Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Bath finally hit form to see off London Irish

Ninth-placed Bath put daylight between themselves and the relegation zone with their first-bonus point victory at the Recreation Ground this season.

Matt Banahan, one of the few players to maintain any semblance of form during a dismal run, was rewarded with two tries, his first in the Premiership this season.

The others were scored by Semesa Rokoduguni and Leroy Houston while Welsh fly-half Rhys Priestland converted one and kicked a penalty in a 25-17 win.

It has been a season to forget for last year's Aviva Premiership finalists and qualification for the European Champions Cup will depend on a dramatic lift in form and fortune.

The Exiles are in a far worse place, however, eight points adrift at the bottom of the table. For 80 minutes, they rarely looked like scoring other than through the boot of fly-half Theo Brophy-Clews who kicked three penalties.

But replacement Greg Tonks kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time and Alex Lewington eventually scored at the end of a multi-phase move from the restart. Agonisingly, they were deprived of a losing bonus point when Tonks's conversion attempt rebounded off the post.

Bath lost the services of Amanaki Mafi before kick-off, the Japan No 8 failing a fitness test on a rib injury, to be replaced by Houston.

After Priestland and Brophy-Clews exchanged penalties, Bath worked a nice try in the corner for Banahan. Priestland's pass sent Kyle Eastmond through a huge hole in the Exiles' defence and Houston took his lofted pass to put the wing clear to the corner.

The fly-half's conversion attempt was wide and Brophy-Clews cut the lead to 8-6 at the end of the first quarter after one penalty too many against the home team.

Bath were quickly on the attack again and forced a penalty to the corner. Irish repelled the catch-and-drive but Bath worked the ball back at the ruck and quick hands gave Banahan just enough room to squeeze in for his second try. This time Priestland was spot-on with the conversion.

London Irish were hanging on, encouraged by the home side's failure to clear their own lines effectively.

Clews punished another infringement for his third penalty on 28 minutes but was wide with another attempt immediately after. That resulted from Priestland's restart going out on the full.

The Welshman was looking far more assured with ball in hand, however. Shortly before half-time he cut through the visitors' admittedly porous defence and found Banahan who had come across from the left wing.

Scrum-half Scott Steele stopped Tom Homer scoring but the Bath full-back flicked the ball back for Rokoduguni to touch down at the flag, as eventually confirmed by the TMO. Priestland's conversion was wide but Bath were happy to turn round 20-9 ahead.

After a shapeless opening 15 minutes to the second half, Bath emerged from a twice-reset scrum under the own posts to take control.

They squandered one chance from a line-out catch and drive and Irish stole a turnover. But another Banahan break, almost a copy of the first-half move, left the visitors' defence in some chaos and Houston eventually crossed for an unconverted try in the left corner.

Priestland's conversion was off-target but the cheers of the long-suffering Bath supporters in another bumper crowd of 13,503 told of their joyful relief at the bonus point.

Tonks' penalty raised hopes of a losing bonus from the restart but even that was denied them despite Lewington's try.


From Belfast Telegraph