Bath Rugby showed incredible fight and determination to earn two points in an eventful Gallagher Premiership encounter against London Irish.
Despite being down to 13 men - and at one stage, 12 - for the remaining 20 minutes, the Blue, Black and White grasped the game by the scruff of the neck in the closing stages to secure both try and losing bonus points.
Wing Will Muir crossed for the opening score in the first half but, following Ben Spencer and Paddy Jackson’s penalty trade, Ben Loader and Matt Rogerson went over for Irish.
Returning England international Anthony Watson scored ahead of Tom Parton, Loader and Curtis Rona dotting down in a period of ill-discipline for Bath which saw Muir sin binned and Tom Dunn and Charlie Ewels red carded.
The lack of numbers didn’t affect Bath’s spirit and they battled hard to claw their way back to within three through Josh McNally and Walker.
London Irish showed why they had such a formidable home record coming into the fixture; dominating possession for the opening two minutes, trying to find fortune on the outside.
From the kick-off they retained the ball for a consecutive two-minute spell but failed to make ground as they met a confrontational Bath defence. Jack Walker and Sam Underhill were particularly busy.
On the attack, Stuart Hooper’s men looked menacing. Number 8 Zach Mercer punched a hole for one of four first-half line breaks for the visitors whose offloading skills were sublime.
Two special pops in particular led to Muir collecting his third try in a week. Jonathan Joseph’s creativity set Tom Ellis on the charge and the ball was recycled quickly for Max Clark to carry, with the setting able to release his arm free and send the ex-England Sevens man over the whitewash.
Scrum-half Spencer cancelled out a Jackson’s three points with a long-range strike as Bath were defensively sound around the fringes, forcing Irish into mistakes.
The home side drew level on 24 minutes shortly after Ewels had received his first yellow card for unfortunate contact to Loader’s head. The Irish flyer dusted himself off to dance underneath the sticks moments later.
Spencer edged Bath back in front with a pinpoint kick at goal, however a stunning piece of play from Parton resulted in the lead changing hands again.
The full-back weaved his way 50 metres up-field and back rower Rogerson proved the beneficiary of his hard work, powering home from close range.
Bath responded well and were unlucky not to cross again before the break. The ever-impressive Spencer made ground via a cheeky snipe and Joe Cokanasiga rampaged on to his pass only to be hauled down at the last by the ankles.
The second half began as the first ended – with Bath on top. The physical duo of McNally and Juan Schoeman barrelled towards the Irish line and as the hosts scrambled, Watson hit a short line to crash underneath the sticks for his first Premiership try since December 2019.
Spencer kept the scoreboard ticking over with another penalty before Irish broke from their own 22 and Parton sprinted in.
Former Exile Cokanasiga produced a brilliant try-saving tackle to thwart Rona on the hour, though play got called back for an incident involving Dunn and Augustin Creevy which resulted in the Bath hooker being sent off.
Irish immediately capitalised on the man advantage as Loader secured his second of the afternoon.
Fourteen men quickly became 12 for Bath. First, Muir was sin binned for taking a green shirt out in the air from the restart and then Ewels was shown a second yellow for barging an Irish player off the ball.
Though depleted on the numbers front, Bath worked tirelessly to create and late on, did just that after Rona scored from a breakaway.
Flying forward, the backs joined forces with the forwards to pile pressure on London Irish whose maul eventually parted and McNally bustled to the line.
That amazing determination continued. Spencer intercepted and counter attacked via a cute grubber to get Bath back into the Irish 22. Several phases later, hooker Walker got himself a deserved try for his efforts in the 80.
A try and losing bonus point didn’t seem possible on the hour, but it was Bath’s willpower to end the game on a positive note that saw them earn the outcome.
15. Anthony Watson, 14. Joe Cokanasiga, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Max Clark, 11. Will Muir, 10. Orlando Bailey, 9. Ben Spencer; 1. Juan Schoeman, 2. Jack Walker, 3. Henry Thomas, 4. Josh McNally, 5. Charlie Ewels ©, 6. Tom Ellis, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Zach Mercer
Replacements: 16. Tom Dunn, 17. Beno Obano, 18. Will Stuart, 19. Will Spencer, 20. Miles Reid, 21. Will Chudley, 22. Max Ojomoh, 23. Alex Gray
15. Tom Parton, 14. Ben Loader, 13. Curtis Rona, 12. Theo Brophy Clews, 11. Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Nick Phipps; 1. Will Goodrick-Clarke, 2. Matt Cornish, 3. Lovejoy Chawatama, 4. Chunya Munga, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Ben Donnell, 7. Blair Cowan, 8. Matt Rogerson ©
Replacements: 16. Agustin Creevy, 17. Facundo Gigena, 18. Ollie Hoskins, 19. George Nott, 20. Jack Cooke, 21. Sean O’Brien, 22. Ben Meehan, 23. Will Joseph
Brentford Community Stadium
27 March 2021
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Half Time score: 17-13
- Tries: Loader (23, 60), Rogerson (30), Parton (55), Rona (66)
- Conversions: Jackson (24, 31, 55, 61)
- Penalties: Jackson (11)
- Tries: Muir (7), Watson (41), McNally (72), Walker (79)
- Conversions: Spencer (8, 42)
- Penalties: Spencer (16, 27, 52)
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