Bath Rugby continued their relentless pursuit of an Aviva Premiership play-off place against local rivals Gloucester after a near faultless kicking display from fly-half Tom Heathcote gave Gary Gold’s men a priceless 31-25 victory.
The Scotland international kicked 16 points to add to a penalty try and scores from Kyle Eastmond and Tom Biggs as 14-man Gloucester were put to the sword.
Gloucester played the final 30 minutes with 14 men after a red card for Darren Dawidiuk and despite their man disadvantage could still have got something from the game but for a difficult kicking performance from England international Freddie Burns.
Bath started like an express train against their West Country rivals with Heathcote getting the home side on the board with a penalty after only two minutes.
And just minutes later it got worse for Gloucester as they conceded a penalty try; wing Charlie Sharples was yellow-carded for deliberately holding back Bath wing Biggs as he looked set to dive on the ball for a try after a great kick and chase – Heathcote slotted the conversion.
The irony was not lost on Gloucester boss Nigel Davies, who just seven days earlier had seen his side win against Worcester with a last-gasp penalty try.
With Owen Farrell likely to miss England’s next Six Nations fixture against Italy through injury, Gloucester No.10 Burns was desperate to catch the eye of international boss Stuart Lancaster but he missed with his first shot at goal on seven minutes.
Nick Abendanon joined the Bath record books as he became the club’s record appearance holder at full-back with 110 starts but after 11 minutes the No.15 had a moment to forget as his clearance was charged down and Henry Trinder ran through to touchdown – again Burns missed with his kick at goal.
The England dress rehearsal seemed to be getting to Burns and again he missed a shot at goal on 20 minutes to reduce the arrears for Gloucester.
But the Cherry and Whites didn’t have to wait long to draw level as Jonny May went over in the corner for Gloucester, with this time Burns successfully converting his kick to give the visitors a surprise 12-10 lead.
Bath may be without New Zealander Stephen Donald but his absence was not noticed as again Heathcote stepped up after 26 minutes to slot his penalty and edge Bath back in front.
The momentum was now back with Bath and Eastmond – an outside bet to tour with the Lions this summer – showed Mike Tindall and Sharples a clean pair of heels in midfield to touchdown under the posts, with Heathcote converting to stretch the home side’s lead to 20-12.
With five minutes of the half remaining Gloucester were again handed the opportunity to reduce the deficit but again Burns missed his shot at goal – his performance with the boot will have been a major worry for Lancaster and England.
With three minutes of the half remaining, Gloucester finally got back to within five points of Bath as Burns handed the kicking duties to Rob Cook, who slotted his effort.
In the opening four minutes of the second half, Heathcote and Cook exchanged penalties as both sides struggled to assert their dominance on the game.
Gloucester’s hopes of salvaging anything from the derby were further hindered on 50 minutes as hooker Dawidiuk was adjudged to have performed a spear tackle on Bath lock Dave Attwood and was red carded.
Burns’ sorry evening with boot and ball in hand was brought to a premature end 60 seconds later as he was replaced by Ryan Mills.
Heathcote extended Bath’s lead on 57 minutes with another successful penalty as the home side started to turn the screw.
The game started at a million miles an hour and it also finished in the same way as first Biggs scurried over for a Bath try – Heathcote missing his first shot at goal with the conversion.
While just minutes later May went over for his second score of the game, with Cook adding the extras to drag Gloucester back to within six points of the home side.
With nine minutes remaining Heathcote had the opportunity to put Bath more than a converted try in front but he missed with his shot at goal.
And the miss proved costly as Bath were penalised at the breakdown and just two minutes later and Mills was handed an opportunity to further reduce the arrears with a penalty but his kick dropped short.
Bath hung on at the death and moved to within four points of Gloucester and fourth spot in the league after their crucial win.