Cokanasiga stars in first game since England beat USA 12 months ago

Bath boss Stuart Hooper hailed “a huge win” for his team – which included the fit-again Joe Cokanasiga – after they stunned Gloucester to be firmly in control of their Gallagher Premiership play-off destiny.

Victory over Saracens in their final regular-season game on Sunday week will be enough to confirm a top-four finish. But it looked a distant dream midway through the second half at a rain-swept Recreation Ground as Bath trailed by 17 points before dramatically turning the contest on its head. Hooker Tom Dunn scored two tries in five minutes, then prop Lewis Boyce crossed and scrum-half Ben Spencer’s touchdown sealed an improbable 31-20 bonus-point win.

“Never in doubt – that’s probably three words I wouldn’t associate with that,” Bath rugby director Hooper said. “It’s a huge win for our guys. They relied today on lots of things they have been through pre-lockdown, during the lockdown, making sense of it all and putting it all together into what was a great second-half performance.

“You want to be in a position where we know we can go to Saracens, and if we get a good win there we will be in the play-offs. There is nothing worse than having it taken out of your own hands. That was an important part of tonight, and the five points was a big element of that.”

Fly-half Rhys Priestland kicked four conversions and a penalty, and Bath’s late charge was given added momentum by England wing Cokanasiga featuring off the Bath bench for his first appearance since suffering a knee injury at last year’s World Cup.

Hooper added: “Joe is a quality player, isn’t he? The great thing with Joe is he is obviously box-office, but the real thing that defines him is the unseen work. After 12 months out he has worked so hard to get back out there. He’s been itching to go, but he had to be right to go back out there and play like that. The amount of work he puts in away from the spotlight, which he is obviously going to get a lot of, defines him.”

Tries by centre Chris Harris and former Bath player Matt Banahan put Gloucester in the driving seat, with Billy Twelvetrees kicking 10 points, yet it ultimately proved nowhere near enough. The game was played behind closed doors after Bath’s hopes of welcoming 1,000 spectators as Premiership rugby’s latest pilot event were dashed just hours before kick-off.

Concern over the second wave of coronavirus infections has resulted in plans for supporters to attend sports venues in England from October 1 to be placed on hold as part of additional new restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Reflecting on Gloucester’s 14th defeat of the Premiership campaign, head coach George Skivington said: “That was frustrating. “We were good for 60 minutes, then fell away and it was a snowball effect and we couldn’t find our way out.

“That was 60 minutes of executing exactly what we talked about, but we are gutted to lose. You have to take your hat off to Bath. They have momentum, and that was probably the difference.”