History tells us that Gloucester regard the Recreation Ground in the way a cat regards a kennel: unwelcoming, unrewarding and far more trouble than it is worth.
Last night, in front of a sodden derby crowd of more than 12,000, they finally bared their claws and, largely through an excellent first-half performance cleverly managed by Nicky Robinson, left their scratch marks all over the place.
Whatever rain had not fallen on the poor bedraggled souls at the Ryder Cup descended on the Georgian City a few miles to the east of Celtic Manor, and it did nothing for the chances of the home side. Bath's renowned off-loading game was close to non-existent in the opening half, and with good reason: they could barely hang onto the ball even when they were not attempting passes out of the tackle. Gloucester, encouraged by the early handling errors, were sharply opportunistic in making the hosts pay for their sins.
Matt Carraro's fumble allowed the visitors their first sight of the line, and when Robinson cut a beautiful line from deep in support of Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, the last remnants of the Bath defence were in no position to stop Lesley Vainikolo receiving the scoring flick and touching down in the left corner. Robinson converted handsomely from the touchline to maximise the return.
The Welsh outside-half had already attempted a penalty from the best part of 60 metres and could hardly be castigated for dropping a few feet short. Yet Robinson also missed from 40 metres, striking the outside of the right post with a shot well within his range, and although he made amends at the start of the second quarter when Wayne Barnes, the referee, spotted Bath hands in a ruck, Olly Barkley answered in kind to keep Bath within seven points.
They did not stay that close for long. On 24 minutes, Mike Tindall's clever pass allowed Robinson to kick ahead for Fuimaono-Sapolu, who gathered safely on the slippery turf and fed Vainikolo off the floor. The big wing looked likely to claim his second try, but made sure of the points by feeding Robinson on the loop. When the scorer added another penalty a minute before the break – Pieter Dixon was adjudged offside in playing the ball after a big rebound off his colleague Nick Abendanon – the men from Kingsholm were more than halfway home.
Gloucester being Gloucester, they did not make life easy for themselves. Robinson's failure to reappear for the second period was not the end of their world – Freddie Burns, his young replacement, is quite a talent – but Jim Hamilton's indiscipline in kicking the ball out of an unthreatening Bath ruck while laying flat on his back was very definitely an issue. The Scotland lock was packed off to the sin bin, leaving his club-mates to work overtime in manning the barricades.
Much to their frustration, Bath could not make this numerical advantage pay. For all their possession and territory – the introduction of the young forwards Nathan Catt and Josh Ovens drove up the energy levels in the loose – they could find no way through a Gloucester defence built on the exceptional tackling on Alasdair Strokosch and Brett Deacon. Vainikolo was every bit as impressive in this regard, but then, there were no shirkers. Only once before had the Cherry and Whites managed a league victory here. Their second signalled wild celebrations from the travelling supporters.
Bath: Penalty Barkley; Gloucester: Tries Vainikolo, Robinson; Conversion Robinson, Pens Robinson 2.
Bath: N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 81); M Carraro, S Hape, O Barkley, M Banahan (T Biggs, 84); S Vesty, M Claassens (M McMillan, 87); D Barnes (N Catt, 53), P Dixon (R Batty, 74), D Bell (D Wilson, 51), S Hooper, D Grewcock, A Beattie, L Moody (J Ovens, 45), L Watson (capt, B Skirving h-t).
Gloucester: C Sharples; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall (capt), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (T Molenaar, 63; J Pasqualin 86), L Vainikolo; N Robinson (F Burns, h-t), D Lewis; N Wood (A Dickinson, 83), O Azam (S Lawson, 67), P Doran-Jones (P Capdevielle, 79), J Hamilton (D Attwood, 57), A Brown, A Strokosch, A Hazell (L Narraway, 67), B Deacon.
Referee: W Barnes (London).