This mouth-watering fixture saw the start of London Irish’s mini campaign of two consecutive home fixtures at the Madjeski Stadium in front of an 8,133 crowd. The game itself proved less than mouth-watering though.
Yes, Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni were starting for Bath, having returned from England camp but this game was tough, tougher than this West-Country side had probably expected, conceding 17 points alone in the second half but they won the tussle, 23-33. A win’s a win.
â€œWe had to overcome a few challenges…it was a difficult game…â€Â said Toby Booth.
A couple of months ago, questions would’ve been asked of Gavin Henson’s form and whether he was the right fly-half to start for Bath but over the last couple of weeks, no one could fault this man’s ability and composure starting in George Ford’s absence. And Bath knew that on a wet and dismal Saturday afternoon, Henson would need to be on form, especially with London Irish captain Shane Geraghty solid as a rock, kicking 13 points of the home sideâ€™s 23.
Both sides traded penalties early doors and with the nervous energy and numerous high kicks out the way, it was the first scrum down after 13 minutes. It proved difficult for the home side and their inaccuracy at not pushing straight resulted in them being eaten by the Bath pack. The likes of Nathan Catt and Ross Batty demolished the Exilesâ€™ forwards as they toppled over like Jenga and to Bath’s delight, resulted in a second successful penalty kick from Henson.
When Bath made their way into the London Irish 22′, their driving maul looked potent and with the home side coming in from the side, it was only a matter of time before Irish’s Halani Aulika was shown a yellow card after 27 minutes. Henson bumped up the tally again with his third penalty of the game, 3-9.
The scrum resets became painful to watch and as Nathan Catt left the field with a shoulder injury with six minutes to go of the first half, I never doubted replacement Nick Auterac would cook up a storm. London Irish failed to secure themselves in the scrum and when it mattered most, a penalty try was awarded to Bath by referee Andrew Small and with Henson converting, the visitors had finally found form, 3-16.
But a glimmer of hope from Geraghty saw his second successful penalty kick; making it two from four, a couple of minutes from half time.
Back out and Bath were firing on all cylinders! Just over a minute into the second half and Henry Thomas shrugged off defenders like water off a duckâ€™s back, to storm over the line and again, Henson added the extras.
But the desire of the London Irish pack was clear and they reacted. To the excitement of the home crowd, as the drums pounded and bodies pulsated, it was only a matter of time before a try was scored. It was David Paice who made his mark and Geraghty complemented, to take the score to 13-23.
It was evident that the Exiles had changed their tactics and it just shows what difference a team talk can make! Faster offloads, bags of pace and a little fire in the belly and Irish were on the bounce. Geraghty popped another penalty 12 minutes into the second half to close the gap still further, leaving only seven points in it.
Were Bath looking a little shaky?
Not really. Henson kicked the West-country pack’s fourth penalty and then Chris Cook broke free from inside Bath’s half to cross the line with an outstanding (and extremely painful) forward roll to keep London Irish at arms length with just over ten minutes left to play.
But then came the sting in the tail.
Dominic Day was shown a yellow card with eight minutes left to play, taking Bath down to 14 men and a fantastic set piece ensued. London Irish drew defenders, opening up a gap on the outside for James Short, who touched down in the corner and Geraghty slotted another.
But it just wasn’t quite enough to win them the game. The intensity of the first half wasn’t a patch on the second though and wow, what a game of two halves for London Irish. Their tenacity and resilience was outstanding to watch and hats off to them, especially their defence.
Director of Rugby Brian Smith said after the game;
â€œWe did fight back because we had to … there’s plenty of time, we’re only a third of the way through the season, you’ve got to keep things in perspective and turn this around.â€
They’re growing and developing and could be ‘the’ team to watch out for…. Gloucester – be prepared!
Full Time: London Irish 23 – 33 BathÂ
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk