Gloucester completed a season’s double over fierce local rivals Bath with a 34-22 success at Kingsholm to underline their credentials as genuine Aviva Premiership Rugby title challengers in the process.
A ninth successive win in all competitions – Gloucester’s longest unbeaten run since 2002 – was secured by tries from England prop Paul Doran-Jones, center Henry Trinder and wing Tom Voyce’s double.
Fly-half Nicky Robinson added four penalties and a conversion, while Matt Banahan, Tom Biggs and Ben Williams scored for Bath, but the visitors could have few complaints as they suffered just a second defeat from their last 10 starts.
And a miserable day for the visitors ended when their England international centre Olly Barkley, who had earlier landed a penalty and conversion, was carried off nursing what appeared to be a serious leg injury. There was a lengthy delay while a stricken Barkley was treated on the pitch by paramedics, having been hurt when team-mate Butch James seemed to fall on him.
Gloucester stay third in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table, but Bath could drop out of the top four if other results work against them tomorrow. A dominant Gloucester scrum underpinned their bonus point victory, confirming a team transformed following early-season struggles that rendered them anything but play-off contenders.
Gloucester, unbeaten since New Year’s Day, showed five changes from the side that won at Northampton last Saturday, which included starts for Doran-Jones and fit-again flanker Andy Hazell. Like Gloucester with Doran-Jones, Bath also benefited through the release of an England player from Six Nations training as Banahan lined up in a team seeking to avenge its 18-3 home defeat against their hosts five months ago.
Robinson kicked Gloucester into a fifth-minute lead, but a patternless opening quarter offered little in terms of clear chances until Bath were undone by a simple attacking play.
The visitors, who saw their former England hooker Lee Mears limp off and replaced by Pieter Dixon, reacted slowly when Gloucester scrum-half Rory Lawson sent a teasing kick into their 22. And Trinder was quicker in thought and deed, gathering a kind bounce to touch down wide out before Robinson rifled over the touchline conversion attempt for a 10-0 advantage.
Bath needed a quick response, and it arrived five minutes later when Williams collected an exquisite James pass, broke Gloucester’s defensive line and put Banahan over. Barkley’s conversion meant Bath were up and running, only for a couple of amateurish defensive lapses to allow Gloucester further scoring opportunities.
They failed to take the first one when lock Jim Hamilton spilled possession after skipper Luke Narraway broke unmarked from a scrum, but Gloucester did not have to wait long for another chance. Robinson rolled a kick behind the Bath line to nobody in particular, yet Dixon made a hash of claiming possession that would have given Bath a 22-metre drop-out, and Doran-Jones capitalised.
Referee Greg Garner required confirmation from the video official before awarding the try, and although Barkley then slotted a penalty – his 17th successive Aviva Premiership Rugby kick without missing – Gloucester were good value for their 15-10 interval lead.
It took Bath just two minutes of the second period to wipe out that advantage when Biggs sliced through two weak tackles for a try that owed everything to Gloucester’s defensive generosity. But another Robinson penalty edged Gloucester back in front during an increasingly-fractious contest punctuated by a brawl between Hamilton and Stuart Hooper before former Bath team-mates Banahan and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu wrestled furiously on the ground.
Referee Garner though, opted not to go down the sin-bin route, preferring a quiet word with rival captains Narraway and Luke Watson instead.
Gloucester had regained the ascendancy following Biggs’ sucker-punch score, and an eight-point surge in four minutes gave Bath a mountain to climb. Robinson’s third successful penalty made it 21-15, and then after a break by Lawson, quickly recycled possession gave Voyce a simple run-in, with two colleagues unmarked outside him.
There appeared no way back for Bath, all the more so after Barkley’s agonising exit, and Gloucester knew it was a just a case of playing out the final 10 minutes. Bath looked to have had the final say when James converted Williams’ try, but Voyce then claimed his second score and Gloucester could celebrate a five-point maximum.