Anthony Watson and Matt Banahan scored tries for Bath to condemn local rivals Gloucester to a third straight home defeat of the season, and keep the visitors well placed in the play-off positions at the top of the Premiership.
A fifth win in a row in league and cup at Kingsholm was Bath’s reward for shrugging off a glut of injuries and battling through a mostly scrappy derby to work the positions for the crucial tries in the final quarter.
Gloucester have won just once in their last seven matches at Kingsholm now, including last season, and their depression deepened when highly-prized tighthead prop John Afoa prop was carried off injured.
“Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson came in late [in the summer] as coaches so we are showing the character of the players to stick together,” said Banahan, who started at inside centre. “We’re working for each other and I’m doing my basics the best as I can to help the team.”
The two packs were unwilling or unable to keep the set scrummage orderly in a horribly stop-start first half not conducive to the unleashing of a visiting threequarter line composed of full- or part-time wings in Semesa Rokoduguni, Aled Brew, Banahan and Watson.
It was particularly frustrating to see Rokoduguni hanging around waiting for a pass after his recent recall to the England squad that will train in Brighton for three days from Sunday night. Head coach Eddie Jones had praised the Fijian-born flyer warmly, saying: “Roko has really getting some consistency into his game. His footwork one on one has been absolutely world class.”
The footwork, handiwork and every other kind of graft in the scrum was to no avail as five penalties were whistled during the first half and referee JP Doyle pleaded in vain for the front rows to keep their shoulders up.
Greig Laidlaw might have expected to put Gloucester ahead with a scrum penalty after five minutes but despite landing 39 of his previous 40 kicks in the league successfully, the scrum-half and captain missed from 35 metres and the only score before the interval was James Hook’s boomer for Gloucester from the halfway line after another scrum collapse.
George Ford hit a post with a drop at goal as Bath tried a sensible scoring gambit given the tightness of the play. Then Hook had another penalty shot, from inside his own half, that fell short with 34 minutes gone. But it was pretty turgid stuff on a pitch made heavier by a pre-match downpour.
Bath’s disjointedness could be partly explained by their England fly-half Ford lacking the injured centres Jonathan Joseph, Dan Bowden and Max Clark outside him. Two other midfielders in Ollie Devoto and Kyle Eastmond left during the summer, and New Zealander signing Robbie Fruean is not due to arrive for at least another month.
Overall, perhaps a lack of quality was understandable, considering the absentees across the two clubs included Sione Kalamafoni, Jonny May, Jeremy Thrush, Henry Trinder, Francois Louw, Taulupe Faletau, Luke Charteris and Rhys Priestland.
Rokoduguni had an opportunity to counter-attack form a garryowen, as he had done brilliantly at Leicester last week, but he spilled the ball early in the second half. Instead Ford grabbed the chance for points with his fourth dropped goal of the season, in the 46th minute, while Bath had an advantage for a tackle off the ball by Richard Hibbard.
Ford’s switches of direction were not generating momentum and Ben Morgan for Gloucester never built up the head of steam that helped his return to the wider England elite squad this week, although Laidlaw’s penalty nudged his team ahead, 6-3.
The best that could be said for Gloucester was their heart and organisation in defending at close quarters was up to the obduracy expected of them by The Shed. Supportive roars of “Gloucester, Gloucester” heralded the final quarter as a Bath sequence of 19 phases ended scoreless.
But the Kingsholm crowd soon fell silent when a Bath line-out drive on the right led to the visitors’ full-back Tom Homer cleverly making space on the edge of a narrow defensive line, and Watson did the rest to score at the left corner. Ford’s conversion hit a post.
Two further blows for Gloucester came quickly as Afoa went off in the 65th minute, and Laidlaw flopped a long-range penalty short with Hook’s services surprisingly not deployed.
When something very similar happened and Laidlaw missed from just over 40 metres in the 69th minute, the home side’s decision-making was seriously in question.
The deciding score came five minutes later when the mighty Banahan loomed large on the open side of an attacking five-metre scrum. But the route through was less obvious as the packs wheeled to leave Bath’s half-back Kahn Fotuali’i facing slack cover on the short side and man of the match Banahan dotted down for a try that Ford converted.
Gloucester: J Hook; C Sharples, B Twelvetrees, M Atkinson (rep M Scott, 70 mins), H Purdy (D Halaifonua 75); B Burns (W Heinz 65), G Laidlaw (capt); P McAllister (Y Thomas 55), R Hibbard (D Dawidiuk 76), J Afoa (P Doran-Jones 65), T Savage (J Latta 76), M Galarza, R Moriarty, J Rowan (M Kvesic 72), B Morgan.
Bath: T Homer; S Rokoduguni (J Williams 70), A Brew, M Banahan, A Watson; G Ford (co-capt), K Fotuali’i; N Catt (N Auterac 60), T Dunn (R Batty 60), H Thomas (K Palma-Newport 60), C Ewels, E Stooke (D Attwood 55), M Garvey (co-capt), T Ellis, L Houston (Z Mercer 63).
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU).Reuse content