January being the month for portent and prophecy, there was nothing more predictable than that Bath would strengthen their position at the top of the Premiership by beating bottom-placed Rotherham at Millmoor yesterday. But, for 77 minutes of a brutally hard contest, both sides were out on their feet and separated by just two points, and Rotherham's first win of a traumatic season was tantalisingly in view. Yet it proved to be a mirage as, much against the run of play, Bath raised themselves to lift the Rotherham siege and snatch the result, and a bonus point with two late tries.
If Steph Nel has done nothing else noteworthy since he arrived from South Africa to take over the coaching duties from Mike Schmid, he has got Rotherham tackling with the conviction that it is an important part of the modern game.
"I thought our defence was terrific," Nel said. "Our boys were tremendously committed but, when it was so finely balanced, Bath's greater experience told."
Somehow, in the last 10 minutes of a tremendous, end-to-end first half, they repulsed wave after wave of Bath attacks, but then, as the interval beckoned, Olly Barkley and Isaac Feaunati, squeezed in for tries, both of which were converted by Barkley. So instead of turning round 8-3 ahead thanks to a smart try from a line-out by Geraint Lewis, and a Jon Benson penalty goal, they went in 17-8 down. Barkley had struck first with a 40-metre penalty, the Bath outside-half's 12 points before his mid-match tea enabling him to become the first player to reach 200 Premiership points for the season.
If Bath thought it was going to be even easier in the second half, Rotherham took only 17 seconds to dispel any complacency, as Brad MacLeod-Henderson took advantage of a loose Bath clearance to cross in the corner. Benson converted and the Titans - in front of a record home crowd of 6,195, with the Webb Ellis Cup on show - were now just two points adrift, and tackling with all the ferocity they showed in the first 40 minutes, led splendidly by MacLeod-Henderson and the fiery Mike Umaga.
Rotherham kept up the pressure, and though they camped on the Bath line for what seemed an eternity, the scores would not come; except an exchange of penalties by Barkley and Benson. Then, with three minutes remaining, came the killer tries.
The first was manufactured by Kevin Maggs, who stepped out of a tackle to hand the scoring pass to his co-centre, Alex Crockett. Then Simon Danielli ran 80 metres to feed Wylie Human. With Barkley converting both, Rotherham did not even have the consolation of a bonus point.
Rotherham: Tries Lewis, MacLeod-Henderson; Conversion Benson; Penalties Benson 2. Bath: Tries Barkley, Feaunati, Crockett, Human; Conversions Barkley 4; Penalties Barkley 2.
Rotherham: B Stortoni; G Pieters, J Pritchard, M Umaga (P Jorgensen, 61), L Blackett; J Benson (P Jones, 80), G Easterby (capt); N Lloyd, A Long (C Johnson, 61), R Ockers (D Dorsey, 50), C van Zyl, L Gross (G Kenworthy, 68), R van der Merve, B MacLeod-Henderson, G Lewis (L Greef, 80).
Bath: W Human; A Higgins, K Maggs, A Crockett, S Danielli; O Barkley, M Wood; D Flatman, J Humphreys (L Mears, 61), D Bell, S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt; R Fidler, 79), A Beattie, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 60), I Feaunati.
Referee: G Ashton-Jones (Royal Navy).Reuse content