That Bath prevailed in a match of brutal desperation at the bottom of the Zurich Premiership last night owed much to rugged defence, luck, fighting spirit, and the replacement back Elvis Seveali'i, who scored a dramatic winning try in the sixth minute of injury time to clinch this relegation dog-fight.
This came two minutes after Barry Everitt had looked to have settled things with a well-struck drop goal from 25 metres. It is a lifeline for Bath, who must win their remaining two games to have a chance of survival.
Bath were boosted by the return of Matt Perry at full-back and Mike Tindall in the centre, and also by a rediscovery of fire and passion. Bath stole the first line-out of the game, stormed upfield on the back of a Mike Catt kick and hammered themselves at the Irish lines, in vain. The Exiles' defences held firm. Then it was Irish's turn and they looked a lot more inventive and persistent than their opponents.
Bath were kept on their toes and had to keep out the marauding right-wing Paul Sackey before Brendan Venter led a thrust through. Sadly, in their desperation, Bath strayed offside under pressure and Everitt, who had earlier missed a long-range attempt, made no mistake this time.
Bath began to look untidy and flustered. Errors abounded and they conceded another penalty which Everitt knocked over. The home side were just beginning to look as if they were running out of steam and ideas when Ollie Barkley landed a penalty shortly before the interval and they suddenly rediscovered their fire, headed upfield and sent a wave of panic through the Exiles.
Sackey aimed a wild kick at a ball that bobbled close to the try-line. Although no Bath man could get hands to it, Bath were awarded a scrum and from that the lock Kevin Maggs was sent through to the line on a crash ball. From the resultant ruck Maggs got his hands on the ball and forced his bulk over for Barkley to complete a remarkable turnaround on the stroke of half-time.
Two errors, the second a crass one, when Jonathan Humphreys was caught on the wrong side of a ruck midway through the half, undid all the good work and let Irish back in front with two further Everitt penalties. Not until much later did Bath wrest back the initiative and the lead with Barkley's second successful penalty.
Bath: Tries Maggs, Seveali'i; Conversion Barkley; Penalties Barkley 2. London Irish: Penalties Everitt 4; Drop goal Everitt.
Bath: M Perry (E Seveali'i, 7-11); S Danielli, K Maggs, M Tindall (S Davey, 66), O Barkley; M Catt (E Seveali'i, 76), G Cooper; D Barnes, J Humphreys (L Mears, 60-76), J Mallett (A Galasso, 56), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt), G Thomas, N Thomas (G Delve, 66), A Beattie.
London Irish: M Horak; P Sackey (K Barrett, h-t), N Burrows, B Venter, G Appleford; B Everitt, D Edwards; M Worsley (N Hatley, 50), N Drotske, R Hardwick (S Halford, h-t), R Strudwick (capt; K Roche, 80), R Casey, J Cockle (D Danaher, 14), C Sheasby, K Dawson (K Roche, 40+2; h-t).
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).
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