2005-2006

by BRIAN JENKINS

2005- 2006

22ND OCTOBER 2005 LEINSTER V BATH

As it happened Bath did just that, winning to record their first victory on Irish soil since the competition began to get the 2005-06 Heineken Cup off to the best possible start. However, they were made to sweat by a Leinster side that threw everything at John Connolly’s side in a frantic assault on the Bath try line in the dying moments of the contest.
As a spectacle this opening Heineken Cup match wasn’t a classic; there were just two tries and neither side found top gear, but as a battle it was an epic. The match was Heineken Cup rugby at its gritty, most intense best – a match full of big hits, defencive heroics and sheer drama. There were also inspiring individual performances. Danny Grewcock was once again in imperious form in a bludgeoning Bath pack, whilst Frikkie Welsh (a player who is certainly not shy in coming forward in defence), made a string of massive try-saving hits as Leinster mounted a late rally.

The win – the fifth in a row for Bath – will be a huge psychological fillip heading into Saturday’s Bourgoin match at the Rec. Even at this early stage of the competition it could well be the match that decides the outcome of pool five.

“Bourgoin will be a very tough proposition,” said head coach John Connolly after the match. “They are doing well in the French Championship and have a very strong pack. Their result against Glasgow may not have been by the biggest margin, but we are expecting a tough contest. We are just glad that we won today and are off the mark.”

After twenty minutes of the match victory must have seemed a long way away for Connolly and the rest of his coaching team as he watched his side make a number of elementary errors that allowed Leinster to take the game to Bath. Starved of possession early on, Bath suddenly found themselves thirteen points adrift as Felipe Contepomi dropped a goal, before combining with Lions centre Shane Horgan to loop round the Bath cover with effortless ease to score a try from Leinster’s top draw. His conversion left Bath with an awful lot to do.

However, Bath, who showed so much character in defeating Gloucester with fourteen men, refused to buckle and came back into the game strongly through the power of their forwards. Olly Barkley converted that excellent pressure by landing three penalties and incredibly Bath found themselves just four point adrift at the interval and back in the game.

The first twenty minutes of the second half were all Bath as the visitors began to play some cracking rugby in all areas of the field. On a wide pitch, Bath’s phase play tested the home side’s defencive capability to the limit and after Lee Mears was brought down just inches short of the line Leinster, in their panic, killed the ball. Referee Nigel Whitehouse reached for his pocket and produced a yellow card for hooker David Blaney.

With Leinster’s minds elsewhere after a frantic passage of play, Olly Barkley showed great vision in taking a quick tap and executing a cross field kick aimed for Tom Cheeseman in the corner. As the young Welshman rose to claim the ball, he appeared to be impeded, but all thoughts of a possible penalty try were extinguished when Andy Beattie claimed the bobbling ball for a try in the corner. Barkley’s inebriated conversion attempt was good and Bath had the lead for the first time in the match.

Contepomi kept Leinster in touch with a long range penalty, and the home side began to claw their way back into the game despite living off scraps of possession. Suddenly Leinster’s backs began to fire again and Bath’s defence was tested to the limit on several occasions, but tackle after tackle was made by men in blue and white jerseys and Leinster could not find a way through.

Leinster’s frustrations were compounded when Olly Barkley kicked another penalty before Chris Malone followed up last week’s fifty five metre drop goal cracker with a rather modest forty-seven metre effort.

The final ten minutes were frantic with Leinster battering the Bath line time and time again, but a mixture of heroics in defence and Leinster mistakes meant that the away side held on for a fine victory.

15 Lee Best, 14 David Bory (Salesi Finau), 13 Tom Cheeseman, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Frikkie Welsh, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Martyn Wood, 1 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears (Pieter Dixon), 3 Duncan Bell, 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 5 Danny Grewcock, 6 Andy Beattie, 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Zak Feaunati (Gareth Delve).

16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Chris Loader, 18 Gareth Delve, 19 James Hudson, 20 Nick Walshe, 21 Ryan Davis, 22 Salesi Finau.

29th OCTOBER 2005 BATH V BOURGOIN

Leading 16-12 with twenty-minutes to go in what had been a fairly open contest, it looked as though the 10,350 strong home support were in for a fairly tense finale to the match, but tries from Matt Stevens, James Hudson and the outstanding Danny Grewcock combined with a superb kicking display by Olly Barkley, stunned a Bourgoin side that simply had no response.
With two matches gone, John Connolly’s side top their pool as the Heineken Cup gives way to Guinness Premiership action over the next month. However, Bath can now return to domestic action full of confidence after six good wins on the bounce.

“We are beginning to build a little momentum at the moment,” said Connolly after the match. “With twenty minutes to go it was all to play for, but I was pleased by the way that we finished the match. It was not our best performance, but we are certainly heading in the right direction.”

The first half was a tense affair as Bourgoin’s Alexandre Peclier and Olly Barkley traded penalties to leave the two sides tied 9-9 coming up to the interval. However, the deadlock was broken when Steve Borthwick finished off some outstanding work by full back Lee Best to score in the corner to give the home side a 14-9 advantage at the break.

The second half failed to ignite and Barkley and then replacement kicker Benjamin Boyet traded penalties, leaving Bourgoin still in touch at 16-12 with a quarter of the game to go.

