A delighted Gavin Henson admitted he felt relieved to turn in a match-winning performance for Bristol Rugby against West Country rivals Bath Rugby after so long spent on the sidelines this year.
The Welsh Grand Slam winner kicked all 12 of Bristol’s points, with Mark Tainton’s men holding off Aviva Premiership Rugby’s fourth-place side for a 12-11 despite a late Semesa Rokoduguni interception score.
It was Henson’s first Aviva Premiership Rugby start since October 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery in November, but he showed few signs of rustiness as he hit an early drop goal and three first-half penalties in an inspire performance.
Tainton’s side are now just two points behind 11th-place Worcester Warriors and travel to Sixways next Sunday for a tantalising clash.
And Henson said it felt good to repay a club that had shown so much faith as well as encouraging his teammates to regroup before taking on Gary Gold’s men.
Gavin Henson, 35 and still a class act. Brilliant tackle to bring a crucial turnover for Bristol.
— Chris Jones BBC (@chjones9) February 26, 2017
“This is a huge result, and it’s going to be a huge game next week,” said Henson. “We’re used to playing Worcester in massive games, so we can’t wait for next week.
“It feels good. I feel pretty guilty that I haven’t done much for the club (this season).
“So I felt I owed a big performance, especially against our rivals and with where we are in the league, scrapping for our lives. It was a great performance from us and we have to back that up now next week.
“I’m so sore. I had to tackle Roko (Semesa Rokoduguni) a few times, and, wow, that guy is hard. But I made my tackles, the shoulder is fine, and now I’ve got to recover and get ready for next week. A couple of ice baths and I’ll be fine by Tuesday or Wednesday.
“It was huge. It’s a great feeling at the moment. It’s been tough, the last couple of games haven’t gone as we would have liked, and Alan Solomons has come in and had an effect.
“It’s just a great feeling, but it means nothing if we don’t back it up next week. So that’s a massive focus this week.”
— Jamal Ford-Robinson (@jfordrob) February 26, 2017
Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder was disappointed with his side’s performance, but refused to blame international absentees.
“No excuses,” he said. “We can’t hide behind that unfortunately. We had plenty of time to prepare and the changes we made were communicated through.
“We practised well enough. We actually prepared really well and it showed in the first 15, 20 minutes when we kept them under pressure and had a couple of try-scoring opportunities.
“It was disappointing. I felt like we beat ourselves. We had plenty of opportunities to win it, but we didn’t build enough pressure to put ourselves in a good position.”
Thank you for your support this afternoon, and well done to Bristol. A truly dogged derby that one.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) February 26, 2017
Bristol Rugby: Woodward, Lemi, Hurrell, Piutau, Varndell (Williams 18 (Pisi 50)), Henson, Mathewson, Bevington (O’Connell 30-35 & 71), Jones (Max Crumpton 62), Perenise (Ford-Robinson 51), Tuohy, Evans (Jeffries 56), Eadie, Lam (Fenton-Wells 78), Crane
Replacement not used: Williams
Bath Rugby: Homer, Rokoduguni, Joseph, Tapuai, Davies (Clark 52), Priestland (co-capt), Cook; Obano (Marfo 68), Batty, Lahiff (Palma-Newport 68), Stooke, Ewels (co-capt), Ellis (Guy Mercer 30), Denton, Grant
Replacements not used: van Vuuren, Douglas, Homer, Hastings
Pens: Henson 3
Drop goals: Henson
Pens: Priestland 2