a closely contest first 40 and Francis concluded it with his third penalty and fourth successful effort from the tee.
Cagey would be an apt word for the start of the second period with both sides having positive defensive moments. Hamer-Webb covered a lot of ground to put Rich Lane into touch while Attwood again was a menace at the maul.
Bath were piling on the pressure at the set piece. Dunn collected from his own throw and the pack rumbled on towards the line although with no TMO, it couldn’t be confirmed whether the ball had touched the whitewash.
It did soon after though. Dunn was the man given the plaudits but it was a huge forward effort that got him to five points.
Attwood’s monumental shift continued as he wrapped a Bristol maul to earn a turnover and when he was held up on the line, Francis notched another penalty to make it 26-17.
But the game was not over and Genge tapped and made his way over in the 72nd minute and despite Francis’ penalty to edge Bath five points ahead, replacement hooker Capon flopped over with AJ MacGinty converting to turn things around for the hosts.
Drama was apparent until the last as Bath set up a drop goal opportunity for Francis whose attempt fell to the left.
Whilst devastating to lose by two late on, there were a lot of signs of encouragement and Bath certainly looked like a tough team to beat.
THREE MATCHES AT THE REC IN SEPTEMBER
Sale Sharks, Sat 17 Sep, 15:00
Wasps, Fri 23 Sep, 19:45
Gloucester, Wed 28 Sep, 19:45