Bath vs Saracens match report: Bath A-game attack pays off as Saracens handed first defeat

Bath 22 Saracens 11

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The Independent Online

The North London wolf pack was eaten alive on the banks of the Avon tonight, which must have been a new one on David Attenborough. Bath brought their attacking A-game to bear on unbeaten Saracens’ ultra-resilient defensive set-up and came out comfortably ahead, largely through the exhilarating running of Jonathan Joseph, Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni in a back division of all the talents. If they scored only two tries, they could have had half a dozen.

The visitors would certainly have gone down more heavily had Billy Vunipola, their England No 8, not played out of his skin. Yet not even Vunipola had it all his own way. The Bath back-row trio of Alafoti Fa’osiliva, Guy Mercer and the workaholic Leroy Houston gave as good as they got, and more.

There was no room to swing a cat – let alone the England skills coach Mike Catt, who was running an eye over the talent from the riverside stand – as the two sides set about mixing it in midfield, so the high-quality wings on view had three choices open to them: go aerial, go route-one, or go nowhere. Both David Strettle and Olly Woodburn worked minor miracles in pursuit of balls punted into the night sky, but it was Rokoduguni, perhaps the form wide man in the country, who made the telling impact in the first half.

When the hefty Saracens hooker Jamie George squared up to him in open field, he was comprehensively steamrollered. Not even Jacques Burger, one of the most ruthless tacklers in world rugby, could land a telling blow on the exiled Fijian.

As it was, the only five-pointer of the opening period fell early to Joseph, who was freed by his fellow centre Eastmond after George Ford’s steepling kick from hand eluded Alex Goode and forced the Scottish international midfielder Duncan Taylor into an ill-advised, uncontrolled flick pass. Ford added the extras, and although he missed a couple of subsequent shots at the sticks, he succeeded with two penalties to cancel out similar scores from Goode and Charlie Hodgson.

Bath might have reached the interval 11 points clear, rather than a mere seven, had a lacerating attack off a fluffed clearance from Strettle been properly rewarded. Instead, a vital pass fromt Stuart Hooper to Paul James hit the deck off Chris Ashton, who was promptly dispatched to the cooler for a deliberate knock-on. Ashton was profoundly unamused by the decision, but Bath had equal reason to feel aggrieved.

 

Their humour did not improve when Ford botched a penalty on the resumption, but the outside-half’s bold run from his own 22 a few seconds later opened up the field for Bath’s second try – a wondrous production in which Fa’osiliva and the two centres played the starring roles, with Eastmond the finisher.

Saracens were never going to roll over and die, however. Chris Wyles, a solid performer in midfield, found his  way across the line after a long, Vunipola-inspired  siege, and they might have closed in further had Ford not hit the spot with his third penalty to complete the scoring.

Scorers: Bath – Tries: Joseph, Eastmond. Conversion: Ford. Penalties: Ford 3. Saracens – Try: Wyles. Penalties: Hodgson, Goode.

Bath: G Henson; S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, K Eastmond (O Devoto 71), O Woodburn (A Watson 58); G Ford, C Cook (M Young 60); P James (N Auterac 53), R Webber (R Batty 60), D Wilson (H Thomas 53), S Hooper (capt, D Day 58), D Attwood, A Fa’osiliva, G Mercer ( D Sisi 64), L Houston.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (N Tompkins 69), C Wyles, D Strettle (B Ransom h-t); C Hodgson, N De Kock (R Wigglesworth 51); R Gill (R Barrington 54), J George, J Johnston (K Longbottom 48), G Kruis (J Hamilton 51), A Hargreaves (capt, Kruis 79), K Brown, J Burger (J Wray 51), B Vunipola.

Referee: G Garner (Warwickshire).

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