MATCH REPORT | Bath Rugby 61-29 Saracens Men
A youthful Saracens side delivered a performance full of promise and left the Recreation Ground with a four-try bonus point despite a 61-29 defeat against Bath.
Sarries, who featured five Premiership debutants in their squad had the lead at half time and gave the coaches plenty to be proud of before the big semi-final next weekend against Northampton Saints.
It was the hosts who got off to a fast start, and they opened the scoring with just three minutes on the clock. A penalty allowed them to kick in to the 22 and they stayed patient right on the line, eventually shifting the ball to Miles Reid who could bundle over from close range. Ben Spencer converted against his old side to give them a 7-0 lead.
Sarries struck back though and played some superb rugby as they warmed in to the match. Ben Harris was inches away from beating his opposite man as he looked to go around the outside, but despite being caught from the next attack the visitors were successful.
A beautiful flat pass from the returning Elliot Daly tempted the defender, and created space for Rotimi Segun who was never going to be stopped from 10 metres out. The conversion went wide, but now the deficit was just two points.
Bath then capitalised on Eroni Mawi’s yellow card and scored their second with 13 minutes gone. Once again the penalty was kicked to the corner, and a powerful maul from 15 metres thundered over with Tom Dunn dotting down at the base. Spencer’s extras made it 14-5 as we headed towards the second quarter.
Breakthrough star Olly Hartley responded brilliantly for Sarries and scored a superb try as this young side refused to lie down. A neat move saw Ruben de Haas saw him snipe at the base of a ruck, and then Manu Vunipola hit Hartley flat who thundered over the defender and raced through from outside the 22. Vunipola’s conversion once again cut the deficit to two.
The West Country side were then peppering away at the line as they looked to put some daylight between the teams but the Sarries defence held firm and showed incredible heart to absorb huge pressure and eventually hold Bath up over the line, earning them some much needed possession.
Hartley, who was having a fine game then crossed again to the delight of the travelling fans as his side took the lead for the first time. He quick-tapped a penalty from just five metres out before the defence could reset and he gathered his chip before crashing over and placing down under the sticks. Vunipola converted as the visitors went in to a 19-14 lead.
Bath did wrestle their way back in front just before the break after another lengthy spell in the 22, this time it was Beno Obano who benefitted from a carry just one metre out as he bulldozed over to level the score. Spencer’s conversion edged them 21-19 in front as we approached half time.
Sarries used that time wisely though and went back ahead with just a minute until the break to secure the bonus point. Daly’s inch-perfect kick in the backfield allowed Segun to drag McConnochie in to touch, and then from the maul skipper Ethan Lewis drove over to send the away fans in to raptures. That proved to be the last notable act of a thrilling first half, as Sarries went down the tunnel with a 24-21 lead.
Bath came flying out of the blocks after the break and scored just two minutes after the restart to go back in front. They kicked a penalty to the corner and then some huge carries took them right up to the line before Obano hammered over for his second of the day.
They then crossed again as Dunn went over for his second from another rolling maul, and all of a sudden they had a healthy lead with Spencer’s conversion putting them 35-24 in front.
Just three minutes later Dunn claimed his hat-trick with an almost identical try from the back of a maul, and now it looked like a long way back for the visitors who would have to overturn an 18 point deficit with 25 minutes left.
They needed something special, and Vunipola delivered it on the hour mark with a try of the season contender to drag Sarries back in to the game. He gathered a high ball just inside his half and then stepped past three men before turning on the afterburners and racing clear from 30 metres for a wonderful solo try. The conversion went wide but the youthful side now had a chance to register a memorable win.
Any hopes of a comeback were dashed with 15 minutes remaining as Bath’s seventh try came courtesy of Chris Cloete who was put through a gap just two metres from the line, and that ensured the hosts would be victorious.
Dom Morris almost got Sarries on the scoresheet again when he burst through a gap in the defence, but the pass went to ground and then the rampant Bath attack went the length of the field, with Orlando Bailey finishing a sweeping move to take them over the 50 point mark.
There was one last score from Ollie Lawrence in the final play to add a cherry on top for Bath, and now Sarries can turn their attention to the semi final against Northampton Saints at StoneX Stadium on Saturday.