However, then came the defining moment. Lee Best, having by far his best game in a Bath jersey audaciously ran out of defence from behind the line. Olly Barkley and Ryan Davis took the ball on before Zak Feaunati and replacement Michael Lipman combined to stretch the Bourgoin defnce. A superb move was finally finished off by England squad member Matt Stevens.

The score opened the floodgates as Bath sensed that Bourgoin were on the ropes. The forwards, lead by Grewcock, battered the opposition and holes began to appear in a tired Bourgoin defence.

Replacement lock James Hudson, who has been so patient this season, scored Bath’s third try before Danny Grewcock appropriately rounded things off in injury time with a typically powerful surge over the line to make the final scores 39-12.

Bath Rugby: 15 Lee Best (Andy Williams), 14 Salesi Finau, 13 Tom Cheeseman, 12 Olly Barkley (4p, 2c), 11 Frikkie Welsh, 10 Chris Malone (Ryan Davis), 9 Martyn Wood, 1 Matt Stevens (1t), 2 Lee Mears (Pieter Dixon), 3 Duncan Bell (Chris Loader), 4 Steve Borthwick (1t) (James Hudson 1t), 5 Danny Grewcock (1t), 6 Andy Beattie (Michael Lipman), 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Gareth Delve (Zak Feaunati)

Heineken Man of the Match: Olly Barkley
Att: 10,350
Ref: Nigel Owens (WRU)

13th NOVEMBER 2005 BATH V SARACENS

After the mauling at the Madejski Stadium, the prospect of facing a Saracens side that were at the top of their game after five straight wins, was always going to be a difficult one. Missing five England players, Salesi Finau and Chris Malone, Frikkie Welsh, David Flatman and Martyn Wood through injury, the odds were stacked against John Connoly’s side before referee Rowden had whistled for kick-off.
In a fractious first half that saw Bath’s Rob Fidler and Saracens’ Cobus Visagie sin binned, the game failed to ignite in terms of rugby played. Glenn Jackson opened the scoring for Saracens with a penalty after Kevin Sorrell was hauled down close to the line following a fine rolling maul, but Bath’s response was immediate as Andy Dunne hit back with two penalties after Saracens were twice found guilty of killing the ball inside their twenty-two.

After their problems in the lineout last weekend, an improved performance in that area was demanded of the home side, but without the influential Steve Borthwick and Danny Grewcock, Bath’s primary possession was somewhat stifled by a Saracens side that currently has the best lineout in the Guinness Premiership.

Saracens came closest to a score six minutes from the interval when Richard Haughton slipped past two defenders. With the in-form Dan Scarbrough outside him a score beckoned for the full back, but he couldn’t hold on to the simple pass. It was a big opportunity missed.

Unable to finish with their backs, Saracens forwards took the initiative and only some superb defence from the home side in thwarting three successive catch and drives from close range kept the visitors at bay. Frustrated at being unable to make their good possession count, Saracens had to make do with a second Glenn Jackson penalty to level the scores on the stroke of half time.

Bath started the second half well and profited from Saracens’ mistakes to launch a series of surges deep inside the visitor’s twenty-two. However, a promising attack came to nothing when Andy Dunne pushed a drop goal attempt just wide.

After weathering the storm, Saracens themselves surged into the Bath twenty-two and it took a terrific defencive effort from the Bath pack and David Barnes in particular to keep the visitors out. However, the visitors did finally make their pressure count when Glenn Jackson struck over his third penalty.

Starved of possession, Bath’s defencive effort was phenomenal. They chased and ushered everything, whilst Lee Best’s boot at full back was a relieving presence. Such efforts lifted the Bath side inside the final quarter of the match and Andy Dunne kept the home side in the game with a penalty inside the Saracens twenty-two after thunderous drives from Andy Beattie and Peter Short. Spurred on, Bath were suddenly able to gain parity in the possession stakes and continued to mount some pressure. After a wonderful move involving both forwards and backs was ended, Michael Stephenson, returning from a knee injury, dropped a long range goal to seal the draw.

Bath Rugby: 15 Lee Best, 14 Joe Maddock, 13 Andy Higgins, 12 Alex Crockett, 11 Michael Stephenson (dg), 10 Andy Dunne (3p), 9 Nick Walshe (Andy Williams 23), 1 David Barnes, 2 Pieter Dixon, 3 Duncan Bell, 4 Peter Short (Delve, 59), 5 Rob Fidler, 6 Andy Beattie, 7 Michael Lipman (Scaysbrook, 59), 8 Zak Feaunati (capt)

16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Chris Loader, 18 Gareth Delve, 19 James Scaysbrook, 20 Andy Williams, 21 Tom Cheeseman, 22 Dan Smith

Saracens: 15 Dan Scarbrough, 14 Richard Haughton, 13 Mark Bartholomeusz, 12 Kevin Sorrell, 11 Paul Bailey (Vaikona, 48), 10 Glen Jackson (3p), 9 Kyran Bracken (Dickens, 57), 1 Kevin Yates (Broster, 67), 2 Matt Cairns, 3 Cobus Visagie, 4 Simon Raiwalui (Chesney, 45), 5 Iain Fullarton (Raiwalui, 57), 6 Hugh Vyvyan (capt), 7 David Seymour (Russell, 73), 8 Ben Skirving

16 Andy Kyriacou, 17 Ben Broster, 18 Kris Chesney, 19 Ben T Russell, 20 Alan Dickens, 21 Tevita Vaikona, 22 Ben J Russell

Ref: Ashley Rowden
Cards: Visagie, Fidler
Att: 10,348

Bath Moon and Sixpence Man of the Match: David Barnes.
The Bath loosehead was outstanding in defence and carried the ball well throughout this tight Guinness Premiership encounter at the Rec.

