Cokanasiga’s return helps Bath lift gloom with stunning comeback win
Despite gloomy conditions, the crushing news five hours before kick-off that 1,000 spectators could no longer attend, and being down 17 points heading into the final quarter, somehow Bath produced a victory to end a rough day on a high and give their Gallagher Premiership play-off hopes an enormous boost with a bonus-point win.
Tom Dunn’s late brace – reward for a fine performance in front of England head coach Eddie Jones and British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland – plus Lewis Boyce’s try overhauled a 17-point deficit, before Joe Cokanasiga, making his comeback after almost a year out with a knee injury, put Ben Spencer away for the try bonus point. It was an unbelievable turnaround, leaving Bath’s play-off aspirations in their own hands ahead of facing Saracens in the final round.
Bath’s squad, packing out the stands, gave Cokanasiga a thunderous reception when he came on after 54 minutes, playing in his first match since Sept 26 last year.
Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper said: “Joe is obviously box office, and I’m sure you guys will write about that step and it will be shown on all the screens, but the real thing that defines him is the unseen work. After 12 months out, he has worked so hard to get back.”
Winners of six of their seven previous matches since the restart, this time Bath found themselves in a deep hole, with Gloucester in control and impressing up until the 60-minute mark, leading 20-3 before alarmingly fading away.
“I think that was 60 minutes of executing exactly what we talked about, but we are gutted to lose. You have to take your hat off to Bath, they had momentum and that was the difference,” said George Skivington, Gloucester’s head coach.
Danny Cipriani was absent but Gloucester fly-half Lloyd Evans produced a stellar tribute act, fending off Josh Matavesi to slip through a gap before feeding Chris Harris on his inside for a smooth score, giving the visitors a 10-0 lead after an earlier Billy Twelvetrees penalty.
Rhys Priestland endeavoured to bring Bath back into the contest with a penalty before Twelvetrees’ third penalty made it 13-3 to Gloucester heading into the break.
At that point, Gloucester looked in total control, a superb second try finished off by Matt Banahan after a break from the powerful Jake Polledri giving the visitors a mammoth 20-3 advantage.
Bath looked to their maul for a lifeline and grabbed one, with Dunn at the bottom of the pile for their first try. Returning to the corner for a second time worked too, even after the maul was stopped, Dunn scoring his second with a low drive.
Impressive breaks from Anthony Watson and Sam Underhill then put Bath on the front foot, Lewis Boyce completing the comeback with Bath’s third try in 10 minutes. Cue one final flourish, as Josh McInally’s offload freed Cokanasiga, who beat two defenders before finding Spencer to ensure Bath picked up maximum points.
Touching down: Lewis Boyce scores the third try in Bath’s win over Gloucester which gave his team a shot at reaching the play-offs in front of England coach Eddie Jones