Finn Russell has winning Bath kick snatched away, Bristol beaten late, Fin Smith shines - Gallagher Premiership round-up

Finn Russell and Bath suffered their first defeat of the season in agonising circumstances at home to Leicester Tigers on gameweek three of the Gallagher Premiership.

It seemed that Scotland stand-off Russell had snatched victory with a penalty at the other end in the 25-24 defeat, but Bath were penalised at a scrum from the restart and Russell’s opposite number Jamie Shillcock – playing against his former club – nervelessly found the target from near the touchline as the rain teemed down at the Recreation Ground.

It earned Shillcock – who signed a short-term deal with Bath in 2022 – a match tally of 20 points, including a conversion of Tommy Reffell’s 67th-minute try. Bath, who had come into the game as early Premiership leaders, celebrated tries from left-wing Will Muir and prop Thomas Du Toit, plus four penalties and a conversion from Russell.

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Bath head of rugby Johann van Graan said: “The season won’t end until July. This isn’t the time for doom and gloom. We’ll just keep working. We win together. We lose together. Look they were terrible conditions. We led with one minute to go, unfortunately we dropped the kick-off and then there was a decision at the scrum and they kicked the goal. It was difficult for both sides, so congrats to Leicester.”

Bath's Finn Russell tries to evade the Leicester defence.Bath's Finn Russell tries to evade the Leicester defence.
Bath's Finn Russell tries to evade the Leicester defence.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam felt his side were their own worst enemies after they slipped to a 23-21 defeat against Harlequins after Jarrod Evans kicked a late penalty to deny them victory. “We were quite quickly out of the blocks, but made far too many errors in that opening quarter,” Lam said. “If you keep dropping the ball it is impossible to maintain any momentum and put any pressure on them. We then turned it round in terms of momentum and went on to dominate the second half, but we failed to take a number of chances to put the game out of their reach. We were ahead with two minutes to go, but we then give away a penalty and it is the nature of the game now that it was going to be awarded.”

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson admitted his side had been “outclassed” after their heaviest ever defeat to Exeter, with the Devon side winning 43-0 at Sandy Park. Greg Fisilau, Dan Frost, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Niall Armstrong crossed for the Chiefs, who were also awarded a penalty try. Centre Henry Slade added 11 points from four conversions and a penalty. Sanderson said: “I am taking this off the lads to a degree because there was something clearly wrong with our preparation and messaging this week – how strong those messages were and how relevant they were – and making the lads aware of the threat of the opposition and intensity, which we weren’t up to for the whole 80 minutes. We just weren’t at the races and there is going to have to be some deep introspection, and no doubt some technical fault correction, but first off it is around mentality and how we got it so wrong as coaches.”

After Sunday’s 16-14 win over Newcastle, Northampton director of rugby Phil Dowson says Fin Smith’s prolific points-kicking performance will lay the foundations for him to scale even greater heights. Fly-half Smith kicked three penalties and a conversion as Curtis Langdon’s try helped haul Northampton to their first Premiership win of the season at Kingston Park. Iwan Stephens grabbed a late score for Falcons but Dowson’s side clung on for a gutsy victory in the north east. Smith starred for Saints and Dowson believes the sky is the limit for the highly-rated 21-year-old. He said: “I think his game management was fantastic today. He’s only going to get better, I think he’s 21, or 22? So there’s only going to be improvements and experiences like today will help his development no end. That’s something he’s spoken about during the week and put an emphasis on that.”

In Friday’s match, Saracens number eight Tom Willis scored two tries in a 24-3 victory over Gloucester to ensure the reigning champions did not begin their Gallagher Premiership title defence with a hat-trick of defeats.

Gallagher Premiership standings: 1 – Bath (11pts), 2 – Exeter (10pts), 3 – Bristol (10pts), 4 – Harlequins (9pts), 5 – Gloucester (9pts), 6 – Sale (8pts), 7 – Northampton (7pts), 8 – Leicester (5pts), 9 – Saracens (4pts), 10 – Newcastle (0pts).