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Bath Rugby should take heart from first defeat

 

Bath Rugby may have narrowly come out on the wrong end of the scoreline for the first time this season at the conclusion of Saturday’s away fixture at Northampton but there was much to admire in the skill, guts and determination that could, and perhaps should, have seen them come away with a share of the spoils.

The facts are that the fate of this game was determined within its first couple of minutes. Bath were extremely slow to settle and some wayward tactical kicking to a powerful backline, spearheaded by the excellent Ben Foden, allowed Northampton to capitalise to a degree from which Bath were never able to recover.

Gavin Henson showed great accuracy and creativity to get the Bath backs moving after he came on as a replacement

Gavin Henson showed great accuracy and creativity to get the Bath backs moving after he came on as a replacement

The pressure exerted led to Bath full back Luke Arscott being sin-binned and a penalty try being awarded just a couple of minutes in to the match and by the time that he came back onto the pitch Bath had conceded 14 points and were staring down the proverbial barrel.

Northampton’s second try came from an overwhelming series of attacks in the Bath half in which the away defence was put under huge pressure. Pisi took advantage of some weak Bath defending to make significant inroads allowing Calum Clark to eventually score from the inevitable overlap, and even though the scoring pass had more than a little whiff of forward about it Bath really couldn’t complain, having been very much architects of their own demise.

Bath of recent seasons past might have caved in at this point, but the 2014 version showed admirable grit in battling back against the odds. Even without a number of key performers the Bath pack demonstrated tremendous power and resolve as they matched Northampton all across Franklins Gardens. This was typified by another notably excellent display from tighthead prop Davey Wilson and it was appropriate that it was his powerful surge and stretch out of the tackle that got Bath on the board and back in the game.

Right up until half time though Bath failed to match the tactical standards of last week’s superb display against Leicester Tigers, seeming to be uncertain with ball in hand. Too often this led to poorly judged tactical kicking and Northampton lapped this up with relish, especially their rejuvenated full back Ben Foden and the excellent Pisi brothers, who continually had the time and space to run loose kicks back into Bath territory.

Having said that both Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph again showed their full repertoire in the centre positions and must have impressed the watching England coaches. So too must Semesa Rokoduguni, who had another great game at right wing and managed to keep George North quiet throughout.

The half time score was 17-10 to Northampton as George Ford and Stephen Myler added a penalty apiece. Early in the second half though the home team stretched away with lock Christian Day taking advantage of some more weak defence after more excellent broken field running from Foden and then Pisi scored a great try, again originating from Foden, to put Northampton 31-10 ahead and apparently completely out of sight.

Deeply impressive young prop Nick Auterac spearheaded the revival with a great try from a rolling maul (Image courtesy of Patrick Khachfe, Offside images)

Deeply impressive young prop Nick Auterac spearheaded the revival with a great try from a rolling maul (Image courtesy of Patrick Khachfe, Offside images)

Bath, admirably, had other ideas. The coaches rang the changes and the replacements showed that they were not ready to accept defeat.

The youngsters started to play without fear but seemed particularly galvanised by the appearance of Gavin Henson, who showed real poise in getting the backline working. It was Henson who created the space for Olly Woodburn to score his second try in consecutive games and then deeply impressive young loosehead prop Nick Auterac got in on the act, scoring from a rolling maul to put Bath right back in contention.

Suddenly it was Northampton who were creaking and Bath were desperately unfortunate not to be awarded a try that could have seen the scores levelled when a three man breakaway from a rolling maul crossed well into the Northampton in-goal area only for the referee to ask the video referee what seemed to be the wrong question. Instead of giving the rather considerable benefit of the doubt to the attacking team and asking if there was any reason not to award the try, the referee asked yes or no. When no clear view could then be found of the grounding the score was ruled out and Bath found themselves ultimately denied.

So it was that the game ended 31-24. Probably about the right result in the end. If Bath had sneaked the draw it would have been against the run of play for the first hour and few sides will emerge from Franklins Gardens with a bonus point this season.

All in all though, this was a match that showed the real potential for Bath this season and beyond, with such a weakened side putting in such a strong showing against a full strength Northampton side who are, of course, the defending champions.

All eyes will now be on the teamsheet for the crunch Friday night home tie against the last unbeaten side in the competition, Saracens. Bath will be desperate to have some players back from injury to bolster their ranks for this game and will be very keen indeed not to suffer a second consecutive defeat. This is likely to be another occasion to remember.

 
 
 

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