December was going to be Bath’s toughest month of the season so far by a long way. Three Aviva Premiership fixtures against the top three of the 2015/16 season, meant that by the end of the year Bath would know where they stand with the big teams. Sandwiched between these fixtures was a European double header against Cardiff which would define Bath’s European campaign for the year.
The first match of the month was the toughest. Bath welcomed the current English and European champions, Saracens, to the Recreation Ground. A quickfire start to the first half followed up by an unbelievable defensive display from all players meant that Bath gained their most important win of the season. But some would say it’s a lucky victory as Saracens did repeatedly turn down the chance to kick at posts to level the scores up and in the 80th minute a long range strike from Alex Lozowski fell short of the posts allowing for all associated with Blue, Black and White to breathe a huge sigh of relief as they had just conquered one of if not the best rugby team in Europe.
After such an impressive performance what followed the week after was unacceptable. The worst performance of the season by a streak as Bath went over to Wales and got thumped 28-3 by Cardiff Blues. The less said about the performance the better, especially when you consider the return fixture.
A bonus point win was needed. A bonus point win was gained. A string of first team players bought back into the starting XV paid off for Bath as they ran in 5 tries to put themselves back in control of Pool 4. Yes, they were level on points with Cardiff but due to 38-3 victory Bath had a superior head to head against the Welsh outfit so all they have to do for the remaining 2 matches is match Cardiff’s results. Major highlight of the match has to go to Ross Batty for running over 70 metres to the try line.
The return to Premiership action and a visit up to Coventry to face Wasps was a very challenging one. Wasps are the form side in the league this season and are running in tries for fun, this was once again the case even against Bath’s impressive defence. Wasps came flying out the blocks and Christian Wade was in fine try-scoring form on the day. The speedy winger ended up bagging himself a hat-trick as Wasps went on to win 40-26. The one silver lining on the day was that although Bath were well out of the contest they continued to battle on and didn’t leave empty handed after securing a try bonus point.
Exeter Chiefs at home rounded of 2016 for Bath. Fond memories of Bath snatching it at the death earlier on in the season were still fresh in the mind and Bath wanted to build on that away victory over their West Country rivals. However, it was role reversal this time as Exeter got their revenge. Bath dominated all facets of the game for the first 70 minutes of the match but were still only able to have a 11-3 margin. A Jack Nowell inspired Exeter capitalised on a few Bath errors and with two late tries from James Short, Exeter won.
Back to back defeats in the league for the first time this season was not the way Bath wanted to end the year but they are in control over their own destiny in the European Challenge Cup and it certainly is an improvement on where the club were last year with the side still placed in the top four.