It would be premature to suggest that this win, by 20-14, over Newcastle Falcons marks a turning point in Bath's season. But Saturday's victory at the Recreation Ground, secured with a try by Dave Ward, arrested the club's run of three defeats, elevated them to eight position in the league, and ensured that they ended this latest brought this latest block of Guinness Premiership matches to a close on a high.
Ward, whose all-round performance earned him the Moon and Sixpence Man of the Match award, was driven over in the far left corner after a lineout, a position set up after he had snaffled Newcastle ball in their own half. With Chev Walker and Nick Abendanon in support, Bath surged over halfway, and Walker's chip forced Newcastle's Loki Crichton to kick the ball into touch. Andy Beattie won the lineout, and once Ward had touched down, Barkley added the conversion. Nine tense minutes were left to play, but Newcastle's continued attempts to snatch the win were finally thwarted when Ward again turned them over. Bath countered through Barkley and Stephenson, whose chip into touch was the final act of the match.
If the feelings of relief were stronger than those of joy, it may be because fifteen minutes from time, the visitors had taken the lead when they caught Bath's defence on the hop: Crichton chipped the ball towards Bath's line after they had turned over the ball on halfway, and Joe Shaw touched down. However, they led by just a point as former Wallaby Matt Burke could not add the two points.
Bath otherwise led from the kick-off. In the second minute, they were awarded a penalty for an infringement at the ruck but from the far right of the field, just outside the 22-metre area, Olly Barkley could not convert his first attempt at goal. But he had another chance from near halfway five minutes later, and this time struck the ball well to give Bath the lead.
For the middle period of the first half, Bath were pinned into their own 22, but although Newcastle got within inches of the tryline, Bath's defensive work was solid, notably that of Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolou, who ripped the ball from one Falcon, and also Joe Maddock, whose tackle on James Hoyle caused the centre to knock on. However, the visitors retained possession and eventually Tom May chipped over a drop goal to ensure that they came away with some reward for their pressure.
Shortly after the kick-off, though, the Falcons were penalised and Barkley reasserted Bath's three-point lead. Minutes later, as the sun broke through the clouds, that lead became ten. Maddock hacked the ball on after a knock-on by Hoyle, forcing Newcastle to clear to touch. From the Bath lineout, Berne cut a line through the Falcons defence and fed Barkley, who brushed off the tackles to score under the posts. The centre easily added the two points.
Just before half-time, the Falcons captain Burke cut the deficit when Bath strayed offside, and the full-back was the first to put any points on the board in the second half, when he kicked another penalty in the 56th minute to reduce the arrears still further.
But although Shaw's try took Newcastle ahead, Bath's efforts, particularly in the forwards, continued and were rewarded.
Mark Bakewell, the Forwards Coach, was full of praise for his pack: "I have a lot of pride in their performance, especially when you consider the number of internationals unavailable. Laurence Ovens has never played tighthead until this year and Dave Ward was under a lot of pressure - we were all under pressure to perform. It's never one-way traffic in the Premiership but we played tough."
7: Penalty Barkley, 3-0
24: Drop goal May, 3-3
27: Pen Barkley, 6-3
31: Try Barkley, Conversion Barkley, 13-3
40+6: Pen Burke, 13-6
56: Pen Burke, 13-9
64: Try Shaw, 13-14
71: Try Ward, Con Barkley, 20-14
BATH: 15. M Perry (Abendanon, 54) 14. J Maddock (Stephenson, 56) 13. O Barkley 12. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 11. C Walker 10 S Berne (Stephenson, 32-26) 9. N Walshe 1. D Barnes 2. D Ward 3. L Ovens 4. P Short (Louw, 71) 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie 7. J Scaysbrook (Faamatuainu, 60) 8. I Feaunati (captain)
Replacements: 16. C Brooker 17. D Parkes 18. H Louw 19. J Faamatuianu 20. P Travagli 21. M Stephenson 22. N Abendanon
NEWCASTLE: 15. M Burke (captain) 14. T May 13. J Hoyle 12. M Mayerhofler (Shaw, 25)11. J Rudd 10. L Crichton 9. L Dickson (Grindal, 67) 1. J McDonnell 2. A Long (Thompson, 54) 3. D Wilson (Morris, 41) 4. A Perry 5. J Oakes 6. G Parling (Wilson, 40+2) 7. B Woods (sin-bin: 39-46) 8. M McCarthy (Winter, 60)
Replacements: 16. R Morris 17. M Thompson 8. B Wilson 19. R Winter 20. J Shaw 21. J Grindal 22. T Dillon
Referee: S Davey