Heathcote keeps Bath believing
Bath kept their Aviva Premiership play-off hopes alive with a thrilling 31-25 victory over West Country rivals Gloucester at the Rec on Friday night.
In a game the home side realistically had to win to maintain their top four aspirations, Bath fly-half Tom Heathcote proved the star of the show by registering 21 of his side's points. The gap to fourth-placed Gloucester is now just four.
Gloucester finished the game with 14 men after hooker Darren Dawidiuk was given a red card early in the second half following a tip-tackle on Dave Attwood.
Lee Mears led Bath out onto the field for what is his last scheduled appearance at the Rec, while Mike Tindall was making his 150th competitive Gloucester appearance.
Heatcote started the scoring with the first of his four penalties and swiftly booted Bath into a 10-0 advantage when Charlie Sharples was adjudged to have denied Tom Biggs a clear try-scoring opportunity.
Sharples was sent to the sin-bin as a result, however the 14 men of Gloucester rallied quickly and hit back when Henry Trinder pounced after a loose clearance by Nick Abendanon.
The visitors thought they had scored again only a couple of minutes later but Jonny May's touchdown was ruled out on the busy TMO's advice for a forward pass in the build-up.
Despite a series of Bath infringements at the breakdown, Freddie Burns was having mixed fortunes with his goal-kicking on his return to the side but his distribution was spot-on as he showed with devastating effect on 23 minutes, finding Trinder with a killer pass and May finished off in the corner. This time Burns was on target with the conversion.
Heathcote replied with a penalty from 40 metres to put Bath back in front at 13-12 and on the half-hour broke from his own half, finding Kyle Eastmond in support. The former Great Britain rugby league star rounded Sharples with ease to score under the posts and Heathcote added the two points.
After missing his fourth place kick, Burns gave way to Paul Cook and the full-back found the target from fully 45 metres, with the help of the crossbar.
Heathcote and Cook swapped penalties immediately after the break to advance the score to 23-18 as the Bath scrum began to gain the upper hand.
But it became a real uphill task for Gloucester on 50 minutes when hooker Dawidiuk was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Attwood, who was able to carry on after treatment.
Heathcote restored Bath's eight-point lead on 57 minutes but persistent indiscipline on his own side saw Carl Fearns shown a yellow card immediately after, evening up the numbers, albeit temporarily.
Bath were first to take advantage when Heathcote, Eastmond and Abendanon worked Biggs away on the left and the wing cut inside to score an unconverted try.
But Tindall roused his side into a stunning response on 65 minutes by bursting through almost to the line and Cook found space to put May over in the opposite corner. Cook's conversion made it a one-score game yet again, however Bath clung on for their seventh win in eight.