Well what can be said about the 2011/12 season in the Blue, Black and White camp.
It's safe to say it's hardly been the most spectacular campaign for Bath. With the new signings coming on board at the start, the Rugby World cup and Six Nations the potential for a good season was there for the taking, and as Bath had few members involved in either event it left them at almost full force. As always positivity and belief were rife in the Rec stands,12,300 people crammed in hoping for those wins to roll in. A new era with Sir Ian McGeechan taking solo helm hoping to mould a Premiership winning squad and some hopeful European hights to hit.
As the season kicked off Bath sought to start as they meant to go on by racking up the win with game one beating Falcons 9-22. A commanding performance from Vesty saw him set up Carrero's try and take the other 17. Hopefully a sign of thing to come.
One win under the belt and confidence up step up last year's champions in the form of Sarries, sadly a cruel blow at the death saw Bath lose by two points 26-28. Bath's downfall in thus fixture was the penalty count allowing Farrell to keep the points ticking on as the scores alternated between teams. The harsh blow came as Farrell hit the upright with the last kick of the game seeing it drop over for the three points.
The disappointment of the Sarries loss must of rang true with a dominant display against Chiefs rolling out a 23-19 win, again a strong show from Vesty leading with the boot and tries from a powerful run from Hipkiss and a TMO decision for Catt. A late surge saw chiefs gain a losing bonus point as Bath relaxed and let them back in.
With two wins and narrow defeat to Sarries under their belt the trip to Gloucester felt like it could be time to show whose top dog in the west county. A story that will ring through the rest of the season was all territory and little points, failing to convert their early dominance. Six points from Vesty was all that was on the board for Bath where as the Cherry and White notched up 23 with Burns showing why he took the trip up the M5.
W-L-W-L an indifferent start to any campaign and three of those bouts being close shorelines, next step Tigers! Vesty struck the first blood with a penalty but failed to slot the second, his error in a pass gifted Staunton a breakaway intercepted try under the posts which he then converted. As the game drew on it seemed infringements helped turning the match into the Jeremy Staunton show not missing a kick and taking the score line to 6-16 until just before half time Attwood crashed over for his first try in the Blue, Black and White. Second half saw a well timed off load from Kane Palma-Newport to send Carrero over. With the score nestling at 20-22 a young cool future star step up and slot over two penalties and another from Staunton saw the game go to the wire. As the clock ticked down the dreaded moment arrived as Bath conceded another penalty and progressed to be marched back a further 10m allowing Staunton a 45m punt at the posts, with 100% kicking the Bath faithful had their hearts in their mouths then their hands in the air as it sailed wide. A close shave but a jubilant 26-25 victory.
Another win sees the pattern continue followed by another loss, this time to the hands of Wasps. A tough fixture saw Bath have two tries disallowed for being held. A day that looked like it wasn't going to go Bath's way. A try for Palma-Newport helped keep Bath in touching distance aided by Heathcote's boot, but seemed to always be chasing the lead. After continuous pressure a late try from Mercer saw a losing bonus point and salvaged what could of been a bad day at the office. Again close scoreline but this time finishing second 27-24.
The next two games saw something outstanding seven tries in each game! First up came Newport Gwent Dragons in their first LV cup fixture. As Bath welcomed back Matt Banahan for his 100th appearance a mix of youth and experience took to the field. After just two minutes Banahan showed his worth by setting up academy debutant Olly Woodburn for his first score in the top flight. Moments later a penalty from Dragons kept the Bath dominance at bay, until Banahan took his chance to dab the ball down. Dragons fought back to pull a try back and after 16 minutes it was 13-12 to Dragons. A lead held for a short time as Biggs slid over in the corner. Bath continued to out play Dragons for the remainder of the first half finishing it 20-16. The second half saw the dominance turned into points seeing Carrero, Spencer and Cuthbert cross the line. Heathcote kept the points going and 10 minutes from time saw another new boy Antony Perenise crash over from close range sealing try seven and a comprehensive win 16-46.
Week two of the 46's saw Worcester Warriors feel the force of a superb team performance. Another seven try haul saw a collective of well worked team tries. Any early well worked try saw a break from Cuthbert, unleashing Woodburn finally slipping an offload to Heathcote to run it home before slotting the conversion of his own try. Try to came from another debutant in the form of South African Louw after a series of surging drives from the forwards. In full flow now a true display of team work saw Banahan rack up a score. A loose ball scooped up by Catt saw him pick up pace before a slick offload to Woodburn who made a good 40m before Spencer took it on making a further 10m, quick ruck saw ball popped up to Heathcote who intern threw out a long loose pass which Cuthbert calmly gathered then releasing Hipkiss who allowed Banahan to sidestep the defender a making the score. Bath's tails were truly up now and confidence spilling from all members. A Cuthbert grubber down field saw Woodburn tackled off the ball resulting in a penalty, they thus opted for a scrum 5m short of the line. A quick pick from Skirving down the blind saw a pop to Cuthbert who happily sold a dummy taking the 5 points and the first score of the second half. A battling Warriors managed to claim their own try through Drauninu but seemed to be un vain. But Bath were still far from done with more in the tank. A high tackle on Louw saw Sam Betty receive 10 minutes on the naughty step, bath kicked for touch taking a clean line out. A strong pick and drive allowing Skirving's turn to score. With two more tries from Woodburn and Abendanon saw a true rout finishing 46-13.
