Bath Rugby 22 Worcester Warriors 19
Stuart Hooper breathed a huge sigh of relief as his Bath men finally found the winning recipe at the eleventh time of asking to lift their Premiership spirits.
The head coach had reason to smile, if only just, at the end of a frantic encounter at the Recreation Ground where young fly-half Orlando Bailey’s penalty ten minutes from time secured the points.
But the West Country side, who remain floundering at the bottom of the table with just this single victory, were made to fight all the way by a Warriors side which played with 14 men for virtually the entire contest.
Scotland and Lions prop Rory Sutherland became one of the Premiership’s fastest dismissals, being shown a red card for a dangerous high tackle on England tighthead Will Stuart within 75 seconds of the start. He is now a doubt for Scotland’s Six Nations opener against England on Feb 5 with a ban likely.
And Bath Director of Rugby Hooper, whose team had been decimated by injuries and Covid cases this season, admitted: “We are not going spraying the champagne around the changing room, and it was miles from a perfect performance but it’s a massive win for us and our supporters.
“We’ve been through a lot this season in terms of availability and now we have been rewarded with all the effort by the senior and younger players.” Sutherland, 29, who had just return from six-week injury absencewith a dead leg having also missed the Autumn Test campaign, trudged off the field and Bath quickly rubbed salt into the wounds with Semesa Rokoduguni cutting in from the right wing and shrugging off tacklers to cross for the opening try. Bailey added the extras and it was the worst possible start for Warriors.
Worcester responded admirably with a try from their first real attack, full-back Jamie Shillcock racing towards the line and breaking tackles before reaching out to ground the ball.
The visitors reshuffled their side bringing on Ethan Waller to the front row and removing wing Perry Humphries. England’s Jonathan Joseph showed his international class with a clever grubber kick through for fellow centre Max Ojomoh to race onto and dive to collect the ball. There was doubt whether hehad managed to ground the ball properly or let it slip from his grasp. But Maxwell-Keys decided he had held onto it long enough in the process of diving to award the try again after watching several replays.
Bath, despite their man advantage, were still susceptible to Warriors’ strong attacks and broke over the line again with lock Joe Batley‘s try converted by Fin Smith to close the gap to just two points. And when Worcester centre Francois Venter burst through and fed an inside pass to put scrum-half Gareth Simpson over for the visitors third try, they held a surprising 19-14 half-time lead.