By Paul Bryant
October 23 2016
It won't rate highly in the pantheon of derby matches with B**h, but it was the first competitive one in seven years. Neither side had much to be happy with in terms of performance but the hosts came out of it with their second victory in the group and for Bristol it was the latest in a dispiriting series of results so far this season.
Bristol started the game well enough and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. The forwards competed well but as a side they lacked any real cutting edge. The other theme was one Bath fans would have found familiar from last season: a string of penalties that undermined all the effort put in by the pack. Bristol had all the possession, except when penalised and Priestland quickly had the hosts 6 – nil up.
The visitors continued to plug away and Searle, making his first start for his club, narrowed the gap when Bath gave away a soft penalty of their own. Bath, on limited ball, looked by far the sharper side but the Bristol defence was good enough to shut down any threat of a try-scoring breakthrough. However the stream of Bristol penalties ensured Bath were never under any real pressure themselves. A long range effort from Tom Homer was well off target but two more from the unerring Priestland took Bath in 12 – 3 at half time.
The second half was a mirror of the first with Bath dominating the early exchanges but unable to find a way through resolute Bristol defence. The one constant was that Bristol gave away penalty after penalty and, when they did get possession, they promptly kicked it away and handed the ball right back to the hosts.
Bath eventually managed to suck in the defence to create an overlap when Banahan made a powerful break but poor passing brought the move to a crunching halt when the ball moved out wide. Let off the hook, it was Bristol who next troubled the scoreboard when debutant Geraghty slotted over a penalty following a nice piece of play that demonstrated the skill that won him international recognition were still there.
It was a brief flicker of defiance though and Bath at last managed to up the pace to where Bristol were left clinging on. Zach Mercer showed pace and balance to take his side forward and Palma-Newport went close. Bath continued to press and Bristol infringed again. Priestland was never going to miss and it was 15 – 6. It was inevitable that Bristol’s penalty count would attract a further sanction and it was Tovey who was shown yellow when the referee’s patience was exhausted.
Down to 14 Bristol were under real pressure but they stood firm and, despite gaps opening up, Bath just couldn’t manage the coup-de-grace. Bristol made it even easier for their hosts when a poor effort at a tackle from Geraghty saw him briefly join Tovey on the naughty step. Still Bath struggled to put the finishing touch on things and, with full-time coming up, Bristol went looking for the losing bonus point. Back up to 14 they strung together perhaps their best move of the match until to see the lack of precision they had shown throughout the game deal them a fatal blow. The ball was coughed up, claimed by Dunn and on to Banahan. A man down and with no defence in place Bristol had no way to regroup and the giant centre loped in beneath the posts. Priestland capped a faultless kicking display with the conversion and it was 22 – 6 at the death.