 

 

10th DECEMBER 2005 BATH V GLASGOW

Mike Foley and Rich Graham’s side won this match because they had complete control of the forward exchanges. They starved their hosts of possession during a first half where they were in complete control, whilst always having the ascendancy in the set piece.

Glasgow, for all their desire, simply had no response to what was a superbly organised attacking catch and drive ploy and their pack became increasingly tired as the match wore on trying to nullify the effect of the Bath eight and in particular the thunderous bursts of England second row Danny Grewcock.

Bath did not play with the fluidity of the prequel to this match, but gathered the result that they desired by scoring four tries during the match, taking their tally to thirteen in this season’s competition. All four tries were well-worked and finished, indicating that the West Country outfit are playing with greater expansive ambition.

“People had tried to tell us in the build up to the two matches with them that they weren’t much of a team,” said coach Foley. “They proved in both legs that the theory was rubbish. They made us work tremendously hard for our victories and I regard it as a significant achievement to have pocketed the bonus point in Scotland.”

Despite being subjected to extensive early pressure it was Glasgow who took the lead through the boot of Dan Parks after two minutes, but the Scotland international’s effort was cancelled out by Olly Barkley’s first opportunity in front of the sticks.

Bath’s possession during the first period was gluttonous, but they did not cross the white wash until the dying seconds of the half, when Nick Walshe sold an outrageous dummy from the base of a ruck three metres from the line to score. By then, the visitors had failed to capitalise on a number of opportunities, but Glasgow’s ‘on the edge’ approach to defend technically brilliant rolling mauls did not get picked up by the referee until midway through the half.

Spurred on by their opening score, Bath started the second half in dominant mood and extended the lead on forty-two minutes when the outstanding Danny Grewcock picked a wonderful line to dance his way through a couple of attempted tackles to score near the posts. Barkley added the extras and suddenly Bath had a comfortable lead.

However, any indications that Bath would cut loose were cut short, when Glasgow suddenly kicked into life throwing the ball around sevens style. At times their retention was superb, offloading in the tackle at will and forcing a high pace to boot. However, Bath’s defensive effort was commendable.

Former Bath prop Kevin Takachuk did crash over the line to give the home side hope of victory, but that was as close as they were to get as young Tom Cheeseman, on for Frikkie Welsh, picked a wonderful line to outpace Scotland winger Rory Lamont for a great converted try midway through the half.

Bath though, saved their best for last when Michael Stephenson juggled with the ball after a fine attacking move to outpace the cover to touch down out wide for a try which Barkley converted to secure maximum points.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Graydon Staniforth, 14 Hefin O’Hare, 13 Graeme Morrison, 12 Andy Henderson, 11 Rory Lamont, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Graeme Beveridge CAPTAIN 1 Kevin Tkachuk , 2 Scott Lawson*, 3 Euan Murray*, 4 Tim Barker, 5 Dan Turner, 6 Steve Swindall, 8 John Beattie*, 7 John Barclay*

Substitutes, 16 Fergus Thomson*, 17 Lee Harrison, 18 Gregor Hayter, 19 Craig Hamilton, 20 Sam Pinder, 21 Colin Gregor*, 22 Andy Craig
Bath Rugby: 15 Michael Stephenson (1t), 14 Salesi Finau, 13 Andy Higgins, 12 Olly Barkley (1p, 2c), 11 Frikkie Welsh (Cheeseman, Davis), 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe (1t) (Williams), 1 David Barnes, 2 Pieter Dixon, 3 Duncan Bell (Stevens), 4 Rob Fidler (Hudson), 5 Danny Grewcock, 6 Andy Beattie, 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Zak Feaunati (capt)

Replacements:16 Lee Mears, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Gareth Delve, 19 James Hudson, 20 Andy Williams, 21 Ryan Davis, 22 Tom Cheeseman

Att: 1700

cock (Fidler, 77) 6. A Beattie 7. J Scaysbrook (Faamatuainu, 54) 8. I Feaunati (captain)

Replacements: 16. D Ward 17. A Jarvis 18. R Fidler 19. J Faamatuianu 20. P Travagli
21. M Stephenson 22. C Malone

NEC HARLEQUINS: 15. M Brown 14. D Strettle 13. H Luscombe 12. S Abbott (Deane, 80+4) 11. T Williams 10. A Jarvis (Mehrtens, 73) 9. A Gomersall (So’oailo, 73) 1. C Jones 2. T Fuga (Richards, 80+2) 3. M Ross (Robson, 60) 4. O Kohn 5. S Miall 6. A Vos 7. P Volley (captain) 8. N Easter (Guest, 41)

Replacements: 16. J Richards 17. R Nebbett 18. G Robson 19. T Guest 20. S So’oailo 21. A Mehrtens 22. M Deane

Referee: Andrew MacPherson
Attendance: 10,600

26th DECEMBER 2006 WORCESTER V BATH

It was not their finest performance of the season, as coach Mike Foley eluded to after the match, but the Australian was happy at the way his team stuck at it throughout what was a scrappy contest to record a fourth successive victory.

