Bath Rugby climbed to the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership table with a regular season turn to go with an unlikely 27-24 comeback win over London Irish after dropping 10 points early in the second half.
The Exiles appeared to be free from the ill effects of their agonizing midweek Premiership Rugby Cup final loss to Worcester when they scored a fourth try with bonus points shortly after the break.
But a try from Will Muir and two penalties from Orlando Bailey, who also kicked off three conversions, saw Bath battle for just their fifth win of the season and deliver a fine send-off to club stalwarts Semesa Rokoduguni – who was named man of the match. , Taulupe Faletau and Anthony Watson – although the latter was not playing but in the ground – as well as a host of other starters.
They now face a shootout on June 4 with Worcester, three points behind, to decide who will end up bottom of the table despite not being relegated.
READ MORE: Bath Rugby 27-24 London Irish LIVE: Reaction to Rec comeback win
With England manager Eddie Jones as an interested spectator, Bath monopolized possession for the opening minutes until a late tackle earned skipper Charlie Ewels a yellow card.
The Exiles almost immediately worked on left wing Ben Loader for an unconverted try and spent the next half hour finding space all over the pitch, purely through clever passing and creative running lines .
When Bath fly-half Bailey missed a penalty to touch it, he was fired with interest, but Nick Phipps couldn’t quite hold onto the ball at the end of a flowing counterattack.
Even the messy line-out ball 22 alone did not dampen the visitors’ ambition. A straightforward supporting play opened Bath left and right before right winger Kyle Rowe swung past a weak tackle to add a second try after 19 minutes.
Paddy Jackson’s conversion attempt hit the post but the Exiles looked likely to score on every attack and Rowe would have crossed again within five minutes if Joe Cokanasiga hadn’t put him through.
A defiant escape from Max Clark and Semesa Rokoduguni suddenly broke the spell and Mike Williams landed under the posts for Bath after Bailey forced his way through a solid scrum. The opener converted and quickly regained the ball after a touch of magic from Taulupe Faletau.
In his final home game for Bath before joining Cardiff, the British and Irish Lions’ number eight lined up Jackson’s restart, pulled back from three tackle attempts and launched onto the pitch before being offloaded halfway over Ben Spencer who got away for the tryout.
The 14-10 lead was short-lived, however, as veteran hooker Agustin Creevy dug in a pile of bodies either side of half-time for two tries, securing the visitors’ bonus try point. Jackson converted both.
Bailey netted a penalty at the other end to cut the margin to a score and Rowe, with most of the 14,314 spectators on the ground, thought he had scored again on the hour, only to be sent off for a forward pass.
Instead, it was the home side who struck next, as substitute winger Muir, Bath’s Player of the Year, latched onto a spot kick by Clark’s conversion and Bailey away to make it 24-24.
Now it was the visitors who were under pressure, fumbling for passes and getting caught in possession. A forward past the posts earned Bath a scrum – and a penalty thrown by Bailey saw the hosts take the lead.
In a frantic finish, there was still time for a Faletau try tackle on replacement hooker Matt Cornish at the other end as Bath held on for a rare win.
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Rugby bath: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Joe Cokanasiga, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Valeriy Morozov, 2 Tom Doughty, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Mike Williams, 5 Charlie Ewels ©, 6 Miles Reid, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Ewan Richards, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Will Muir
London Irish: 15 Henry Arundell, 14 Lucio Cinti, 13 Will Joseph, 12 Benhard van Rensburg, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ben White, 1 Facundo Gigena, 2 Mike Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 4 Chunya Munga, 5 Rob Simmons, 6 Matt Rogerson (c), 7 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 8 Albert Tuisue.
Replacements: 16 Matt Cornish, 17 Will Goodrick-Clarke, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Ben Donnell, 21 Caolan Englefield, 22 Curtis Rona, 23 Ben Loader.
Arbitrator: Christophe Ridley (56th Premiership game).
Assistant referees: Nick Wood and Gareth Holsgrove.
TMO: Tom Foley.
Citing officer: Dave Guyana.