Ollie Lawrence scored Bath’s ninth try in stoppage time to cap a fourth successive win and help lift the club up to eighth in the Premiership tableBath (21) 61Tries: Reid, Dunn 3, Obano 2, Cloete, Bailey, Lawrence Cons: Spencer 7, BaileySaracens (24) 29Tries: Segun, Hartley 2, Lewis, Vunipola Cons: Vunipola 2Bath qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup with a thumping victory over a much-changed Saracens on the final day of the Premiership campaign.
Tom Dunn scored a hat-trick at The Rec as the hosts ran in nine tries to lift the Blue, Black and Whites up to eighth place on points difference.
League leaders Sarries were 24-21 up after a see-saw first half but Bath crossed six times after the restart.
Ollie Lawrence’s late score meant Bath pipped Bristol on points difference.
Bath entered the last game of the campaign level on 42 points with the Bears and knowing they had to out-score their West Country rivals – who were hosting Gloucester – by at least nine points to pinch the final Champions Cup spot.
Sarries were already assured of a home play-off against Northampton and made 14 changes from their last outing – with Callum Hunter-Hill the sole survivor from their win over London Irish – as England full-back Elliot Daly made his first appearances since January following a hamstring injury.
Bath took an early lead through a converted Miles Reid score before Rotimi Segun quickly hit back, yet the sin-binning of Saracens prop Eroni Mawi appeared to open the door for the hosts.
Dunn rounded off a maul to stretch the lead but Olly Hartley ran in two tries which were converted by Manu Vunipola to place Saracens 19-14 in front.
The lead changed hands twice more before half-time as first Beno Obano muscled over, with Ben Spencer adding the extras to restore Bath’s advantage and then Ethan Lewis had the final word for Sarries before the break.
Lawrence rounds off second-half flourishBath put in an altogether more complete performance after the break to seize control of the contest as Obano crossed for the crucial fourth bonus-point try and two more Dunn efforts stretched their lead to 18 points.
A fine individual score from Vunipola halted their momentum, yet converted tries from Chris Cloete and Orlando Bailey gave Bath renewed hope and a 56-29 lead with seven minutes remaining.
However, it still looked like Johann van Graan’s men would remain ninth in the table and have to settle for European Challenge Cup rugby next season as Bristol led Gloucester 36-14 in the dying moments – giving the Bears eighth place by just three points.
But, with time up and the clock in the red, an attempted chip through by Vunipola was cut out in midfield by Niall Annett and a quick offload allowed Lawrence to run in from 30 metres and stretch Bath’s winning margin to 32 points.
That score meant a nervous wait for the match to end at Ashton Gate, and a late penalty try for Gloucester confirmed that Bath would leapfrog Bristol into eighth spot and secure them top-tier European rugby in 2023-24.
Bath head of rugby Johann van Graan told BBC Radio Bristol:
“I am so glad for the people of Bath. To get that points difference in that dramatic fashion is incredible.
“That is the drama of sport and I’m just thankful.
“Saracens came out and played and put us under huge pressure, but what a second-half performance from us. It was a bit of a ding-dong battle and an incredible game of rugby.
“[Reaching the top eight] is testament to the hard work from a lot of people, and we kept fighting. You can see the belief is back.”
Bath: Gallagher; Cokanasiga, Lawrence, Ojomoh, McConnochie; Bailey, Spencer (capt); Obano, Dunn, Stuart, McNally, Van Velze, Hill, Cloete, Reid.
Replacements: Annett, Schoeman, Rae, Attwood, Bayliss, Green, Francis, Joseph.
Saracens: Daly (co-capt); Segun, Hallett, Hartley, Harris; Vunipola, de Haas; Mawi, Lewis (co-capt), Judge, Wardell, Hunter-Hill, Michelow, Knight, Stonham.
Replacements: Adejimi, Hislop, Beaton, Pearce-Paul, Eke, Bracken, Morris, Elliott.
Sin-bin: Mawi (11).
Referee: Christophe Ridley.
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