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Fightback sees Bath climb off the bottom with rare Premiership win

By PA
(Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

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Bath hauled themselves off the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership table with an unlikely comeback win against London Irish after being ten points adrift early in the second half. The Exiles seemed to be suffering no ill-effects from their agonising midweek Premiership Rugby Cup final defeat to Worcester when they scored a fourth, bonus-point try soon after the break.

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But a Will Muir try and two penalties by Orlando Bailey, who also kicked three conversions, saw Bath fight back for only their fifth win of the season as they edged out the Irish 27-24. They now face a shoot-out on June 4 with Worcester, three points adrift, to decide who ends up bottom of the table although there is no relegation.

With England coach Eddie Jones an interested spectator, Bath monopolised possession for the first few minutes until a late tackle earned a yellow card for skipper Charlie Ewels. The Exiles almost immediately worked left wing Ben Loader over for an unconverted try and spent the next half hour finding space all over the field, purely through intelligent passing and creative running lines.

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When Bath fly-half Bailey missed a penalty kick to touch it was run back with interest but Nick Phipps could not quite hold on to the ball at the end of a flowing counter-attack. Even messy lineout ball on their own 22 did not stunt the visitors’ ambition. Simple support play opened up Bath left and right before right wing Kyle Rowe brushed past weak tackling to add a second try after 19 minutes.

Paddy Jackson’s conversion attempt hit the post but the Exiles seemed likely to score with every attack and Rowe would have crossed again within five minutes if Joe Cokanasiga had not bundled him into touch.

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A defiant breakout by Max Clark and Semesa Rokoduguni suddenly broke the spell and Mike Williams touched down under the posts for Bath after Bailey dummied his way through from a solid scrum. The fly-half converted and was soon teeing up the ball again after a touch of magic from Taulupe Faletau.

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In his last home game for Bath before joining Cardiff, the British and Irish Lions number eight fielded Jackson’s restart, spun out of three attempted tackles and set off upfield before offloading on halfway to Ben Spencer who raced away for the try.

The 14-10 lead was short-lived, however, as veteran hooker Agustin Creevy burrowed through a pile of bodies on either side of half-time for two tries, securing the try bonus point for the visitors. Jackson converted both. Bailey landed a penalty at the other end to reduce the margin to one score and Rowe, together with most of 14,314 spectators in the ground, thought he had scored again on the hour only for it to be ruled out for a forward pass.

Instead, it was the home side who struck next, as replacement wing Muir, Bath’s player of the year, latched on to a kick-through by Clark and Bailey’s conversion from wide-out to make it 24-24. Now it was the visitors who were under pressure, fumbling passes and being caught in possession. A knock-on in front of the posts earned Bath a scrum – and a penalty kicked by Bailey saw the hosts take the lead.

In a frantic finish, there was still time for a try-saving tackle by Faletau on replacement hooker Matt Cornish at the other end as Bath held on for a rare win.

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