Rhys Priestland kicks Bath to victory in battle of the boots

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BATH, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Bath players celebrate at the final whistle of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Saracens at Recreation Ground on March 08, 2019 in Bath, United Kingdom. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Bath overcame Saracens thanks to the boot of Rhys Priestland at The Rec in Gallagher Premiership Round 16 in a tryless encounter to boost their top four ambitions 

James Barker was at The Rec for Last Word on Rugby and saw a tense and compelling game that lifted the home side to sixth place (at least temporarily), whilst Saracens remain in second but could be eight points behind Exeter by the end of the weekend.

The visitors defence was rock solid for the majority of the match but their penalty count was far too high to allow them to build an attacking platform. Meanwhile, it was frustration yet relief for Bath, who clearly had all the elements in place, but couldn’t use them effectively to convert their dominance.

Bath 18 vs Saracens 9

Ahead of the game Saracens were celebrating significant appearance milestones for David Strettle, Alex Goode and Ben Spencer. Meanwhile Bath handed Miles Reid a first Premiership start at flanker.

Fans were treated to irritating drizzle and high winds but fortunately for the uncovered Rec spectators, conditions cleared for kick-off.

It was a positive start for Bath as an early penalty gave them territory that eventually resulted in three points from a Rhys Priestland penalty. Alex Lozowski was unable to level up shortly after to the delight of the crowd, but he did add three on his second attempt.

Pick-and-go Rugby the name of the game

A long period of possession saw Bath sweep from side to side with little penetration; like windscreen wipers in the returning rain. This play ended in a Saracens penalty turnover as did several other attacks in the first quarter. As might be expected in the conditions, both sides were careful to look after possession, with pick-and-go the primary offensive tactic.

Unsurprisingly, this approach meant neither side particularly threatened the try line in the first half. Bath went into the break 9-3 ahead thanks to two further Priestland penalties, with an another effort hitting the post. On the whole, Bath were looking much the more likely to get a try.

The visitors got off to a good start in the second half as Lozowski slotted a second penalty, halving the deficit. A tenacious break from Max Malins provided the first real spark for Saracens all match but it amounted to nothing more than another Lozowski miss from the tee.

Reliable boot of Rhys Priestland

Whilst the scoring only came from penalties, it was turning into an entertaining and well-matched encounter, and you could sense that a try could really open the game up. Saracens weren’t able to reduce their penalty count in the second half, but still no yellow card came from referee Andrew Jackson. This finally arrived on the hour mark, as substitute Ben Earl made a very quick return to the sidelines having just come on.

A very stop-start third quarter saw Saracens draw level at 9-9; Lozowski successful with two out of three penalty attempts. The visitors finally built some territorial pressure with an Alex Goode garryowen, but again conceded a penalty turnover.

As the clock ticked towards 80 minutes, you had to wonder if Bath would hold their nerve after two consecutive final minute defeats. They went ahead again with a fourth Priestland penalty whilst Losowski missed again with a long range effort. As the match crept into the final ten minutes, a five pointer looked like it would become the pivotal score.

Yet another penalty miss from Lozowski followed a Ross Batty yellow card, but Saracens sensed their opportunity. However, and predictably, a penalty infringement extinguished their territorial advantage, and their ill discipline allowed Bath to seal the game with more penalties from Rhys Priestland.

Priestland’s sixth successful kick put Bath two scores ahead and ensured there would be no heartbreak this week. 18-9 the final score at The Rec.

Post Match Reactions

After the match, Saracens Director of Rugby was a sombre figure whilst speaking to the media, lamenting his side’s ill discipline, saying: “Our set piece let us down in a huge way in the second half and we continued to give a lot of penalties away.”

Todd Blackadder was understandably a happy coach but was “furious” at Ross Batty for putting them in a position to potentially lose it at the death again.

Finally Nathan Catt emphasised how fun this arm wrestle was and how the battle for the top four and play-offs promised an exciting end to the season for players and fans alike.

Last Word on Rugby will bring you more post-match reaction and interviews shortly.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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