Not a lot to see here, you might think. Saracens top again, winning again, collecting maximum points again. Bath losing again. All so familiar. But the plot of this one had depth. And it ended in a cliffhanger, obviously, the seemingly vanquished rousing themselves against all odds. That idea really is a stereotype in the Premiership nowadays.
If this is the era of the comeback, Bath are as acquainted with strong finishes as anyone at the moment, even if they cannot quite consummate them. Ollie Lawrence, salvaged from the wreckage of Worcester, tore into Saracens, particularly in the second half. He made 254 metres, almost half of Bath’s total, and beat 11 defenders.
Those metrics kept Bath in the game. It seemed as they were in for a dramatic winning try at the death but the England captain, Owen Farrell, inspirational throughout, managed to get back to intercept Max Ojomoh’s inside ball and maintain the familiarity of outcome.
Saracens were not at their best but they started superbly. Less familiar is the sight of their team sheet without Alex Goode, as is occasionally the case these days, but for this match the club’s typesetter reverted to that most familiar cliche: “15 A Goode.” The same name was quickly entered into the try-scorer column, and the sheer class of the event itself was even more familiar.
Theo McFarland, whose status as Saracens cliche is surely on its way, charged down, Eliot Daly was on to it, and the speed of rucks and handling in the moments that followed were exceptional and beautiful in equal measure. Goode threw a dummy; the defence parted; over he strolled.
That was in the third minute, when one figured the plot of this narrative was looking as well worn as any trope, but Bath were not up for playing the parts expected of them. Their defence was energetic throughout and in Lawrence they had all the threat a team could need, practically a one-man show.
They briefly had the lead within a few minutes. It soon became apparent that Saracens, for all the ambition of their approach, were not quite on it this time.
“It was very disappointing performance by us,” said Mark McCall. “We had a lot of players who were happy to do the comfortable stuff and weren’t happy to do the small stuff that everybody needs. To do their job, to be honest.”
Bath’s response to Saracens’ opener was facilitated by sloppiness from the home team. Goode, of all people, spilled a pass, and Matt Gallagher, once his understudy here, hacked on and scored.
An Orlando Bailey penalty earned Bath that lead but three penalties by Farrell before the break opened up a six-point advantage. And then the narrative unfolded as expected. Three Saracens tries followed, bonus point secured, home team 20 points in the distance, 37-17.
Max Malins’s interception of Quinn Roux’s pass was perfunctory but they all count. Lawrence, though, upped his game even higher and so nearly hauled Bath to victory by the denouement.
He ran through Alex Lewington and Daly down the right to set up Ojomoh a few minutes after Lewington’s try. Alas, a yellow card for D’Arcy Rae proved costly for the underdogs. His high tackle on Ben Earl was punished not just by the referee but by Daly, who picked a line off Farrell’s pass, following the attacking lineout from the penalty.
Lewington set up the 20-point lead five minutes later, after McFarland’s break released him to the line. But for the final quarter it was the Lawrence show. He broke again to turn the ball inside to Joe Cokanasiga for Bath’s third. Then he thought he had scored a try of his own from a Bath counterattack, but the TMO picked up a knock-on in the buildup.
Inside the last 10 minutes, Lawrence featured in interplay down Bath’s right, the prelude to Wesley White’s try which set up the gripping finale. It looked as if Ojomoh was away but Farrell intercepted and Saracens’ defence stood firm, just. Breathless stuff. Yet again.