Bath 31-25 Gloucester, Aviva Premiership
Bath edge 14-man Gloucester
March 1, 2013
Bath hold off dogged Gloucester
Gloucester hooker Darren Dawidiuk was sent off for a tip-tackle as Bath edged past their West Country rivals 31-25 in a thrilling Aviva Premiership derby at the Recreation Ground.
Former England captain Mike Tindall, making his 150th appearance for Gloucester since leaving Bath, roused his 14 men into thrilling fightback from 31-18 down, looking for the converted try that would snatch victory, but Bath had too much control up front and celebrated a first Premiership victory over the Cherry and Whites for three seasons.
They were awarded a penalty try in the first half and followed up with further touchdowns from Tom Biggs and Kyle Eastmond. Fly-half Tom Heathcote kicked four penalties and two conversions.
Henry Trinder and Jonny May, twice, scored the Gloucester tries with Freddie Burns converting one and Rob Cook adding two penalties and two conversions.
With props Paul James and Davey Wilson released from their international squads and Springbok Francois Louw back after injury to lead the side, Bath fielded arguably their strongest pack. Matt Banahan returned at centre after back problems.
Burns, Bath born and bred, was back in the number 10 shirt for Gloucester six weeks after suffering a knee ligament strain. Nick Wood took over from Dan Murphy at loosehead.
Gloucester had the worst possible start, conceding two penalties in quick succession to allow Heathcote to open the scoring from nearly 50 metres. Within a minute, they were 10-0 down after Banahan's break and chip ahead saw Biggs outstrip Charlie Sharples - only to be hauled down as he prepared to dive on the ball in-goal. It took the TV match official to confirm what the Bath supporters were already celebrating and Heathcote converted the penalty try, while Sharples was sent to the sin-bin.
Gloucester looked threatening with ball in hand but it was a loose clearance by Nick Abendanon that presented the visitors with a try on 12 minutes. The ball rebounded off Trinder's legs and the centre scooped it up to score an unconverted try in the right corner.
The visitors thought they had scored again only a couple of minutes later but May's touchdown was ruled out on the busy TMO's advice for a forward pass in the build-up.
Despite a series of Bath infringements at the breakdown, Burns was having mixed fortunes with his goal-kicking but his distribution was spot-on as he showed with devastating effect on 23 minutes, finding Trinder with a killer pass and May finished off in the corner. This time Burns was on target with the conversion.
Bath's Matt Banahan talks to ESPN following his side's victory
Heathcote replied with a penalty from 40 metres to put Bath back in front at 13-12 and on the half-hour broke from his own half, finding Eastmond in support. The former Great Britain rugby league star rounded Sharples with ease to score under the posts and Heathcote added the points.
After missing his fourth place kick, Burns gave way to Cook and the full-back found the target from fully 45 metres, with the help of the crossbar. Heathcote and Cook swapped penalties immediately after the break to advance the score to 23-18 as the Bath scrum began to gain the upper hand, but it became real uphill task for Gloucester on 50 minutes when hooker Dawidiuk was shown a straight red card for a tip tackle on Dave Attwood, who was able to carry on after treatment.
Heathcote restored Bath's eight-point lead on 57 minutes but persistent indiscipline on his own side saw Carl Fearns shown a yellow card immediately after, evening up the numbers, albeit temporarily. Bath were first to take advantage when Heathcote, Eastmond and Abendanon worked Biggs away on the left and the wing cut inside to score and unconverted try.
Tindall though roused his side into a stunning response on 65 minutes by bursting through almost to the line and Cook found space to put May over in the opposite corner. Cook's conversion made it a one-score game yet again.
Bath coach Toby Booth said that the team had treated the match as though it was a cup final. They responded accordingly and sent a full-house at the Rec into raptures with some of their play with the ball in hand.
"In the context of the season, we knew that the end of February and March were going to be very important. We had a good opportunity to bridge the gap at Northampton last week and didn't. We had to bounce back today," he said.
"Everyone can hopefully start to see that since the turn of the year we've adopted a more ball-in-hand approach. That's the one thing in rugby - it doesn't matter how well organised they are, if you've got pace and quick ball you are going to create problems for people."
Gloucester director of rugby Nigel Davies confessed his doubts about the dismissal of hooker Dawidiuk, saying: "I'd like to see it again but I don't really think it was a red card."
But he was more than satisfied with the way his team reacted to that setback. He said: "I was delighted with that last period, the last 30 we played with 14 men. For the boys to respond like they did was fabulous. That's the character that this team has shown this year."
Henry Trinder opened the scoring for Gloucester, but they were unable to secure the win © Getty Images
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