Bath v Gloucester Rugby: Derby blockbuster didn't need musical sideshow
BATH RUGBY 31 GLOUCESTER RUGBY 25
THE bungling bugler had three stabs before trudging off into the wind.
Try as he might, he could not get his tongue around The Last Post.
West Country derbies are all about brass neck.
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But this Bath wag's inability to brag with any style reflected a night's battle where honours ended as even as such skirmishes can.
The military lament is a funereal farewell. Despite victory, Bath knew full well this was anything but the demise of Nigel Davies' Gloucester.
Beaten – just – but neither bested nor broken.
Should Gloucester progress to the Premiership semi-finals, they will care not for this loss.
Instead they will prize this losing bonus-point to high heaven.
Gloucester have claimed points in every league match this term, most bonuses coming through resilience in defeat rather than free scoring in triumph.
Stubbornness alone will not carry them to the play-offs, though. The Cherry and Whites probably need four wins from their five remaining matches.
And they will need to fine-tune their scrummage mechanics. Bath's set-piece supremacy and Darren Dawidiuk's hotly-contested red card decided this contest.
Whether or not rugby director Davies takes up the sending-off with the authorities, he will demand a return to the scrummage stability that punctuated the season's first half.
Part picturesque, part ramshackle, The Recreation Ground is the perfect derby backdrop.
Two teams unaltered by professionalism, hammering it out in a setting unspoilt by progress.
What a shame then, that Bath's bigwigs took their cue from that temperamental trumpeter.
The Blue Black and Whites' bean counters are unfortunate advocates of over-staged, over-hyped entrances.
A moratorium, please. No more Hollywood blockbuster walk-on music.
It may be the score of Gladiator – but it feels like Pirates of the Caribbean on Ice.
Throw in Horatio Hornblower pilfering French rugby's ole trumpet refrain – itself lifted first from Spanish feasts then Bullfights – and suddenly the brand outweighs a product that needs no promoting.
This is Bath, not the Basque country.
Both these traditional tribes are well aware the Romans tapped the natural hot-spring water – they do not need a history lesson from Russell Crowe.
All they want is a derby dripping with guts, endeavour, intrigue, brutality and showmanship.
And that's exactly what they got, once the sideshow shut itself up.
Tom Biggs struck the first blow, by way of Television Match Official Geoff Warren, who was to endure a busy night.
Bath's blonde bombshell wing outpaced Charlie Sharples to Matt Banahan's deep punt.
Sharples made the tackle as Biggs, ball and tryline all hurtled together.
The ball bobbled dead, and that was enough for referee Tim Wigglesworth to make the referral.
Warren called penalty try: advantage Bath.
Gloucester counter-punched when Henry Trinder charged down Nick Abendanon's clearance and swooped first to the loose ball for the visitors' opening try.
When Freddie Burns trotted across the line just three minutes later, TMO Warren was on notice again.
Jonny May raced down the left wing and threw a smart pass inside the cover to the onrushing Mike Tindall.
The gritty centre ground into Bath's 22, was hauled down by Peter Stringer – the ball bobbled loose, and Burns pounced.
Warren ruled May's pass to Tindall was forward. Bath exhaled, Davies ground gums.
Gloucester quickly conjured style to ease frustration.
Burns opens up defences on instinct, precisely why coaches are loathe to curb his attacking enthusiasm.
His delayed, flat, incisive cut-pass handed Trinder time in Bath's 2 and he in turn passed the compliment forward, sending speed man May into the left corner.
Again Mr Warren was called into action, to determine whether Rob Cook's dummy run obstructed the Bath defence.
He rejected any such notion – a spot-on call, as Trinder was not only five yards behind the gainline, but also standing still when he received Burns' pass.
Gloucester's unlikely lead lasted just two minutes, with Heathcote slotting a penalty.
Then Bath's fly-half opened Gloucester's defence with a sharp break, before sending Kyle Eastmond over from 40 metres.
Burns failed with his third penalty attempt, and Cook took the tee.
The full-back slotted a goal – the ball bouncing on the bar and over – to leave Gloucester just five points adrift at the break.
Heathcote and Cook traded penalties after the turnaround, and then came that red card.
Dawidiuk hit Dave Attwood almost square-on, shifting him sideways.
Ex-Gloucester lock Attwood certainly landed on a combination of shoulder and head.
Ugly, but minus any real lift, this was hard to call a spear tackle.
Still, the current – ridiculous – rules allow no leeway.
TMO Warren was asked, he answered, and Dawidiuk walked – for the final half-hour.
Safety must remain paramount, but the authorities must also separate protection from paranoia.
Dawidiuk joins the growing line of disgruntled players nonplussed by overzealous punishment.
Heathcote landed a penalty, but then Bath flanker Carl Fears was sin-binned for killing the ball.
Gloucester had ten minutes of even numbers, and had to make their fortune pay.
They could only waste a prime attacking platform, knocking on after a lineout in Bath's 22.
Two infringements later Bath were camped in Gloucester's 22 and that man Biggs struck again.
The Hull-born finisher used to work in a pea factory, but these days prefers mushing Premiership opposition.
His second try had Gloucester staring down a 13-point deficit and potential hammering.
Not on your life.
The once-again impressive Dan Robson raced 30 metres from a quick tap, Gloucester ground two phases in Bath territory – Cook cut blind, and sent May scuttling over.
Cue a madcap final 15 minutes, where everything happened – save any further score.
Another point salvaged, top-four touching distance sustained, and the last charge awaits.
No need to trumpet a run-in to transfix even the shortest attention span.
BATH: N Abendanon, H Agulla, M Banahan, K Esatmond, T Biggs, T Heathcote, P Stringer, P James (N Catt, 77), R Webber (R Batty, 70), D Wilson, D Day (W Spencer, 70), D Attwood, F Louw (capt), C Fearns, B Skirving. Unused: A Perenise, M Gilbert, M Claassens, S Vesty, N Koster.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, C Sharples, H Trinder, M Tindall (capt), J May, F Burns (R Mills, 51), D Robson, N Wood (D Murphy, 56), D Dawidiuk, R Harden (D Chistolini, 20), L Lokotui, W James, T Savage (P Buxton, 75), A Qera (H Edmonds, 54), S Kalamafoni. Unused: A Hazell, D Lewis, M Thomas.
REFEREE: T Wigglesworth.