Bath claimed their first Guinness Premiership home win since April after subduing Gloucester in a dire west country derby at the Recreation Ground.
Fly-half Nicky Little guided them to victory, landing four penalties as Bath prospered from Gloucester’s indiscipline before substitute Jack Cuthbert and wing Matt Banahan posted late tries. Little added the conversion to Banahan’s interception dash as the England international celebrated returning from suspension and signing a new Bath contract in style.
Wales international Nicky Robinson booted a penalty and prop Alasdair Dickinson touched down for the visitors, who have now gone almost three months without an away league success. And they could have few complaints, being outgunned during the second period when Bath cranked up the intensity levels.
Bath scored 21 points after the break, setting them up for next Saturday’s trip to face Leeds Carnegie, who are just one place below them in the Guinness Premiership and remain relegation favourites.
Gloucester must regroup for new year league appointments with Worcester at home and Newcastle away after delivering another performance that fell way below their standards of previous seasons. And with an early exit beckoning from this season’s Heineken Cup, Gloucester’s campaign remains in a downward spiral.
Banahan returned for Bath after serving a two-week ban following his dismissal against Northampton earlier this month, while hooker Lee Mears and prop Duncan Bell also gained recalls. Gloucester, seeking a fifth successive victory over Bath, made one change from the side that defeated Heineken Cup opponents Glasgow last time out as New Zealand prop Greg Somerville replaced Paul Doran-Jones.
Robinson booted Gloucester into a ninth-minute lead, but the opening quarter proved a scrappy affair punctuated by two dust-ups involving the forwards and referee Sean Davey’s whistle. Neither side could establish a grip on the contest, although both teams were disrupted by injuries with Gloucester scrum-half Rory Lawson going off and Bath centre Shontayne Hape requiring treatment for a head wound.
Given the clubs’ combined tally of just five Guinness Premiership wins this season, skill levels proved predictably poor and there was little to enthuse a capacity crowd. Hape returned to the action just before half-time, but Gloucester ended the first period with 14 players after hooker Scott Lawson was sin-binned for a reckless late challenge on Bath’s Australian flanker Julian Salvi.
Bath then produced a promising passage of play, and it ended with Little slotting an equalising short-range penalty that concluded a miserable opening 40 minutes. There was plenty of honest endeavour, but precious little creative spark on show, and Davey’s half-time whistle brought a brief respite from the mind-numbing tedium.
Bath full-back Nick Abendanon departed injured at the break – Cuthbert replaced him – and Little’s second successful penalty edged the home side 6-3 ahead. Bath had upped the tempo, confirmed when Salvi sprinted into Gloucester’s 22, but simmering tensions were underlined by a grappling contest between both front-rows before Lawson returned.
Little completed his hat-trick of kicks 15 minutes into the second period, although it could have been worse for Gloucester after they were forced to defend their line for several phases as Bath sought a close-range touchdown. The visiting defence held firm, yet Little’s strike increased Bath confidence levels, and another penalty early in the final quarter gave Gloucester a mountain to climb.
Bath put the win beyond doubt 12 minutes from time, breaking Gloucester’s resistance with a well-worked score for Cuthbert, then Banahan galloped away when he collected Robinson’s ambitious pass. But it was Gloucester who had the final say, rounding off a spell of pressure that came far too late when Scotland international Dickinson ploughed over.