“I am pleased that we are finding some form,” commented Foley. “This is an incredibly spirited and hard working squad. This run of victories is as much down to the players and their work ethic as it is what myself and Richard (Graham) are doing as coaches.”

Bath did not manage to replicate their all-encompassing form from a Cup campaign that has yielded ten tries in three matches this month, but the Guinness Premiership is an entirely different kettle of fish. Defences are more streetwise and with relegation looming over every club’s approach to play, the matches are subsequently a lot less free-flowing.

Brian Ashton takes over the reins on New Years Day with his new club in a little form of late. The Lancastrian was in the capacity crowd yesterday and would have been pleased with some of Bath’s more assertive back play, and in particular the outstanding contributions from Chris Malone and Olly Barkley.

As Foley was keen to point out, the pair have forged a rather fruitful axis in recent weeks and this was perhaps Malone’s finest game for the club. A cool customer, he runs the show aptly alongside Barkley and the second of his brace of tries – a lovely arc around the cover and reach for the line – was the final nail in Worcester’s coffin.

Malone is often written off as a top level ten, but time and time again, he proves that he can offer Bath Rugby a cool head, superb distribution and the odd incisive break. Barkley, Malone’s partner in crime, was the other architect of Worcester’s first home defeat of the season in the league. The centre, who is raising a few eyebrows within the England management, contributed twenty-one points and missed just one effort from nine kicks to severely punish frequent Worcester indiscipline.

The third factor was of course the forward effort. The backs may have been stealing the headlines of late, but against a Worcester pack that is increasingly building a formidable reputation, Bath’s eight (or seven at one stage) were excellent. Danny Grewcock, Steve Borthwick and Michael Lipman had massive matches, but it was young Gareth Delve, the slick number eight, who was outstanding.

A fine performance by the Welshman was capped off by a seventy-metre sprint for the line after intercepting Dale Rasmussen’s desperate pass.

Up until Malone and Delve crashed over in injury time it had been a tense affair with neither side getting the upper hand. Turnovers in the opening quarter cost Bath dearly as they could not convert excellent possession into points, whilst Worcester struggled to make simple passes go to hand.

The first half ended with the home side three points to the good after Shane Drahm’s thirty-ninth minute penalty broke a deadlock that had been created after both side had registered a converted try.

Drahm had put early points on the board before he was charged down by Chris Malone who gathered to race under the posts for his first five pointer of the season. Barkley converted to put Bath’s noses in front, but Worcester hit back with a penalty try as they attempted to rumble over from a five metre lineout.

Worse was to come for Bath as Duncan Bell was sent to the sin bin on the stroke of half time, but Worcester failed to capitalise after the interval and indeed in was Bath who drew first blood with two Barkley penalties to regain the lead.

Worcester responded with a period of sustained pressure which lead to a Kai Horstmann try in the corner, to nudge the home side in front, but thereafter it was all Bath. Worcester could find no way round or through a resolute Bath defence and after Olly Barkley’s superb clearance to within eight metres of the home line, Gavin Hickie’s throw was plucked off by Andy Beattie. Bath then probed and battered and eventually the pressure paid as Malone stretched an arm between the legs of an opponent to score under the posts.

The victory had been sealed, but Worcester searched for the bonus point and in their desperation inside the Bath twenty-two, a pass fell into the hands of Gareth Delve, who out-paced Thinus Delport over seventy-metres to add some icing on Bath’s Christmas cake.

BATH: M Stephenson; J Maddock, A Crockett, O Barkley (3c,5p) S Finau (rep: A Higgins, 71); C Malone (2t), N Walshe (rep: A Williams, 76); D Barnes (rep: Bell, 64), L Mears (rep: P Dixon, 68), D Bell (sin bin 39-49; rep: M Stevens, 49), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, A Beattie, M Lipman (rep: Stevens 41-50), G Delve (1t).

Referee: S Davey.

Attendance: 9,726.

Man of the Match: Chris Malone.

Scoring sequence: 2 mins: Drahm pen 3-0 16 mins: Malone try, Barkley con 3-7 33 mins: Penalty try, Drahm con 10-7 38 mins: Barkley pen 10-10 39 mins: Drahm pen 13-10 43 mins: Barkley pen 13-13 48 mins: Barkley pen 13-16 50 mins: Horstmann try 18-16 53 mins: Barkley pen 18-19 61 mins: Barkley pen 18-22 76 mins: Malone try, Barkley con 18-29 79 mins: Delve try, Barkley con 18-36

 

 

 

 

2nd JANUARY 2006 BATH V SALE

Bath Rugby now travel to Leeds Tykes on Sunday in what is a crucial game and coach Mike Foley knows that a better performance will be required. “The result is extremely disappointing in the context of how we have been playing,” he said. “Our execution was poor. We have saved some of our rougher performances for the league and we now need to notch up a few wins in those eleven remaining matches.”

