Of all the indignities heaped on Bath this season, and there have been a few, this West Country humbling in English rugby’s oldest derby fixture was perhaps the most painful.
Playing at home against their fiercest rivals, Stuart Hooper’s side succumbed meekly during the first half en route to a 12th defeat in succession, signalling more doom and gloom at the Rec.
Bath recently appointed Brent Janse van Rensburg as defence coach for the remainder of the season, but it was clear that the South African’s influence will take time to be felt.
Gloucester were up 26-6 up and in total control at the interval, much to the disgust of Bath followers and presumably their owner, Bruce Craig, who will be replaced by Ed Griffiths, the former Saracens chief executive, as chairman from the start of 2022.
By the end of the first half, George Skivington’s men had the bonus point in the bag while for the notoriously ill-disciplined hosts their forwards Tom Ellis and Lewis Boyce were sent to the sin-bin.
Bath, who announced this month the appointment of Johann Van Graan as head coach on a long-term contract from next season, when he will relinquish his current position in charge of Munster, continue to undermine themselves with numerous failings.
“To concede 40 points against Gloucester at home is not acceptable, absolutely,” Hooper, the director of rugby, said. “Collision-wise we were poor and we didn’t stop their lineout drive and if you don’t stop that in the Premiership, particularly against these guys who are the best at it, you’re in trouble. But we have got to be better than that. We definitely made it too easy for them.”
Bath were dealt an early blow when Sam Underhill departed with a head knock and did not return.
As Gloucester began to probe, Bath were penalised for an infringement at the ruck and referee Matthew Carley sent Ellis to the sin-bin.
The visitors soon made their numerical advantage pay as Carley awarded them a penalty try and showed Boyce a yellow card. That left Bath down to 13 men and, although Bailey booted another penalty, Harris was on hand to finish off a neat move inside the left channel.
Gloucester moved through the gears and utilised their driving maul to devastating effect again. Jack Singleton was the beneficiary this time, emerging from a thicket of bodies to touch down before Harris claimed his second try in the 39th minute after some neat footwork from Louis Rees-Zammit.
Adam Hastings’s conversion gave the visitors a 26-6 interval advantage and, while there was a response of sorts from Bath in the second half, it was nowhere near enough.
In the 52nd minute, Ben Spencer cleverly took a quick tap-penalty and darted under the posts to give Bath a glimmer of hope. But the replacement Fraser Balmain claimed Gloucester’s fifth score from yet another driving maul and the final nail for Bath came late on when Hastings’s superb kick found Ollie Thorley in the left corner and he showed intelligence to send Kyle Moyle over.
Ollie Fox claimed a last-minute consolation for Bath, but Gloucester rose to third after clinching their biggest win at the Rec in the professional era. A delighted Skivington, buoyed by an outstanding display from the Australian flanker Jordy Reid, said: “We came here last year and lost with the last kick of the game, so we wanted to put that right.
“Obviously it’s a West Country derby and the big one for the supporters and everyone involved with the club. We respect that, but we’re just working really hard to get better every week. I think we’re getting there – slowly.”