On a little patch of grass in the middle of Bath a small group of people gathered together to watch a few guys have a bit of a run about for a quiet low key game of rugby.......who am I kidding! Welcome to the Rec for round two of the Aviva premiership Bath's first home game against Wasps.
After a scrappy nip and tuck victory against Worcester last week many were hoping to see a much more open and fluid game this week. A glorious sunny afternoon on a plush green carpet of grass at the rec was certainly geared up for it. Both teams had the wings bundled up with pace and skill the expectations leant theirselves to that hope.
Apart from being the first home fixture of the new term but a celebration of the 250th appearance in Blue, Black and White for one Lee Mears. A huge accolade for any player to represent their club on so many occasions, but as such a well decorated international and lion shows how much of a legend of rugby he is not just in domestic but internationally. Not many hookers can notch up 42 England caps and 4 lions caps and get a try for both. Regardless of the international front he's the pint sized hero to so many fans and children, a player who always plays with 100% passion and commitment, just simply Bath Rugby Legend.
Both sides started to a trepid beginning and a little bit of aerial ping pong. Barkley started of where he finished last week taking the first three pointer. A wait until the 15th minute for anymore points to grace the board when Robinson brought Wasps back to level terms.
You could sense both teams were almost sizing each other up as there was small inclines of breaks and ball starting to move about but no noticeable scoring opportunities. Eventually the half an hour mark came and one of the new boys Dominic Day gathered the ball in the line out setting up a great back line move we had been waiting to see. Barkley picked out Hipkiss who in turn slipped the ball to a rampaging Banahan who happily charged across the line, gifting Bath with the first try of the campaign. Without doubt the ever reliable Barkley took the extras. 10-3
Wasps were not there to be rolled over and passed by they had the intentions of making a game of it, but Bath had the same idea's....the game was now on. Nathan Catt put in a chip and chase but lost out to Simpson. Simpson then began the counter attack and released one of the danger men Christian Wade down the wing, a dead cert of a try seemed imminent had it not been for a true last ditch try saving tackle by Barkley.
Wasps now had their tails up and sensed there were points to be had before the interval. Bath's defense held firm to a barrage of pressure until Wasps earned themselves a penalty and Robinson gratefully accepted taking it to 10-6 at half time.
Bath came back to the party with the bit between the teeth,a Gary Gold half time team talk seemed to fire them up. Some strong scrummaging From Bath saw Wasps get penalised, step up Barkley and thank you for three more on the tally.
Over the next few minutes a mix of errors and lack of concentration would see an influx of points. Bath were able to capitalise on a rogue pass by Simpson which the pinged off Palmer's back landing in the path of an on coming Biggs enabling him to kick the ball on heading a one on one race to the line with Wade, Biggs becoming the victorious winger and holding out the race to collect and score the try. Biggs at his best. Once again Barkley slots the conversion giving the home side a 20-6 lead and looking good.
A little problem that's still floating around from the last few seasons is Bath inability to deal with the re-start. Once again they lost possession and within minutes of the Bath try Wasps had one in return, a cross field kick from Wentzel collected by Vardell dropping over for the score. With Robinson converting Wasps were back within seven.
Bath undeterred by their try Bath seemed more eager to prove the critics wrong and show they're on the way back to their best.
Like a rampaging rhinoceros Carl Fearns charged towards the line and look almost certain as he looked to offload to either Biggs or Claasens rather than go for gold himself Wasps managed to stop him and also clear their lines.
What was to follow could be one of the best passages of play we've witnessed from Bath produced for many a season. Matt Banahan demonstrating another skill in his repertoire with a kick from almost 22 to 22 giving a huge territorial gain. From the lineout the ball got passed about as Bath made inroads towards the Wasps line, Abendanon flipped the ball to Barkley who in turn released Kyle Eastmond on the edge of the 22, the run from Eastmond would if not left a single Bath fan seated, carving through seven attempts to tackle him he moved his feet and shimmied his way over for a breath taking try. The speed in which his feet moved would surely of put Michael Flatley to shame. An all round go team try finished with a moment of individual genius. Ball back to Barkley who once again popped in another two points.
Another wave of Bath pressure followed and as Banahan took the ball into contact received an injury to his knee and being turned over by Wasps. The ball suddenly found itself in the hands of an ever dangerous looking Wade who was met by Mears in the wing rather than his major foe for the afternoon Tom Biggs. Once the legs of Wade were opened there was only one place the ball was going, a chasing Barkley could reenact his earlier tackle leaving the ball to be dabbed under the post allowing Robinson the simple task of the conversion.
The fixture was drawing to a close as Barkley again converted another penalty taking Bath up to 30-20 removing Wasps bonus point, as the final whistle beckoned an infringement by Bath gave Robinson a chance to gain the visitors the bonus point back, he rightfully did so ending the game at 30-23.
All in all a much more fluent performance by Bath well balanced tactics- kicking from danger and gaining territory but spreading the ball out to the wings and creating good ground when in good positions. Very patient in build up and no rash desperation running if yesteryears.
Man of the match going to a much deserved Claasens who played a clever game linking forwards and backs, comfortably keeping Simpson out of the game. From the whole team a solid performance, just a shame the two tries came from lacking in concentration but I'm sure this is something Gary Gold will address this week in training. Biggs coverage of Wade must also be commended to almost contain a handful for the game is no mean feat.
Hoping Banahan isn't to badly injured as his display at 12 is ever improving and along side Hipkiss a good partnership is brewing.
If this is the future of Bath Rugby under the Gold regime I can only say hallelujah.
Next up Saints.....