There was no festive hang over at the Recreation Ground as both sides played their part in an intense encounter. It was also highly physical. Both packs were intent on knocking pieces out of each other, whilst the scrums really made the ground shudder. Bell and Sheridan’s battle was particularly enthralling with Bell putting in a good showing in front of the on looking England coach Andy Robinson.

The game started at a frantic pace with both sides looking to assert themselves. However, despite plenty of attacking endeavour, defences ruled and it was the home side who went into an early 6-3 lead as Olly Barkley continued his good form with the boot forward from the Worcester match.

Whilst the game failed to serve up a try in the opening forty minutes there was certainly no lack of attacking invention. Sale had perhaps the better of the opportunities, but there was really nothing to choose between the two sides. Sale had two brilliant attacking chances from five metre scrums, but twice Bath’s defence turned over the ball, whilst Charlie Hodgson missed a relatively straight forward chance from in front of the sticks to put the Sharks on level terms.

The second half saw a lot less unforced errors as both sides played more cohesive rugby. Elvis Seveali’I, on his return to the Rec, broke the deadlock with a try after four minutes after latching onto a pass from Charlie Hodgson to score in front of the Hamptons Stand – a very familiar place for the Samoan international who scored a sensational try there to maintain Bath’s Premiership status three years ago. Hodgson’s conversion gave the Premiership leaders a handy 10-6 lead.

Bath though upped their game and should have scored in the corner through Michael Stephenson, but the ball was turned over. Playing with much more venom, Bath had opportunities and Olly Barkley slotted over his third penalty of the afternoon when Jason White impeded Danny Grewcock at a lineout inside the Sale twenty-two. However, Hodgson restored the advantage almost immediately when Hodgson kicked his second penalty to give Sale a 13-9 lead.

Bath attacked through the backs and battered through the forwards, but Sale’s defence held firm. Sale showed exactly why they are the form side by absorbing all the pressure thrown at them to launch a counter attack that resulted in Magnus Lund scoring a try. Noticing that Bath’s defence was out of sorts out wide, Hodgson placed a delicate chip in behind the defence for Mark Cueto to gather. The England international passed to Lund, who had a free run to the line. Hodgson further increased the lead with a penalty shortly after.

15 Michael Stephenson, 14 Joe Maddock (Ryan Davis), 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Olly Barkley (3p), 11 David Bory (Andy Higgins), 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe (Andy Williams), 1 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears (Pieter Dixon), 3 Duncan Bell (David Flatman), 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 5 Danny Grewcock, 6 Andy Beattie (Peter Short), 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Zak Feaunati (Gareth Delve).

Reps: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 David Flatman, 18 Peter Short, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Andy Williams, 21 Ryan Davis, 22 Andy Higgins

Ref: Chris White
Att: 10,600

Sequence:
1 min: Hodgson pen 0-3
3 mins: Barkley pen: 3-3
7 mins: Barkley pen 6-3
44 mins: Seveali’I try, Hodgson con 6-10
56 mins: Barkley pen 9-10
57 mins: Hodgson pen 9-13
71 mins: Lund try 9-18
74 mins: Hodgson pen 9-21

8th JANUARY 2006 LEEDS V BATH

The defeat leaves the West Country side just two points ahead of the Tykes at the foot of the Guinness Premiership table and a return to European competition – where Bath have been in prolific form this season – will hopefully be the tonic needed to ignite a season that has reaped just three victories in the league.
Brian Ashton may only have been at the Recreation Ground for five minutes, but the former England and Ireland coach, along with coaches Mike Foley and Richard Graham already have a big challenge ahead if they are to rescue Bath’s Guinness Premiership campaign and look to challenge for a Heineken Cup place next term.

“Everyone is well aware of the situation in the Guinness Premiership,” said Ashton. “However, it is only January 8th and there is still a long way to go. We have to focus on going forward.”

Of course time is still on Bath’s side as there are ten rounds remaining in a Guinness Premiership campaign that has seen teams taking points off each other throughout. There were also plenty of positives for Ashton to take forward into the match against Bourgoin. The pack scrummaged well, there was also more incisive play and Gareth Delve finished a cracking move with a fine try.

It was, though, a combination of poor decision making, technical inaccuracies and a hammer blow right at the beginning of the match that were to cost Bath dear. The visitors started so positively, moving the ball well and making excellent ground inside the Leeds half. However, a dropped pass in midfield led to Leeds scoring with their first touch of the ball.

That spilt ball was scooped up by centre Rob Vickerman, who made excellent ground before offloading superbly to Chris Bell in support. The winger coasted in at the corner and Gordon Ross’ touchline conversion completed the perfect start.

Headingley is never an easy place to play catch up rugby and Leeds are gritty competitors at the best of times. Bath, who found it difficult to get decent possession for the remainder of the half, simply could not get back into the game as two Olly Barkley penalties were cancelled out by the boot of Gordon Ross, whilst the home side could have added a second try had Justin Marshall’s final pass to Reno Gerber not been adjudged to have been forward by referee Sean Davey.

Bath did have their chances late in the second half, but the crispness in attack was missing and time ran out before the visitors could make a decent attack count.

