Following a 45-27 victory for Bath against rivals Gloucester on Friday, check out our five takeaways from the Premiership game at Kingsholm.
The top line
A 16,000 sell-out crowd saw visitors Bath take the spoils in this most traditional of fixtures as a brace of tries from the outstanding England centre Ollie Lawrence were the feature of a wonderfully free-flowing game of rugby at Kingsholm.
Lawrence’s efforts were augmented with tries from Player of the Match Will Muir, who ran 170 metres in a blistering display down the left wing, Beno Obano and Thomas du Toit, plus a penalty try when Bath’s forward ascendency saw referee Matthew Carley tire of Gloucester collapsing the rolling maul and reward them for their efforts. Finn Russell added 13 points from the boot in his first visit to Kingsholm in a memorable kicking display from the fly-half.
With Gloucester‘s backs also in fine form, the match couldn’t have been closer for the first half, but as Bath‘s forwards got onto the front foot, led by another quietly impressive performance from Tom Dunn, the visitors powered away to a memorable away win to underline their form in the 2023/24 Premiership.
The Kingsholm faithful turned out in force on a chilly Friday night to ignite this West Country derby but also, importantly, to welcome back many players from international duty after the Rugby World Cup.
In the famous cherry and white, they celebrated the return of Albert Tuisue, a lynchpin of the Fijian World Cup effort in the back five, Matias Alemanno – the skilled Los Pumas lock. In the back division, there was the peerless Jonny May, the electric Santi Carreras and the wonderful Chris Harris, who opened the try scoring for the hosts with some wonderful interplay with his Argentinian full-back down the left flank.
For Bath, their England contingent returned too – Sam Underhill, Lawrence and Will Stuart – but the man that everyone wanted to see was that impish Scot, the mercurial Russell who looked as sharp as a tack, fusing his trademark no-look passes with typical Bath pragmatism with the boot. Russell’s introduction into the Bath 10 shirt is still a work in progress. His sheer aggression of pass takes some time to bed into the players around him but the Scot showed some great touches, with one lovely cross-field kick to Joe Cokanasiga setting up the position that eventually led to Muir’s try on the opposite side of the pitch.
With Harris opening the Gloucester account as noted, it was Ben Spencer’s timing that sent Lawrence through to level the scoring with a delightful pass that allowed the England centre to gas Gloucester on the outside after using his power to barrel through George Barton.
But within moments, brilliant build-up work by May and Seb Atkinson, a man who will look to further his England claims this year, saw the Shed raise their voices as one of their heroes, Carreras, dotted down untouched.
It left Gloucester owning a 10-point lead at half-time, much against the predictions beforehand, but just deserts for an outstanding shift around breakdown and set-piece.
But as hot as Gloucester started the first half, so Bath answered them with an inspired display early in the second, as tries from Muir and their man of the moment, the behemoth Du Toit. Not to be outdone in the front-row scoring stakes, Obano crashed over shortly afterwards from a short tap penalty from Dunn, a mark of Bath’s growing confidence as the game progressed, and a score that took them to the comfort of a two-score lead, enough to see them home, as the visitors pressed the accelerator to power clear of their hosts.
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With both sides showing real ambition, especially in the early exchanges, to run the ball on the perfect Kingsholm 4G surface, the sell-out crowd was treated to an eight-try (plus a penalty try) bonanza. However, as is the case when teams are so closely matched in the back division, it was the team that won the marginals on the gainline, in the breakdown and in the set-piece that triumphed.
Although statistically the teams had little to choose between them it was those nudges in the scrum, a lot of them initiated by Stuart and then Du Toit after him, and those dominant clearouts and hits that gave the visitors the edge.
With Alfie Barbeary looking back to something near the form that saw him called up by England and with Dunn setting his usual standard in the tight exchanges, it was Bath’s control of the key areas of set-piece and breakdown that proved to be the difference between two very good sides.
In the Bath centres, the work in partnership of Max Ojomoh and Lawrence was at the heart of their victory. Both men fused power, pace and precision and appear to have developed a real understanding, creating space by working hard to give a pass and loop around to make an extra man on the outside. Given England will be looking to develop their attacking prowess in midfield, Steve Borthwick might very well take note of these two teammates and how they’re forming such an intuitive partnership together.
Against them, Atkinson was at the heart of all of the good things Gloucester did in the backs. Often standing at 10, his ability to recycle himself back into the line after passing shows his committed work-rate and high rugby IQ, and he’s another one floating around the periphery of the England camp and looking to press his claims.