Jack Wilson’s first-half try sealed the bragging rights for Bath Rugby as they won the first Aviva Premiership Rugby West Country derby for seven years, and go top of the table in the process.
In a game dominated by the boot, Tom Homer’s two penalties were outdone by Billy Searle’s three for Bristol Rugby, but Wilson’s try, converted by the Bath full-back, sealed the win for the home side.
Both sides came into the game with something to prove as Bath looked to bounce back from last weekend’s Anglo-Welsh Cup defeat to Scarlets, while Bristol wanted to show their cup win against Sale Sharks was not a one-off.
A scoreless opening 15 minutes was characterised by the visitors dominating possession, but unable to produce anything from their advantage despite an abundance of attacking intent.
And the home fans were understandably nervous just before the 20-minute mark as Bristol’s Olly Robinson tackled Rhys Priestland – making his first Aviva Premiership Rugby start of the season – and forcing the Wales international from the field with a leg injury.
But Homer soon had the home side ahead with a 40-metre penalty, only for Searle to hit back with a kick of his own, moments later.
The lead was re-established before the half-hour though, with Wilson crossing the whitewash after Tom Ellis broke through the Bristol defence before offloading to the waiting Kiwi, who ran it in for a simple finish – Homer adding the extras.
Searle kept the visiting fans interested though with another long-range penalty in the 34th minute, to reduce the Bristol deficit to just four points.
Bristol performance by the way !!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 not the deserved result but immensely proud of the boys !!! 🔵⚪️🔵⚪️🏉🏉@Bristol_RFC
— Chris Fox (@ChrisFoxtweets) November 18, 2016
It did not last though and, when the referee brought play back for a Bath penalty after play had broken down following a neat Matt Banahan kick through the Bristol defence, Homer extended the lead to seven.
Bristol clawed it back to just four points at the break, though, with Searle continuing his impressive kicking display – just making the distance with the last kick of the half.
And the visitors began the second period just as they did the first with Rhodri Williams making a clean break before Bath eventually wrapped him up and cleared their lines through an Adam Hastings kick.
Bath’s second-half tactics were clear as both Banahan and Darren Allinson kicked for the left corner in the first ten minutes, allowing their forwards to exert pressure on the Bristol line-out.
And it paid dividends on 50 minutes as the visitors were penalised and Homer kicked to stretch the lead back to seven points.
Five minutes later Todd Blackadder removed the returning Taulupe Faletau from the action, just moments before Bristol enjoyed their best period of the second half.
Jack Tovey launched a blistering run down the left wing and from the recycled ball play was switched inside, only for the Bath defence to turn it over and push Bristol back into their own half.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) November 18, 2016
Things got tougher for the visitors in the 65th minute as Jason Woodward was sin-binned for illegally holding up Guy Mercer as the Bath man dashed for the line.
And after tempers threatened to flare up following a neat Hastings chip into the Bristol in-goal area, Banahan failed to make the most of a neat passage of play down the Bath right, choosing to pass inside to Mercer when the flanker wanted a kick to run onto, with the pass not finding its intended target.
Time was running out but Bristol did not give up, and in the dying minutes they camped on the Bath line before the ball came to Searle, but he was wrapped up five yards from the line.
The Bath defence infringed though and, with just two minutes to play Bristol kicked for the corner.
Six phases of possession followed from the line-out but a stray pass gifted possession to Bath, who simply had to gather the ball and kick into touch to seal the win.
A win that, temporarily at least, sees them top the Aviva Premiership Rugby table, with Bristol picking up a losing bonus point to move onto three from their eight games.