Trailing 27-26 as a topsy-turvy match ticked into its 80th minute, the home side maintained their belief and – roared on by a packed main stand at the home of Bath Rugby – forced a penalty in front of the posts.
The stadium fell silent as Stiles lined up his kick, then began to shake as a huge cheer went up as it sailed between the sticks. The noise was even louder moments later as the final whistle blew, sparking scenes of celebration on and off the pitch.
Team Bath were presented with the Anniversary Game trophy by Iestyn Lewis, CEO of sponsors Iesis Group and a former University of Bath head rugby coach.
Current Head of Rugby Aaron James said: “It was a great finish. Our hearts were in our mouths but credit to the guys, they deserved it. It was an entertaining game, both teams tried to play rugby, and there are small margins in this league, so we were pleased to win it.
“It was a tremendous crowd, thanks to all of them and I’m glad we were able to give them plenty of entertainment. Thanks also to all the Team Bath and SU [Student Union] staff behind the scenes who make this event work and of course to Iesis Group, it’s great to have their support – it was nice to receive the trophy off Iestyn finally!”
Captain Tom Doughty added: “Tense, nervous, exciting, energising – there are so many ways to describe that finish but I was so proud that the boys came out on top in the end. We said before the game that it was the team that stayed cool under the lights and under the pressure that would come out on top and we did just that.”
Newly-crowned Modern Pentathlon World Champion Jamie Cooke and Olympic silver-medallist swimmer Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, both of whom train at the University of Bath, were among the crowd for the biggest Blue & Gold night of the sporting calendar.
They saw Team Bath defend well to fend off some early pressure before opening the scoring in the 12th minute with a well-worked try. They moved the ball quickly from right to left before Will Partington sent winger Finn Murphy over in the corner. Stiles was just off target with his conversion attempt from the touchline.
Leeds Beckett responded with a Steffan James penalty but, with the boisterous crowd roaring them on, Team Bath deservedly stretched their lead in the 24th minute. Leeds just managed to hold off a charge by James Catlin but couldn’t stop fellow back-row Jack Davies barging over for the third Anniversary Game try of his Team Bath career.
Stiles’ conversion from in front of the posts put the hosts 12-3 up but that gap was soon cut to two again as Leeds Beckett winger William Lewin touched down in the corner and James added the extras in fine style.
Team Bath then went behind for the first time with three minutes of the first half remaining as, following concerted pressure from the visitors, Dan Grant-Adamson took a quick tap penalty and jinked through the home defence to touch down under the posts, leaving James with a simple conversion.
Trailing 17-12 at half-time, Team Bath got off to the perfect start in the second period thanks to a moment of magic from Ed Rimmer. The scrum-half sold a dummy before turning on the afterburners to cut through the Leeds defence and race over the line.
Stiles’ conversion briefly edged the home side back in front before Lewin coolly slotted over another penalty to put Leeds Beckett 20-19 ahead with ten minutes of the second half gone.
The game was as evenly matched as the scoreline but the advantage swung back in Team Bath’s favour on the hour as some fantastic footwork by full-back Partington – one of five Bath Rugby Academy players in the home squad – set up an attack that was finished off by replacement Jack Kenningham, who is part of the Harlequins Academy set-up.
Stiles added the extras to put Team Bath 26-20 ahead but back came Leeds Beckett again. The hosts thought they had saw off the danger when they forced a knock-on on their try line but they were penalised from the resulting scrum and the visitors took full advantage, with replacement Hayden Thompson-Green crashing over for a try converted by James.
The Blue & Gold were determined to reward the home fans with a victory, though, and ensured they took the spoils when Stiles held his nerve with virtually the last kick of the game.
Team Bath, sponsored by Fulkers and MJ Church, are back in action at the University of Bath Sports Training Village next Wednesday (October 24) when they entertain South West rivals Exeter. Kick-off is 6.30pm and admission is free.
Team Bath starting XV: 15 Will Partington, 14 Finn Murphy, 13 Alex Nisbett, 12 Miles Gilbert, 11 Hugo Stiles, 10 Alex Burrage, 9 Ed Rimmer; 1 Arthur Cordwell, 2 Tom Doughty (c), 3 Kieran Verden, 4 Angus Hinton, 5 Adam Thresher, 6 Jack Davies, 7 Chris Barry, 8 James Catlin. Replacements: 16 Beck Cutting, 17 George Cave, 18 Austin Hay, 8 Jack Kenningham, 20 Josh Lilly, 21 James Richardson, 22 Brandon Bellamin, 23 Will Hughes.
Tries: Murphy, Davies, Rimmer, Kenningham.
Conversions: Stiles 3.
Leeds Beckett starting XV: 15 Charlie Venables, 14 Chester Duff, 13 Tom Williams, 12 Ben Dixon, 11 William Lewin, 10 Steffan James, 9 Dan Grant-Adamson; 1 Ryan Eveleigh, 2 Conrad Cade, 3 Xavier Valentine, 4 John Okafor, 5 Thomas Collins, 6 Toby Francis, 7 Johan Visser, 8 Jonny Teague (c). Replacements: 16 Tobi Abemakin, 17 Samuel Theron, 18 Jide Ajayi, 19 Hayden Thompson-Green, 20 Jonathan Keh, 21 Dante Van Der Merwe, 22 Harri Collier, 23 Harry Robinson.
Tries: Lewin, Grant-Adamson, Thompson-Green.
Conversions: James 3.
Penalties: James 2.
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe.
Assistant referees: Oli Carey, Steve Hambley.
Fourth official: James Maby.