A storming comeback from Loughborough stunned Bath at the Rec on Wednesday night as the visitors retained their ‘Real’ Varsity crown. Loughborough were 9-0 down in the second half before fighting back to snatch a 17-16 victory with a try just 3 minutes from time.
Bath could still have stolen victory, but their attempted drop goal in the final minute was charged down and Loughborough clung on for a thrilling victory in the real Varsity fixture.
Bath deservedly led at half time after dominating both territory and possession for the vast majority of the first half. They went ahead early with a penalty before a drop goal extended their lead to 6-0.
Loughborough saw very little ball and were right up against it when second row James Taylor was sin binned for a late shoulder barge after a Bath clearance kick. Taylor could have no complaints as he made little/no effort to use his arms in the tackle. Things went from bad to worse as wing Kristian Cook followed Taylor into the sin bin after a high tackle just minutes later.
Credit to the Loughborough defence who, despite being two men down, held firm. Bath did cross the try line before half time, but the ball was knocked on during grounding giving Loughborough a vital lifeline. Loughborough clung on and would have been happy to reach the break at just 6-0 down.
The second half started the same way as the first, with Bath converting an easy penalty kick to take the score to 9-0.
Loughborough were awarded their first kickable penalty shortly after but instead of taking the three points skipper Mark Deaville opted to go for the line-out in the corner.
Deaville’s decision turned out to be a very good one as replacement Rob Conquest crossed the line for the first try of the game. George Drake successfully converted the score and Loughborough were back in the game at 9-7.
The momentum had now swung and was completely with Loughborough and when they were denied an almost certain try by the Bath scrum half, the referee had little hesitation in bringing out his 3rd yellow card of the game. Drake slotted the resulting penalty which put Loughborough into the lead for the first time, 10-9.
Bath, roared on by a vocal home crowd, soon restored their lead however. A well worked short line out, led to a kick and chase which Loughborough dealt with poorly and Bath crossed for their only try of the game. This gave Bath a six point lead with just 20 minutes remaining.
Both sets of fans got increasingly edgy and when Deaville put a toe in touch just 5 metres from the try line and another Loughborough penalty was ran unsuccessfully, fans from the East Midlands may well have thought it wasn’t going to be their night.
This was until replacement scrum half, Joe Atkinson, found a gaping hole in the Bath defence from a line out, and breezed through and under the posts in a remarkably similar way to Ben Youngs try for England against Australia in Sydney.
The crucial conversion from Drake bisected the posts to give Loughborough a single point lead with 3 minutes of rugby left to be played.
As the minutes ticked by Loughborough attempted to keep it tight with the forwards but when Bath earned a turnover and entered the Loughborough 22 it looked like there would be one last chance for the West Country side.
A last minute drop goal attempt from Bath was charged down and Loughborough cleared the ball into touch to record a memorable Real Varsity victory.
In the early kick off, a severely depleted Loughborough Women’s team lost 31-10 to Bath.