Gloucester ended their 20-year wait for a league win at the Recreation Ground, after Bath’s South African star Butch James produced a goal-kicking horror show.
The Springboks fly-half missed four penalties and a conversion of captain Michael Lipman’s first-half try, despite perfect playing conditions.The hapless James also saw a late clearance kick charged down by Willie Walker, who gathered a kind bounce to claim Gloucester’s clinching try.
Gloucester were in no mood to let James off the hook, building a victory platform through two Walker penalties and an early drop-goal.Walker, replacement for dropped fly-half Ryan Lamb, provided an assured tactical presence in stark contrast to the erratic James.
It meant Gloucester could celebrate a first league triumph at the 18th attempt on Bath soil, which also included a 65th-minute try from England number eight Luke Narraway.
It was an impressive recovery, following a miserable start to their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP campaign against Leicester last weekend.
Head coach Dean Ryan read the riot act to his players after that 20-8 defeat – changing two-thirds of his starting line-up as the likes of Lamb, Italian Test captain Marco Bortolami and scrum-half Rory Lawson were dropped.
Bath could not match Gloucester’s hunger – despite claiming tries from Lipman, wing Joe Maddock and full-back Nick Abendanon.
Maddock and Abendanon struck late in the action, giving the scoreline an appearance that did not do justice to Gloucester’s control.
Lipman returned to the Bath starting line-up after recovering from a head injury that sidelined him for last weekend’s derby victory over Bristol.
Although Gloucester made a purposeful start, going ahead inside a minute through Walker’s drop-goal, Bath quickly wiped out that advantage.
From their first significant attack, the home side struck as lock Peter Short and number eight Jonny Faamatuainu combined at a line-out to send Lipman gliding over.
James’ conversion hit the post, and then he drifted a long-range penalty wide after Gloucester flanker Peter Buxton was punished following a reckless high tackle on Abendanon that sparked a brawl. Buxton fortuitously escaped a yellow card, referee Wayne Barnes warning rival locks Justin Harrison and Will James for their roles in the resulting melee.
But Bath could only reflect on another missed penalty 10 minutes later, after Walker had edged Gloucester ahead.
Gloucester were not even troubled when they lost Will James to the sin-bin for use of the boot, extending their lead before the break when Walker slotted another short-range penalty.
Walker’s accuracy proved in stark contrast to that of his opposite number James, whose missed kicks meant Bath trooped off 9-5 adrift at the break.
Bath found themselves under pressure from the restart, but powerful wing Matt Banahan led a defensive break-out that required some superb cover defence by his opposite number James Simpson-Daniel.
Simpson-Daniel was a lively presence in front of watching England boss Martin Johnson, but there was no end to James’ agony as an easy penalty shot flew wide.
It was a wasteful and wholly out-of-character display by the 29-year-old, whose 18-point haul underpinned Bath’s opening weekend success at Bristol.
Gloucester nonetheless kept their concentration and discipline, qualities that gained a deserved reward 15 minutes from time. Narraway had the pace and power to show Bath’s defence a clean pair of heels off the back of a scrum 15 metres out, and the home side were finished.
Walker’s opportunist effort rubbed salt into a gaping Bath wound – and even though Maddock claimed a consolation try, converted by substitute Shaun Berne, Gloucester had comfortably done enough.
Bath boss Steve Meehan desperately rung the changes late on, but a midfield handling error by Lipman epitomised an afternoon the European Challenge Cup holders would rather forget.
They went in search of a losing bonus point, and they secured it deep into injury time when the impressive Abendanon scampered across.