A record-breaking evening took place at The Rec on Friday night as Bath Rugby hosted its first ever Under-20s international.
England Under-20s took on France Under-20s in the U20 Six Nations in front of a crowd of 11,083 – the biggest attendance for any home nations match in the 2023 tournament.
There was a vibrant atmosphere and sense of excitement around the stadium with a mixture of the next generation of supporter and long-standing match goers watching on in enjoyment.
Flames provided warmth on a chilly evening as the players entered the field and Wendy Carr delivered a beautiful rendition of God Save The King before the French fans in attendance belted out La Marseillaise.
The match was undoubtedly England’s toughest yet and despite displaying some positive attacking rugby in the first period, with Bath’s Sam Harris an evident bright spark, it was France’s youngsters who asserted themselves which showed on the scoreboard.
Les Bleuets were much more pragmatic when they got an opportunity, making the most of a dominant scrum to earn the first points of the game through fly-half Hugo Reus. He doubled the advantage midway through the half, punishing an England offside to make it 6-0, France’s pack starting to get the edge at the set-piece.
Five minutes before half-time, France had the first try, and it was a beauty. After a passage of play that saw both teams attacking and more than three consecutive minutes of ball in play, France launched a devastating counter-attack. Skipper Gailleton, the Top 14’s top try-scorer, showed why he has been part of the senior set-up during this Championship with a scything run, holding the covering defence before putting Drouet away, the winger skipping past the last man to score.
Reus’ conversion made it 13-0 at the break to the visitors and his penalty extended that advantage early in the second half. Soon after, Gailleton pounced and showed his space and balance to get away from the last England defender to go over.
Suddenly it was 23-0 to France with 30 minutes remaining but England remained in the fight and Bath’s very own Harris grabbed their solitary try of the evening. The full-back collected Cassius Cleaves’ deft offload to dive over to send The Rec into raptures – it felt like 50,000 were singing along to Freed From Desire!
Any hopes of a comeback were soon put to bed though, France loosehead Louis Penverne crashing over from close range after a powerful forward drive. France kept pushing for the bonus point and it came through replacement Mathis Castro Ferreira, the powerful No.8 launching off a maul to romp his way over.
And they had the final say as Cyriac Guilly got over for a fifth, popping up to catch Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s blind inside pass.
Despite the final score going 42-7 in France’s favour, it was incredible evening for the City of Bath to host international rugby.
The club would like to thank everyone for their support in making it an extremely memorable occasion.
GALLERY: ENGLAND U20 V FRANCE U20
Photos: Harry Ayres Photography