Two jubilant weeks saw a very indifferent and close call game away against London Irish a week later. A very closely fought first half had the deadlock broken when Delon Armitage played Tarzan around Biggs neck earning him a yellow. Kick for touch giving a line out 5m out allowed Bath to rumble out a maul, quickly spun out ball saw Vesty take a gap collecting the five points un Bath's favour but sadly missing the two points. Second half saw Irish throwing the kitchen sick in and took two penalties for thier trouble. Some superb acrobatic skills saw Attwood beach the line and finally a TMO decision awarded the points. A penalty for Irish kept their points ticking over and 10 minutes from time saw them take the lead with another three points making it 12-10. But just as it looked over ex-Bath man Hape dipped his hands into the ruck dead in front of the sticks, which Vesty gratefully slotted over saving Bath to take the big 'W' 12-13.
A hard fought fixture against Quins was up next down at the rec. Bath were the first to cross the line but Biggs was deemed to be held up, luckily off the back of the scrum some hard forward play eventually saw Attwood crash over. Rapidly after a collection of pick and drives following a line out saw Robshaw clatter through, the conversion good added to the earlier penalty saw Quins 7-10 up. The second half saw three more successful kicks from Quins stretching their lead. Vesty claimed another two pens hopefully spurring on a Bath resurgence but Quins demonstrated why they were table toppers. A late Brown try of the back of a ruck saw them close the match out 13-26.
A trip north of the border to Glasgow Warriors for a Heineken cup match up was all not was hoped for. The much anticipated arrival of Stephen Donald came to a disappointing end. A bright start from Bath saw Heathcote pop one between the posts after only 90seconds, the half continued with both teams quite evenly match taking it in turns to convert penalties finishing the half 9-6. The second half began much to the same fashion as the first but Heathcote managed to regain the lead with two well struck kicks. On the hour mark a break through came for Glasgow's favour with Hogg seizing the initiative breaking defence and running in from 50m and Weir taking the other two points. Once again the boot of Heathcote came to the rescue slotting two more and being six for six, but after his last strike the much awaited appearance of New Zealand's Stephen Donald replaced the on fire youngster. With just 90seconds to go Donald had his chance to take 3 points and was successful. The following events seemed to be a catalogue of disasters resulting is Bath throwing away the game. A failure to deal with the restart saw Weir find himself in the pocket and took the drop goal attempt a nasty deflection and poorly dealt with by Abendanon allowed Gray to sieze the opportunity to score the try and left Weir to make sure with another two leaving Bath distraught losing 26-21.
It was the turn of some more Heineken cup rugby down at the Rec next as the travelling Montpellier came to take advantage of Bath's downbeat squad after the last weeks blunder. The excitement was surrounding the stuffed ground as Donald was to start his first home game. It was Donald, who was later to collect man of the match, taking the first three points after mounting pressure from Bath which montpellier struggled to contain. The pressure continued to flow from the Bath boys and after a huge miss pass from Donald allowed Woodburn to hit the gas and slide in at the corner. Unfortunately for Donald he couldn't take the full plaudits as his well struck kick ricocheted off the uprights. It now seemed the expectations were founded as Donald intercepted a Trinh-Duc pass a bolted 80m to the line, a scrambled French defence managed to halt his glory but Trinh-Duc illegally interfered, as Bath played the advantage a monumental occurrence happened.....Claasens flipped a quick ball out to the unassuming hands of David Fkatman who after 147 appearances for the club dropped over the line scoring his debut try! Trinh-Duc learnt his self a 10minute time out as it seemed Bath had their tales up. Containment clearly on Montpellier's mind saw them contain the home team and also managed to get in the board taking it to 13-3 at the interval. Bath again were first to add the points in the second half as Donald hit a superb kick from just inside the opponents half. A Montpellier attack saw Nathan Catt needing treatment so out of the action and what seemed a multitude of infringements, one if which a howler of a forward pass, missed by Alan Rowland saw the French side pull within six points if Bath. Followed up by a converted penalty the heat was certainly in the home side. Bath managed to hold fast and draw out the win just 5minutes after a returning Olly Barclay took to the field seeing his 10 month injury time coming to an end.
