Plenty of positives despite derby defeat
It was a tussle that did West Country rugby proud; an encounter of great sportsmanship and endeavour, played at a rollicking high tempo.
Bath may have left Kingsholm with just a losing bonus point, but this was a performance which should give the side and their supporters an injection of belief and optimism.
The visitors – who arrived at Gloucester having won just one of their last nine encounters with the Cherry and Whites – had Kingsholm worried for a minute. In fact, they had Kingsholm worried in the very first minute. When the Gloucester defence backed off Stephen Donald and bought his simple dummy, allowing him to canter over the tryline, things looked grim for the locals at Castle Grim.
Matters looked even better for the visitors when they shunted their hosts backwards in the first scrum, extracting a penalty. The Shed, not used to witnessing such indignities, particularly from their arch-rivals, was all of a sudden rather quiet.
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When Donald slotted a penalty with a quarter of the match gone, extending Bath's lead to 10-0, Gloucester's early scare was close to becoming a nightmare, particularly when Bath continued to keep up the pressure and play all the rugby.
This dream script for Bath was unlikely to continue. And it didn't. The visitors failed to convert their ongoing first- half pressure into points – a fact bemoaned by coach Toby Booth after the final whistle – and when former Bath Academy ace Freddie Burns, pictured, snatched back two penalties for Gloucester before the break, the wind was taken from the visitors' sails.
Bath were starved of a second-half platform from which to play any rugby, largely due to both the growing presence of the Gloucester back row and the visitors' own faltering set-piece. When opportunities arose for Bath to ease the territorial pressure, their lineout – so consistent in the first period – faltered. That weakness, coupled with a declining scrum, meant Bath were under siege for the majority of the half.
It was an endorsement of the Bath defence that Gloucester scored just one try, via their impressive summer signing Rob Cook. Burns slotted a drop goal, but Bath dug in, and Ben Skirving and Donald both went close to muscling their way over for what would have been a match-winning converted score against the tide of second-half play.
Despite the result, it was an afternoon of some heartening individual performances. Carl Fearns was at his rampaging best, a zestful Donald kicked expertly out of hand despite still being in the final stages of rehabilitating from an Achilles injury, and Academy youngsters Will Skuse, Will Spencer and Ollie Devoto all gained valuable experience in the Kingsholm cauldron.
Coach Booth's disappointment was tempered by him regarding the afternoon as a modest step forward on Bath's pathway back to the upper reaches of English rugby.
"There are plenty of positives and this is part of a longer road for Bath," he said. "But, make no bones about it, we are bitterly disappointed with this result."