It was a different Bath side that took to the field for the second half and indeed for the third quarter it was all Bath as they pressed for a score which came in the shape of Gareth Delve’s lunge for the line after David Bory had put the Welshman into space. Barkley added a quick fire penalty and suddenly Bath were back in the game.

Just two points adrift and in the ascendancy, Bath should have taken control of the game, but the match ebbed back towards the home side and as the match entered the final quarter it was all Leeds once more. Gordon Ross slotted over two penalties and a drop goal to give the home side a healthy eleven point lead in the dying moments leaving Bath wondering how such an advantage had been created.

“Leeds thoroughly deserved their win over the balance of eighty minutes,” said Ashton. “The opening try meant that we were playing catch up from an early stage. We played really well in the first part of the second half, but unfortunately some technical errors and got us back on the back foot.

There are some talented players at Bath – there is no doubt about that. We just need to reflect why at 14-16 and back in the game, we found ourselves eleven points adrift at the final whistle.”

Leeds: 15 De Marigney, 14 Snyman, 13 Vickerman, 12 Jones, 11 Bell, 10 Ross, 9 Marshall, 1 Lensing, 2 Rawlinson, 3 Gerber, 4 Hooper (c), 5 Palmer, 6 MNorgan, 7 Parks, 8 Crane

16 Shelley, 17 Bulloch, 18 Dunbar, 19 Thomas, 20 Care, 21 Reid, 22 Biggs

Bath: 15 Perry, 14 Maddock, 13 Crockett, 12 Barkley (3p), 11 Bory, 10 Malone, 9 Williams, 1 Stevens, 2 Mears (Dixon), 3 Bell (Flatman), 4 Borthwick (c), 5 Grewcock, 6 Beattie (Short), 7 Lipman, 8 Delve 1t (Feaunati)

16 Dixon, 17 Flatman, 18 Feaunati, 19 Short, 20 Walshe, 21 Higgins, 22 Finau

Ref: Sean Davey.

Att: 4546

 

 

16 Dixon, 17 Flatman, 18 Feaunati, 19 Short, 20 Walshe, 21 Higgins, 22 Finau

Ref: Sean Davey.

Att: 4546

22nd JANUARY 2006 LEINSTER V BATH

The Leinster talisman was back to his best as he inspired the Irish Province to the five try victory that secured their place in the last eight of the competition. Showing no signs of the shoulder injury that ended his Lions tour in the summer, O’Driscoll scored a try and set up two others as Bath simply could not find a way into the game until the final quarter of the match.
“We did not deserve to win that match and therefore we don’t deserve to have the home tie,” said head coach Brian Ashton after the match. “One of the things we said was that we had to attack their storm from the off knowing that they would come at us, but we consistently turned over ball against a Leinster side that has world-class acts out wide.”

The storm that Ashton expected hit the Rec as early as the fifth minute when Felipe Contepomi and Dennis Hickie’s quick thinking led to a sublime score by powerful Ireland winger Shane Horgan which was converted by Contepomi. From that moment on until the end of the half it was all Leinster.

Barkley reduced the arrears with a penalty five minutes later, but Leinster, playing on the front foot, took a stranglehold on the match. Contepomi intercepted Barkley’s inside pass to race fully sixty metres to score a try which he converted, before prop Will Green rounded off a moment of class from O’Driscoll and midfield partner Gordon D’Arcy to give the visitors a healthy 21-3 lead with just seventeen minutes gone.

Whilst Bath’s heroic defence stemmed the tide and Barkley struck over a second penalty, the home side needed a score to lift the game and check Leinster’s momentum. However, Bath simply could not retain the ball long enough to build pressure situations and although Leinster did not add another score before the interval, Ashton’s men, who lost Andy Higgins to the sin-bin, could not make a breakthrough themselves.

Bath had to come out of the blocks in the second half if they were to have any chance of securing that home tie, but it took until the fifty-seventh minute for the home side to enjoy their first period of sustained pressure in the game. Barkley slotted over his third penalty to keep Bath’s hopes alive, but just two minutes later came the hammer blow.

Attacking inside the Bath twenty-two, O’Driscoll showed two dummies before releasing Horgan for his second try of the match. Contepomi, who had an immaculate afternoon with the boot, added the extras. Leinster then scored a fifth try when O’Driscoll rounded off a good move to score in the corner to leave the visitors sitting pretty at 35-9.

Then came the Bath revival. Ashton said after the game that he wished his side could have started the game the way they ended it, and you could certainly see why. Bath’s final quarter performance was as good as any seen by the club this season. Playing with greater urgency, incisiveness, pace and precision, the home side played some cracking rugby whilst denying Leinster the ball.

With seven minutes to go Andy Higgins showed a good step and made a cracking break to set up full back Michael Stephenson for a superb try in the corner which replacement fly half Chris Malone converted.

Suddenly the atmosphere in the Rec was lifted as the majority of the 10,600 crowd got behind the home side and a second try came two minutes later as Higgins again set up Matt Stevens for a powerful try after Leinster were penalised inside their own twenty-two. It was a well finished score after some great build-up play and suddenly the Rec entertained the thought of securing a losing bonus point.

However, it was not to be as Leinster’s defence held firm in the dying moments. Bath may be reflecting on what might have been – a home quarter-final, but the West Country side’s Heineken trail will now take them to Welford Road at the end of March.

