MATCH SUMMARY - SARACENS 37-31 BATH RUGBY
Bath Rugby took two points away from a tight contest against Saracens but it could have been so much more.
Alex Goode ghosted in for the game’s opener before Matt Gallagher responded with neat footballing skills to dot down.
Fly-half Orlando Bailey’s penalty edged the visitors in front, but Owen Farrell kicked three penalties to make it 16-10 to the hosts at the breaks.
An interception from Max Malins was cancelled out by a Joe Cokanasiga score, and with a man advantage due to D’Arcy Rae’s sin bin, Saracens added two further tries to their scoreline through Elliot Daly and Alex Lewington.
Then it was all Bath. Max Ojomoh crossed on the hour and Wesley White barged over with nine minutes left following a disallowed Ollie Lawrence effort.
The Blue, Black and White pushed for victory until the very end but a turnover in the Sarries’ 22 ended the contest at 37-31 to the three-time European champions.
Ruaridh McConnochie came in for Bath as one of four changes to the side that started the West Country derby against Gloucester a week previous.
Orlando Bailey, Josh Bayliss and Richard de Carpentier also returned to the starting XV with Academy duo Tom Carr-Smith and George Worboys prepared for Premiership debuts from the bench.
Saracens welcomed back two European Player of the Years in Maro Itoje and Goode and named a 23 with 444 international caps between them.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Max Malins, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ivan van Zyl; 1 Eroni Mawi, 2 Kapeli Pifeleti, 3 Marco Riccioni, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Hugh Tizard, 6 Theo McFarland, 7 Jackson Wray, 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 James Flynn, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Andy Christie, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ruben de Haas, 22 Manu Vunipola, 23 Alex Lewington
Bath Rugby: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Louis Schreuder; 1 Juan Schoeman, 2 Tom Dunn ©, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Quinn Roux, 6 Josh Bayliss, 7 Miles Reid, 8 Richard de Carpentier
Impact players: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Fergus Lee-Warner, 20 Wesley White, 21 Tom Carr-Smith, 22 George Worboys, 23 Max Ojomoh
Despite Bath’s positive start, it was Saracens who got the game’s first score. Lawrence’s hard run was harshly punished by the ruthless hosts who turned over via a charge down, flung the ball wide and Goode danced over.
Patience and composure was key for Bath thereafter and Louis Schreuder’s boot was key in securing field position, though it was a kick of different nature that allowed Johann van Graan’s men to level the game.
Good line speed caused a mistake in home ranks and former Saracen Gallagher hacked on, took a bouncing ball above his head and dotted down.
The positivity continued as Cokanasiga crashed his way into the match and Lawrence added another superb carry to his tally.
On the front foot, Bailey kicked over a penalty to push Bath out in front by three, however that was struck off by Farrell on 19 minutes.
Bath were forcing uncharacteristic errors out of Saracens with some monster hits from Juan Schoeman, Dave Attwood and Quinn Roux. Gallagher’s kicking game was flawless too with Cokanasiga chasing hard.
It was frustrating for the Men in Black who had to result in two penalties from Farrell to take a narrow lead into half-time.
Malins capitalised on a looping, bouncing pass to intercept and to put Saracens in a healthy lead, but it didn’t take long for Bath to respond.
Another rampaging Lawrence sprint, including some impressive hand-offs and brilliant balance, saw him feed Cokanasiga in for a try.
Then came the pivotal moment in the second half as Rae was yellow card for a high shot and Saracens made the 10 minutes count. First Daly crossed as a free man on the outside and Theo McFarland spotted a gap to send Lewington on his way.
But Bath were not to be downbeat. Niall Annett picked up a loose and charged 20 metres before feeding Lawrence whose footwork released replacement Ojomoh on the wing. He showed the pace of the position in was standing in at and suddenly, the comeback was looking on.
The Blue, Black and White had a beautiful try chalked off as Schreuder was adjudged to have knocked on ahead of Lawrence producing a dazzling finish which would have been worthy of his personal display.
Lee-Warner was physical on debut and Carr-Smith showed some delightful touches on his first Premiership outing as Bath rallied. White was a nuisance when he came on too, and it was his barrelling carry from close range which set up a tense ending.
Full-back Gallagher delivered a monster 50:22 to keep the Bath foot on the pedal in the closing stages and an almighty fightback was almost complete as Ojomoh broke up the flank with a minute to go. The 22-year-old was unselfish in his attempt to play the ball back inside but a rogue Sarries hand knocked it away to thwart the danger.
Right until the end, Bath kept going. McConnochie and Gallagher darted on and the forwards picked around the fringes. It wasn’t to be though as Saracens turned over inside their own 22 to see the game out.
For the mood to be disappointment following the game within the group is testament to the efforts of the team on the field. But two points away at the StoneX Stadium should breed confidence with two matches at The Rec over the next seven days.