Van Graan speaks about Bath's great escape
FRIDAY WRAP: Bath Head of Rugby Johann Van Graan admitted he breathed a sigh of relief at his side’s narrow 20-19 Premiership victory over neighbours Bristol.
He also praised the “two world-class No.13s” in the game.
Bath’s England centre Ollie Lawrence took the player of the match award for a hungry, virtuoso display but Fijian-born Virimi Vakatawa was just as impressive in the Bristol backline in front of a capacity crowd at the Recreation Ground.
Asked about Lawrence’s form since returning from the World Cup, Van Graan said: “I thought he was excellent.
“We had a good set-piece base to attack from in the first half. Obviously, we did our homework on them and they did the same to us so both teams found momentum.
“We put Ollie through a few holes and the try straight from the kick-off was a brilliant team effort.”
Van Graan added: “I coached against Vakatawa when I was with South Africa and he with France. Every time I see his name on the opposition team sheet I think: what a quality player!
“It was a real positive for the Premiership, if you look at the quality on both sides and two No.13s.
“We’re not speaking about decisions or 50-50s, we’re talking about two world-class No.13s that had a real go at each other. Both were brilliant.”
On his performance, Van Graan added: “We spoke this week about mastering the basics and in the last three minutes we were really clinical.
“We had to defend the maul, defend the scrum, win our own ball on the scrum. We had to win a line-out, execute the kick and keep our discipline, because one penalty gives it away so it was a real sign of growth to us.
“Last season we lost seven games by one score. We were on the wrong end of it here against Leicester recently with a last-minute decision so I’ll take it as a real sign of growth for us as a group.”
Bristol Director of Rugby Pat Lam said: “We started really well, scored and then gave possession away.
“They came at us and had a real purple patch from our own errors and missed tackles and at 17-7 they were on fire. We just had to stop their momentum.
“We then had some clear chances to score points before half-time and we blew those. We spoke about it and said we needed to score next. We had a few chances and finally got over and scored again. It could have gone any way at the end there.”
Lam added: “What I am proud about is that the boys kept fighting and hanging in there. If we do that, it will come.
“We lost by just one point and you have to ask yourself: did the game plan give us opportunities? We just didn’t take those points.
“You can look at the [refereeing] calls – and Callum [Sheedy] has failed his HIA – but I ask myself: did we have opportunities to win? Yes we did. All of the last four games, we could have easily won them if we had taken our chances, so we keep working at that.
“There were a lot of positive performances from guys which will stand us in good stead. I know there is doom and gloom outside (the club) about results but we know that they could easily be the other way round. It’s fine margins.
“What I love is that in every game the boys are fighting and showing lots of effort.
“We’ve got Sarries [Saracens] next week so we’re straight back in. It helps focus us.”
* Meanwhile, Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson admitted his side was still far from their best despite going top of the Gallagher Premiership following Friday’s 40-22 comeback win over bottom side Newcastle.
Arron Reed scored two of six tries for the hosts but it was far from plain sailing for last season’s runners-up, with the winless Falcons coming within four points at one stage, thanks to a second-half fightback.
Bryan Byrne and Iwan Stephens both crossed after the break to reduce the score to 26-22 but late tries from Sam James and Tom Roebuck sealed victory and Sanderson insisted there was still plenty of room for improvement from his side.
All Friday’s scores and scorers follow below …
How good was this man today
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) November 17, 2023
Bath 20-19 Bristol Bears
Tries: Lawrence, Spencer
Cons: Russell 2
Pens: Russell 2
For Bristol Bears
Tries: Bradbury, Lane, Malins
Cons: Sheedy 2
Bath: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben Spencer (captain), 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Miles Reid, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Fergus Lee-Warner, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 GJ van Velze, 20 Alfie Barbeary, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Max Ojomoh.
Bristol Bears: 15 Rich Lane, 14 Piers O’Conor, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall (captain), 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Harry Thacker, 6 James Dun, 5 Joe Batley, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Gabriel Oghre, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Josh Caulfield, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 James Williams, 23 Max Malins.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant referees: Joe James, Greg Macdonald
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Sale Sharks 40-22 Newcastle Falcons
For Sale Sharks
Tries: Reed 2, B Curry, R du Preez, S James, Roebuck
Cons: R du Preez 5
For Newcastle Falcons
Tries: Brown, Chick, B Byrne, Stephens
Sale Sharks: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Sam James, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Arron Reed, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Gus Warr, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Ben Curry (captain), 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 James Harper, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Bevan Rodd.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Asher Opoku-Fordjour 19 Ben Bamber, 20 Sam Dugdale, 21 Nye Thomas, 22 Tom Curtis, 23 Alex Wills.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Ben Redshaw, 14 Louis Brown, 13 Zach Kerr, 12 Cameron Hutchison, 11 Iwan Stephens, 10 Josh Thomas, 9 James Elliott, 8 Callum Chick (captain), 7 Guy Pepper, 6 John Hawkins, 5 Kiran McDonald, 4 Tim Cardall, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Phil Brantingham.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Maddison, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 Mark Tampin, 19 John Kelly, 20 Josh Bainbridge, 21 Josh Barton, 22 Louie Johnson, 23 Oliver Spencer.
Referee: Adam Leal
Assistant referees: Simon Harding, Peter Allan
TMO: David Rose