Bath kept their hopes of domestic glory alive with a decisive second-half comeback as they inflicted on Newcastle a first home GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP defeat since November.
Title-challengers Leicester and Harlequins have both seen unbeaten away runs erased at Kingston Park recently but, with their season on the brink of collapse, Bath rallied to regain their place in the top four.
Mickey Young had created one and scored the other as the Falcons established a commanding 14-0 lead at half-time. But with their play-off ambitions wavering, Bath fought back after the break with tries from Michael Claassens and Shontayne Hape. And, after a torrid day in front of goal for Bath’s kickers, Ryan Davis converted a penalty to edge out the Falcons by a point.
On a day ripe for Bath’s expansive rugby, the visitors threw the ball wide with intent early on. However, it was the home side who opened the scoring from a turnover in their own half after 13 minutes. Young, ever aware, hacked the loose ball ahead before collecting, evading two tacklers and threading a crossfield kick into the path of Danny Williams on the opposite wing. Tom May added the conversion.
Bath had the opportunity to reply soon after but Butch James missed from in front of the posts and again drew jeers from the Falcons fans as he blasted an easier attempt even further wide minutes later.
Despite long periods around their opponents 22 with the ball, Bath were kept at bay through a combination of Newcastle’s strong defence and their own carelessness.
For the Falcons, forays into the opponents half were rare but threatening. And Young almost put over Alex Tait in the left corner before he extended Newcastle’s lead in the 36th minute.
A Matt Banahan surge down the left wing resulted in another penalty conceded by Bath, and in a flash Young grabbed the ball, took the tap and raced over from 35 yards. Such was the swiftness of the scrum-half, the Bath players scarcely had time to give chase. Unlike his opposite number, James, May was again accurate with the conversion.
The South African World Cup winner was substituted at half-time but replacement Davis could do no better, missing a penalty after the break. And again the back-up number 10 scuffed a simple kick minutes later.
Bath’s superior possession finally told in the 59th minute when scrum-half Claassens took a quick tap-penalty and forced his way over the line. Davis missed the kick.
The visitors moved to within four points of the hosts when a sweeping backs move led to Hape brushing off a challenge from Tane Tu’ipulotu and coasting into the corner. Davis found the kick from the touchline to reduce the deficit further. And the fly-half’s recalibrated compass put them in front with a penalty with 13 minutes remaining.
Despite late surges from the Falcons, Bath held on for an unlikely and unconvincing win. However, they will have to find an efficiency of play and a kicker of consistency if they are to ensure a play-off place.