Bath used their game in hand on Gloucester and Leicester to good effect as today’s win at home to London Irish helped them take over top spot in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
The hosts had to mount a nerve-wracking rearguard action in the closing minutes, after Ross Broadfoot’s late try and conversion, to chalk up the win which puts them top of the table by virtue of more games won.
Bath’s tries were spectacular length-of-the-field efforts, the first from Michael Stephenson and the second finished off by Matt Banahan just after half-time.
While Bath welcomed back England forwards Matt Stevens, Lee Mears, Steve Borthwick and Michael Lipman, the Exiles made one change in their pack – bringing Richard Thorpe in at number eight.
In the backs, 36-year-old Mike Catt returned to the ground where he began his illustrious career more than 16 years ago – and Peter Hewat stood down as the surplus foreign player, with Topsy Ojo taking over at full-back.
Amid snow flurries and sunny intervals, the blustery wind was too unpredictable to be of great use to Bath in the first half. But their all-international forwards were making their presence felt in the scrummage.
However, number eight Daniel Browne was hurt making a high tackle in the ninth minute – soldiering on until replaced by Chris Goodman a quarter-of-an-hour later.
Eoghan Hickey and Olly Barkley exchanged penalties as both sides struggled to gain the upper hand.
Bath finally found a cutting edge in the 21st minute when Barkley kicked through for Stephenson to touch down in the left corner, after referee Sean Davey played advantage from an Exiles infringement.
Barkley was wide with the conversion, and Hickey pulled back three points on 26 minutes with an impressive 45-metre effort into the wind.
Referee Davey issued a general warning for negative play at the break-down, before Barkley landed his second penalty, and the official also lost patience with Catt for speaking out of turn.
Lack of discipline cost Irish again in the 38th minute after Tomas de Vedia was sin-binned for talking out of turn.
Barkley kicked another penalty from long range.
But Bath were just as culpable, and flanker Jonny Faamatuainu went to the bin on the stroke of half-time – allowing Hickey to cut the deficit to 14-9.
Irish had possession for nearly three minutes after the restart. But Sailosi Tagicakibau lost the ball within sight of the try line, and Bath countered with devastating effect through Nick Abendanon, Barkley, Eliota Fuimaono and finally try scorer Banahan. Barkley’s conversion was held up in the wind.
Things were not going the Exiles’ way, as Hickey was wide with two penalty attempts and Ojo was pulled back for a forward pass. Even Catt’s tactical kicking was off beam.
But the renowned line-out gave them hope when Bob Casey stole a throw, and Broadfoot touched down from the attack.