Five days later up at Sixways saw what was considered as the poorest display Bath had put out for quite some time and a hint the wheels were about to fall off! A first half saw a lackluster and directionless performance and were lucky to be staring down the barrel of a 10-0 score line. An injury to Atwood saw a large delay, but from the resumed play saw a lineout to Bath and after some time by the TMO saw Charlie Beech awarded his first try in Bath's colours. The conversion from Barkley saw Bath back in the tie and the hope was back in the tie. But warriors were not there to roll over and with two more penalties saw them close the match out for a 16-7 score line.
Bath needed to put their last performance behind them as they took on Sale Sharks, and it appeared they had the bit between their teeth as they battered the sale defense eventually getting the award for their effort in the shape of three points, Barkley slotting home collecting his 2000 point for the club on his first start back from injury. With all the possession and territory Bath's way it was only time before Claasens spotted a gap and darted over to score. With Barkley added the additional two point Bath went into the break with a 10-0 lead and looking the stronger of the two sides. With the second starting it seemed the initiative had switched sides and Sharks were awarded two strikes at goal thankfully only converting one, the ill discipline was starting to creep in and Bath were rocking!! This followed by more Sale pressure and eventually Bath could hold out any more as Cueto crashed through, with the conversion good it was sale on the front foot. Bath made the choice to freshen up the team by bringing on a swarm of players, this helped get them back on an even keel. With Bath's pressure taking its toll Barkley grabbed a further three points. Again Bath discipline faltered allowing Sale to gain two more penalties and for the first time taking the lead. With bath now chasing what a game they were 10-0 up the only thing on their mind was to go for the win. Throwing everything at the sale defence Bath earned themselves a penalty, a kickable penalty. Bath so insistent on the win opted to kick for the corner rather than posts, an error as the line out went a miss and the game closed out with Sale running out 13-16 winners.
After 2 loses Bath had a huge challenge ahead in the shape of back to back games against the Heineken cup champions Leinster. The home tie showed Bath were determined to make a fair display of theirselves and give a good account and refuse to role over and concede. A nip-tuck first half saw Bath dishing out all the pressure but to very little reward, a half time score of 6-3 not showing the true story. Second half saw the sexton show take over and the Bath penalty count rise. With it sat 6-12 Cuthbert had a break down the wing and well offloaded to Banahan crash over for the only try of the game, Barkley took the two points giving Bath the lead. Unfortunately as for many of fixtures this season Bath relinquished the lead by allowing Sexton to pick off two more penalties and Leinster ran out victorious leaving Bath to take a losing bonus point.
The return leg left players and fans stunned by the result. Within four minutes of the kick off Rob Kearney broke through to open the scoring and with Sexton converting Leinster were already 7-0 up. With Barkley scoring two pens split by a Sexton penalty Bath seemed to still be in touch only down by four. A yellow for Cullen should of seen Bath with an advantage, but it was not to be. A Fitzgerald and Sexton try a piece saw Bath looking like it's going to be a long day. Bath hoped they could find the initiative in the second half but unfortunately it was not to be. They failed to deal with the restart leaving Fitzgerald to sprint in his second of the day. To top things off the wheels then truly fell off, Vesty found himself taking a ten minute breather, allowing Reddan to take his turn to score. Six minutes after Vesty's yellow Biller joined him, so Bath down to 13 held of for two minutes before Ruddock had his go at dabbing down. A shell shocked Blue, Black and White found some form to see Donald and Attwood take a try each for which Barkley converted. With Leinster appearing to take the foot off the gas had one more serge 180seconds from time Nacewa gave them 5 more which Sexton duely slotted over. On the day the final word went to Bath with Ben Williams taking advantage of Leinster's slack defending to help salvage a scrap of respectability, leaving Barkley to have the last kick of the game making it a poor 52-27.
Bath looking for some positive Christmas cheer they travelled up to Franklin Gardens on Christmas eve. As always this season Bath started the brighter side taking 13mins to get points in the board through the boot of Barkley. The direction soon changed as Dowson barreled through but Lamb failed to convert. Suddenly Lamb was bossing the game with a chip through for Pisi to collect and offload to Wood to place it under the sticks, leaving a simple kick for Lamb. Bath's discipline has been a major issue in this campaign and now it was Abendanon's time to see yellow. Lamb added another three to the tally as saints were gratefully taking charge. No full back at home Lamb chipped through again ball released to Elliot to score Saints third try of the half. More pressure ensued and Elliot looked like he'd crossed for his second, but Lamb's pass was deemed forward. 19 points up for saints in the first half Bath were starting to look like it was going to be hard to fight back. They did try in vain to pull back the deficit containing saints who ended the half without a single point to their name. Bath kept pressing and with Samu Manoa and Downey sin binned a minute apart it left Saints short in defence allowing Louw to score, Barkley slotted the conversion and topped it off with another penalty. The final whistle came and to Bath's efforts came unrewarded with a 23-13 loss, not even a bonus point to show for their efforts.
Going into the Christmas break off the back of five losses spirit in the fans was low, but the expectations of the usual a Bath second half season revival were high. Could it happen........
Written by Bath Bytes
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