Bath 26 v Bristol 19 – Bears dominate possession but can’t get out of the woods


Bath 26 : 19 Bristol Bears

Bath: Tries: Joseph (1), Roberts (9), Cokanasiga (21), Priestland (55)
Conversions: Priestland (2, 22, 56)
Bristol: Tries: Thomas (69)
Conversions: Madigan (70)
Penalties: Sheedy (7, 30, 34, 40)

A marvelous occasion unfolded in London as the south west of England ascended on the outskirts of the capital.

Hosting west country rivals for the first time in The Clash, the occasion took on a special atmosphere as fans traveled up together, and the beautiful west country burr enveloped Twickenham.

The flags on the pitch and the drummers illustrated that it was clearly Bath’s home game, but a sizable contingent were supporting the big city club. Bath fans still outnumbered them and the welcome for both sides was warm and rowdy on an unseasonably cold day in April.

But there was no cold bath with the ‘home’ side taking just 118 seconds to take the lead with a forward’s try finally driven over by Jonathan Joseph. Rhys Priestland added insult to early injury with the conversion.

Bristol winger Luke Morahan sprinted down Bristol’s left cleverly kicking onward just before he was put in touch. He hared after the ball   and clearly lost the chase to touch the ball down but cheekily celebrated a try before the TMO put Bath at ease, perhaps wishing the referees could be influenced by emotion rather than hard video evidence!

The Bears though did roar back though and pulled three points back from under the posts through Callum Sheedy’s boot.

However Bath scored the games’ second try through Jamie Roberts with a colleague nearer him than any Bears defender to put Bath 12-3 ahead.

That 12 became 19 and again the forwards earned the score with Joe Cokanasiga getting the last touch to give Bath a 17-3 lead, that slightly flattered then given all the Bears’ possession, who must have wondered how they were three tries to nil down on such an expansive and large pitch.

A second Bristol penalty for a tackler not releasing brought it back to 19-6 before Sheedy converted a much longer one for 19-9. His best kick was on the stroke of the interval bringing the score back to 19-12 as the teams retired.

Bath brought Max Clark on and basic errors continued to deny Bristol try scoring chances. Still they forced Bath into giving away penalties. Zach Mercer nearly broke through the Bears line only to be denied by a superb last ditch tackle by Harry Randall. Mercer then broke his own side’s momentum by not releasing and Randall’s clean-work was done.

Bath were having their best spell and were knocking on the door for their fourth try. Yet the Bears survived. Bath’s ten minutes of post interval pressure did nearly allow Bath three further points from a penalty, but astonishingly Priestland cannoned it off a post.

The gasp was audible. More importantly the gap was still seven but disaster was about to strike for Bristol, and redemption for Priestland, who pounced on a terrible pass, carefully guided and caressed the ball forward with his foot and dropped on it for the try which he also converted. At 26-12 with 20 minutes to go, the game seemed beyond Bristol who were still to breach the Bath try line.

On 70 minutes Dan Thomas finally put the Bears over in the left hand corner, ensuring a difficult conversion that Ian Madigan slotted home brilliantly to reduce the gap to seven, more succinctly a gap that could be erased with one converted try, with ten minutes left.

Bath’s defending however remained superb until the final whistle and they spent most of the remaining time doing so deep in enemy territory.

26-19 was harsh on Bristol who will wonder why so much possession yielded only one try. Bath can focus on another huge crowd at the Clash once they have wurzeled away the evening.

Attendance: 60152
Referee: JP Doyle

Starting XVs

Bath Rugby: Catt, Dunn, Lahiff, Atwood, Ewells (c), Ellis, Underhill, Mercer; Fotuali’i, Priestland, McCnnochie, Roberts, Joseph, Cokanasiga, Homer

Bristol Bears: Woolmore, Thacker, Afoa, Holmes, Vui, Luatua, Thomas, Crane; Randall, Sheedy, Leiua, Plutau, O’Conor, Morahan, Daniels


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