Bath: 15 Stephenson (1t), 14 Andy Higgins, 13 Tom Cheeseman, 12 Salesi Finau, 11 Frikkie Welsh, 10 Olly Barkley (3p), (Chris Malone 2c), 9 Nick Walshe (Andy Williams), 1 David Flatman (Duncan Bell), 2 Lee Mears, 3 Matt Stevens (1t), 4 Steve Borthwick (James Hudson), 5 Danny Grewcock, 6 Andy Beattie, 7 Michael Lipman, 8 Gareth Delve (Peter Short)

16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Peter Short, 19 James Hudson, 20 James Scaysbrook, 21 Andy Williams, 22 Chris Malone

Ref: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Att: 10,600

28th JANUARY 2006 BATH V WASPS

Bath were outstanding in the opening forty minutes of this match. Playing a great deal of flowing attacking rugby in what were dreadful conditions, Ashton’s side looked simply irresistible. However, the visitors failed to push on from their 31-3 advantage at the interval, allowing Saracens to play to the strengths of their huge forward pack and make for a finale that was a lot more tense than anyone would have guessed in would be at half time.
Without six international players it was a much-changed Bath side that took to the Vicarage Road turf. Ashton had challenged his team to raise the bar from the Wasps performance and those who stepped in certainly did that in the opening forty minutes and will have given the head coach a thing or two to think about when it comes to selecting his squad for the visit of London Irish to the Rec on Saturday.

It took Bath just ten minutes in the pouring rain to pick up from where they had left off against Wasps. Capitalising on turn over ball, Nick Walshe’s break took play into the Saracens twenty two before the scrum half passed inside to Frikkie Welsh for the firt try. With conditions under foot dodgy at best, Chris Malone coolly slotted over the conversion to give the visitors a healthy 7-0 lead.

Just three minutes later Bath had doubled their advantage. This time it was the outstanding Alex Crockett who proved to the catalyst for an excellent score. Noticing that Saracens had no one at home around the fringes, the centre hacked on a loose ball and gathered before flipping a scoring pass to second row James Hudson. Malone was again on target with the conversion.

Shell-shocked Saracens simply could not retain the ball for long enough to make inroads against a committed Bath defence, but Glenn Jackson did slot over a penalty to reduce the arrears, but it was to be a brief respite as Malone was soon lining up his third successful conversion.

After Zak Feaunati has wrestled the ball from Hugh Vyvyan, Andy Beattie made inroads into the Saracens twenty-two before Michael Lipman made a break. The flanker slipped but had enough awareness to pop the ball up to the supporting David Bory for an excellent try.

Crockett capped a superb individual first half performance by scoring Bath’s fourth try – earning the club a valuable bonus point. David Bory’s break took him close to the Saracens line and with the hosts’ defence in tatters, Crockett picked up and muscled his way over the line.

Then came the fight back. Whilst Saracens were much more organised after the interval, you couldn’t help but think that Bath made it a trifle easy for them. Reduced to twelve men at one point after the sin-binning of Flatman and Feaunati and an injury to Duncan Bell, Bath could not defend against the weight of the Saracens scrum in the slippery conditions. Referee Ashley Rowden awarded two penalty tries and a brace by youngster Stefan Armitage handed Saracens two bonus points.

For head coach Ashton it was an afternoon of mixed emotions. Delighted by his side’s exquisite performance in a first half that reaped four tries, the Lancastrian would have been slightly alarmed by a second half where yellow cards to Zak Feaunati and David Flatman allowed the home side to take grip of the match.
“I’m delighted with four tries and the way we played in the first-half,” he said. “We played with a lot of ambition and intelligence and I would have taken the win with a bonus point if anyone had asked me this morning. However, I am concerned about the sin-bins, the penalty tries and the way we allowed them to play to their strengths.”

There will perhaps be more than a little to think about when the squad returns for training on Tuesday, but another win and an emphatic first half performance means that Bath fans have plenty to look forward to for the remainder of this season.

Saracens: Bartholomeusz; Scarbrough, Johnston, Sorrell, Vaikona; Jackson, Rauluni; Yates, Byrne, Broster; Raiwalui, Vyvyan; B Russell, Armitage, Skirving.

Replacements: Harris for Sorrell (40), Powell for Vaikona (56), Bracken for Rauluni (46), Cairns for Byrne (40), Visagie for Broster (40), Chesney for Vyvyan (32).
Not Used: Ryder.

Bath: Stephenson; Welsh, Crockett, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Bory; Malone, Walshe; Flatman, Dixon, Bell; Hudson, Short; Beattie, Lipman, Fea’unati.

Replacements: Fidler for Hudson (72), Filise for Lipman (58).

Not Used: Hawkins, Scaysbrook, Fulton, Dunne, Maddock.

Sin Bin: Flatman (58), Fea’unati (60).
Att: 6,731
Ref: Ashley Rowden (RFU).

12thFEBRUARY 2006 SARACENS V BATH

Bath were outstanding in the opening forty minutes of this match. Playing a great deal of flowing attacking rugby in what were dreadful conditions, Ashton’s side looked simply irresistible. However, the visitors failed to push on from their 31-3 advantage at the interval, allowing Saracens to play to the strengths of their huge forward pack and make for a finale that was a lot more tense than anyone would have guessed in would be at half time.
Without six international players it was a much-changed Bath side that took to the Vicarage Road turf. Ashton had challenged his team to raise the bar from the Wasps performance and those who stepped in certainly did that in the opening forty minutes and will have given the head coach a thing or two to think about when it comes to selecting his squad for the visit of London Irish to the Rec on Saturday.

