It was three parts mud-wrestling to one part breast-stroke, and at the end of the contest a far better contest than anyone had a right to expect in such desperate conditions Bath were the ones who came up for air with victory to their name. A try nine minutes into the second half from Joe Maddock, brilliantly converted by Olly Barkley, earned them the Premiership points their outstanding forward pack had sweated blood to secure, and while Gloucester remain top, the leaders' continuing inability to win a league game here may cost them dear come the spring.
A vicious downpour, occasionally easing to a mere torrent, vented itself on the Recreation Ground in the two hours before kick-off, and as the playing surface on the banks of the River Avon is not particularly fast-draining at the best of times, there were real fears that the capacity audience would be packed off home with their thirst for rugby unquenched. Bath, hardly the best-equipped of clubs on the hi-tech hardware front, produced a single mopping machine the size of a bog-standard domestic lawnmower and told their hapless groundsman to do his best. If that best proved good enough, it was not by much.
A 15-minute delay gave the faithful in the open-air stand an opportunity to go one step closer to drowning, but when the hostilities began, the standard of running and handling was remarkable. Bath had much the better of the opening half, the quicksilver Nick Abendanon and the rather more substantial Matt Banahan causing Gloucester serious problems from deep, and the visiting forwards struggled to catch the early pace until Olivier Azam, their ever-abrasive hooker, picked a fight with half the Bath pack by way of getting his colleagues involved.
Barkley was short with a 48-metre penalty arising from the incident hardly surprising, given that he was kicking from the ground-level equivalent of a seabed but with both Matt Stevens and Michael Lipman making light of the obvious problems with some top-drawer catching and distribution at close quarters, there was no conceivable doubt as to who would eventually open the scoring.
Sure enough, another opportunity fell to Barkley on 33 minutes when Marco Bortolami, the Gloucester captain, was spotted performing a "lazy running" routine that prevented Bath moving the ball wide from a position deep in enemy territory.
This time, the centre struck gold, glancing the ball between the sticks off the left upright. A three-point interval lead was hardly a just reflection of Bath's supremacy. On the face of it, Bath's approach to the second period was more directly attritional. Perhaps the tight forwards, led by Steve Borthwick, felt they had their opponents on so many soggy slices of toast. But when it came, the long-awaited try was a minor masterpiece of imaginative inspiration.
A lengthy spell of forward pressure ended when Willie Walker, the Gloucester full-back, spotted the ball loose at the base of the ruck and hacked it clear from his own line. It was fielded by Abendanon, however, and under instruction from the alert Barkley, he kicked on the long diagonal to send Maddock over unopposed. Barkley added the extras from a wide angle.
All hunky-dory then? Not quite. With their first meaningful piece of possession for what seemed like hours, Gloucester made a striking response. Chris Paterson, on for the tiring Ryan Lamb, suckered the underused Bath defence with a show of the ball, an outside break and a joyous 50-metre sprint to the line. Had his conversion not bounced off a post, the last knockings would have been fraught indeed.
Bath: Try Maddock; Conversion Barkley; Penalty Barkley. Gloucester: Try Paterson.
Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, A Crockett (S Berne, 50), O Barkley, M Banahan (M Stephenson, 78); A James, M Claassens; D Barnes, L Mears, M Stevens, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock (P Short, 65), A Beattie (J Fa'amatuainu, 65), M Lipman, D Browne.
Gloucester: W Walker; L Lloyd, M Tindall, A Allen, J Bailey; R Lamb (C Paterson, 58), R Lawson; N Wood (P Collazo, 51), O Azam (J Paul, 51), C Nieto, M Bortolami (capt, A Strokosch, 51), A Brown, P Buxton, A Qera (W, James 66), L Narraway.
Referee: W Barnes (London).Reuse content