The Bath team, led by Joe Cokanasiga, came alive in the second half to shock Ulster with a strong offensive performance.
During December, there are numerous attractions to be seen in Bath, drawing in a large number of visitors to the city. These include the festive Christmas market at the abbey, the ice rink located in Vicky Park, the production of Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, and a performance by the athlete at the Recreation Ground.
In the past decade, some notable players such as Danny Cipriani, George Ford, Gavin Henson, and Rhys Priestland have made significant contributions to the club, even during difficult times when they did not achieve any victories. However, Finn Russell stands out among them as the best player since Mike Catt’s departure from the club to join London Irish 19 years ago.
There were a handful of neutral spectators in the crowd who mentioned cheerfully that they were only here to see Russell in action. A few Ulster fans, who were feeling less optimistic due to the team’s struggles with scrummaging this season, also admitted that they were mainly interested in seeing him play.
Ultimately, the game did not align with Russell’s style. However, some of his daring kicks and maneuvers were so bold that they elicited laughter from many in the audience.
He benefits from having a variety of tools at his disposal. On one hand, he had Ollie Lawrence, who is performing exceptionally well, and on the other, frequently, the relentless Alfie Barbeary, who led a strong Bath team. Their victory was largely due to the gritty, unattractive style of rugby played by Barbeary and the other forwards in the latter half of the game, particularly props Will Stuart and Beno Obano, who were awarded man of the match.
At halftime, they were behind 14-8, but their dominance in the second half was even more impressive. The game had gone back and forth for 50 minutes, but by the 70th minute, a clear winner was determined. In the first half, tries were scarce until three were suddenly scored just before the break.
Bath was the first team to score, with a quick and precise pass from Ben Spencer to Joe Cokanasiga on the right side. Jacob Stockdale attempted to catch up and make the tackle, but it was like trying to halt a speeding train.
As Bath seemed to be establishing a lead, Ulster made a strong comeback when Lawrence intercepted a loose pass and accidentally kicked it to Billy Burns. Burns, a local from Bath who attended school at Beechen Cliff, caught the ball and took advantage of the gap left by Lawrence. Interestingly, Burns used to work as a ballboy at this very stadium not too long ago.
Bath was still trying to comprehend what had occurred when Ulster scored their second point.
Stockdale initiated the play by sprinting down the center and receiving a kick. The ball eventually made its way to Robert Baloucoune on the right side. Baloucoune had made some threatening runs earlier in the match and this time, he utilized a series of passes with James Hume to outmaneuver Bath’s defense.
However, the second portion presented a notable contrast. Bath began to assert their strength over Ulster in the set-pieces, causing the visitors to weaken. Bath was able to score one try from a maul, another from an aggressive scrum, and two late tries from deep to ultimately seal the victory.
The Bath team faced off against Ulster’s South African rugby player, Steven Kitshoff, who had previously won the World Cup. Stuart, in particular, felt a great sense of accomplishment in outperforming him. According to the Bath head coach, Johann van Graan, “It was a personal victory for him, as he has faced Kitshoff several times in the past.” Although Van Graan did not explicitly state it, Kitshoff has typically come out on top in their matchups.
Obano expressed, in his unique manner, that he was not particularly concerned about Kitshoff. “I believe I am not a good person,” Obano stated. “I am not too bothered about whoever is on the opposing team.”
Van Graan credited the recently stitched pitch for assisting the club in the wet weather, thanks to the financial support of owner Bruce Craig. Craig’s deep pockets not only allowed for the pitch maintenance but also enabled the club to offer a competitive salary to Russell and potentially secure signings for Arundell and Snyman.
Currently, there is a sense of energy and excitement present. The team has regained their confidence and charisma. Russell’s presence exudes enough of it for everyone.