The University of Bath’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in fitting style as thousands of fans packed into The Rec to roar the men’s 1st XV to a 17-14 victory over Leeds Beckett University in the BUCS Super League.
It was a third successive win for the Blue and Gold in the new national competition, following bonus-point successes against Northumbria and Loughborough, and moves them top of the early standings.
Again they had to come from behind, with Leeds captain Josh Longson’s 16th-minute try being immediately cancelled out by home centre Charlie Dunbar. Both were converted, by Dave McIlwane and Hugo Stiles, to make it 7-7 at half-time.
A mist descended on The Rec – Bath Rugby’s iconic city-centre ground – in the second half but Bath managed to find their way to victory thanks to an Alex Wood touchdown in between a Stiles penalty and conversion.
A combative Leeds outfit refused to give in and Jonny Sykes’ try made for a tense last few minutes but Bath held out to the delight of the 5,500-strong crowd.
Aaron James, Head of Rugby at the University of Bath, said: “The boys worked hard for each other and their discipline was outstanding. It’s been a great start to the season and we will celebrate tonight but then tomorrow we start looking ahead to our next match. Every game in this league is very, very hard.
“The atmosphere was fantastic and I know the boys enjoyed it. We’re pleased we were able to entertain the crowd and thank you to the students, staff and public for making it such a special night.”
It was on October 25th 1966 that the University of Bath was established by Royal Charter. Tuesday’s 50th anniversary was marked by a day of celebratory events, with the Super Rugby match providing the perfect conclusion.
Captain Will Britton said: “Having such a big crowd turn out made a massive difference for us. Playing in front of your mates in a ground like this, it doesn’t really get much better to be honest.”
Try-scorer Dunbar added: “The confidence is massive in the group and it’s great to see the boys believing in what we can do. We need to keep the momentum going.
“It’s a huge lift for all the players to play in a stadium like this. The crowd could not have been better tonight.”
The University of Bath made two changes to the XV that started last week’s impressive 28-17 win over Loughborough, with England U18 winger Levi Davis and flanker Adam McCarthy coming into the team while Tom Kynge moved to number eight.
Leeds Beckett had suffered narrow defeats in their first two matches of the season, losing by ten points to both Cardiff Met and Durham, and they found themselves on the back foot as Bath made a bright start to the match.
A chip and charge from Ludi Hopkinson, which received a huge cheer from the masses in the West Stand, epitomised Bath’s confident approach but they were unable to force their way through a determined Leeds defence.
Instead, it was the visitors who made the breakthrough. Winger Olly Hudson made two powerful breaks, the second of which was stopped just inches from the line by Bath captain Will Britton. However, Leeds were able to drive over the ensuing five-metre scrum, with skipper Josh Longson touching down for a try converted by Dave McIlwane.
Bath had been behind in their two previous matches and, once again, they responded superbly. Adam McCarthy charged down a clearance to put them back on the front foot and, from a five-metre scrum of their own, the ball was played back for centre Charlie Dunbar to bulldoze through. Hugo Stiles’ conversion restored parity.
Tempers boiled over in the 29th minute when a couple of crunching tackles from the physical visitors angered the Bath team and crowd, and led to flanker Luke Paynter being yellow-carded by referee Claire Hodnett.
However, Bath were unable to take advantage of their extra man and should have found themselves trailing at the break, only for McIlwane to hook a penalty kick wide from the 22m line.
Opposite number Stiles made no mistake from an identical position seven minutes into the second half as Bath edged into a 10-7 lead.
After the metaphorical red mist in the first half, an actual mist descended on The Rec after the break as Bath – wearing a specially-commissioned shirt emblazoned with the University’s 50th anniversary logo – probed for the try that would give them some breathing space.
It arrived on the hour mark as, after a period of sustained pressure on the Leeds try line, prop Wood forced his way over to score his second try in as many games. Stiles’ conversion was again successful as Bath opened up a 17-7 lead.
Leeds were proving determined opponents, though, and battled their way back into the game with ten minutes to go as full-back Jonny Sykes went over from a scrum. McIlwane kicked an excellent conversion from a tight angle to cut Bath’s advantage to three points.
The closing stages were tense and Leeds had ball in hand as the clock ticked round to 80 minutes but Bath were able to see off the danger and seal their third successive win.
Next up for the University of Bath is a home fixture against a Durham University side who have won one of their opening three fixtures, also against Leeds Beckett.
That match will take place at the University’s Sports Training Village athletics in-field on Wednesday, November 2. Kick-off is 6.30pm and admission is free.
For more information about BUCS Super Rugby, including fixtures and player profiles, visit www.teambath.com/rugby/bucs-super-rugby.
University of Bath starting XV: 1 Greg Palmer, 2 Tom Doughty, 3 Alex Wood, 4 Will Britton, 5 Jack Davis, 6 Michael Snook, 7 Adam McCarthy, 8 Tom Kynge, 9 Will Flinn, 10 Ludi Hopkinson, 11 Levi Davis, 12 Charlie Dunbar, 13 Craig Duncan, 14 Jake Allen, 15 Hugo Stiles.
Replacements: 16 George Frampton, 17 Conor McGrath, 18 Austin Hay, 19 Scott Russell, 20 Alex Weighton, 21 Jack Turner, 22 Robbie De Bruyan.
Tries: Dunbar, Wood
Conversions: Stiles 2
Leeds Beckett University starting XV: 1 Ryan Everleigh, 2 Harri Newborn, 3 Rory Mason, 4 Dan Preston Routledge, 5 Martin Dodds, 6 Luke Paynter, 7 Josh Longson, 8 Jack Barnard, 9 James Elliott, 10 Harri Collier, 11 Olly Hudson, 12 Ben Dixon, 13 Dave McIlwane, 14 Jonny Keh, 15 Jonny Sykes.
Replacements: 16 Xavier Valentine, 17 Jonny Teague, 18 Toby Francis, 19 Dave Cogger, 20 Ben Smith, 21 Louis Brown, 22 Jona Marshal.
Tries: Longson, Skyes
Conversions: McIlwane 2
Referee: Claire Hodnett.
Assistant officials: Christopher Bartlett, Charlie Gayther.