It took Bath just ten minutes in the pouring rain to pick up from where they had left off against Wasps. Capitalising on turn over ball, Nick Walshe’s break took play into the Saracens twenty two before the scrum half passed inside to Frikkie Welsh for the firt try. With conditions under foot dodgy at best, Chris Malone coolly slotted over the conversion to give the visitors a healthy 7-0 lead.

Just three minutes later Bath had doubled their advantage. This time it was the outstanding Alex Crockett who proved to the catalyst for an excellent score. Noticing that Saracens had no one at home around the fringes, the centre hacked on a loose ball and gathered before flipping a scoring pass to second row James Hudson. Malone was again on target with the conversion.

Shell-shocked Saracens simply could not retain the ball for long enough to make inroads against a committed Bath defence, but Glenn Jackson did slot over a penalty to reduce the arrears, but it was to be a brief respite as Malone was soon lining up his third successful conversion.

After Zak Feaunati has wrestled the ball from Hugh Vyvyan, Andy Beattie made inroads into the Saracens twenty-two before Michael Lipman made a break. The flanker slipped but had enough awareness to pop the ball up to the supporting David Bory for an excellent try.

Crockett capped a superb individual first half performance by scoring Bath’s fourth try – earning the club a valuable bonus point. David Bory’s break took him close to the Saracens line and with the hosts’ defence in tatters, Crockett picked up and muscled his way over the line.

Then came the fight back. Whilst Saracens were much more organised after the interval, you couldn’t help but think that Bath made it a trifle easy for them. Reduced to twelve men at one point after the sin-binning of Flatman and Feaunati and an injury to Duncan Bell, Bath could not defend against the weight of the Saracens scrum in the slippery conditions. Referee Ashley Rowden awarded two penalty tries and a brace by youngster Stefan Armitage handed Saracens two bonus points.

For head coach Ashton it was an afternoon of mixed emotions. Delighted by his side’s exquisite performance in a first half that reaped four tries, the Lancastrian would have been slightly alarmed by a second half where yellow cards to Zak Feaunati and David Flatman allowed the home side to take grip of the match.
“I’m delighted with four tries and the way we played in the first-half,” he said. “We played with a lot of ambition and intelligence and I would have taken the win with a bonus point if anyone had asked me this morning. However, I am concerned about the sin-bins, the penalty tries and the way we allowed them to play to their strengths.”

There will perhaps be more than a little to think about when the squad returns for training on Tuesday, but another win and an emphatic first half performance means that Bath fans have plenty to look forward to for the remainder of this season.

Saracens: Bartholomeusz; Scarbrough, Johnston, Sorrell, Vaikona; Jackson, Rauluni; Yates, Byrne, Broster; Raiwalui, Vyvyan; B Russell, Armitage, Skirving.

Replacements: Harris for Sorrell (40), Powell for Vaikona (56), Bracken for Rauluni (46), Cairns for Byrne (40), Visagie for Broster (40), Chesney for Vyvyan (32).
Not Used: Ryder.

Bath: Stephenson; Welsh, Crockett, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Bory; Malone, Walshe; Flatman, Dixon, Bell; Hudson, Short; Beattie, Lipman, Fea’unati.

Replacements: Fidler for Hudson (72), Filise for Lipman (58).

Not Used: Hawkins, Scaysbrook, Fulton, Dunne, Maddock.

Sin Bin: Flatman (58), Fea’unati (60).
Att: 6,731
Ref: Ashley Rowden (RFU).

 

18th FEBRUARY 2006 BATH V LDN IRISH

Irish’s 33-28 victory consisted of five tries, but Bath only had themselves to blame after affording the visitors a sizeable 26-6 half time lead through a series of unforced errors despite playing all the rugby. Brian Ashton’s side did stage a comeback in a thrilling second half, but were left with too much to do.
“We did not deserve to win the game,” said Ashton. “We made one or two silly errors which gifted them points. At half time we talked about eradicating the errors, and we did that to a large extent in the second half.”

These days Bath are playing a much more loose and fluid game. They are also scoring tries. However, this new approach under Ashton will take time to settle in, and the result is perhaps a reminder of the task that the former England and Ireland coach has ahead of him if this once great club is to return to the top of the domestic and European game.

Irish set the tone early in the match when Argentine international Juan Manuel Leguizamon scored an early try to lift the visitor’s spirits. Bath hit back playing the sort of attacking rugby that had taken them to victory against Wasps and Saracens, but could manage only two Chris Malone penalties in a first half that would best be forgotten.

Irish, for the record were playing off scraps, as Bath dominated possession, but significantly the Exiles made the most of any opportunity presented to them. Quick thinking from a lineout and poor Bath defence allowed Topsy Ojo, the pacey young winger, to dance his way through to the line for a superb individual score which Riki Flutey converted for a healthy 12-3 lead.

Then Bath were dealt a massive blow. Eliota Fuimaono, the Samoan international centre, has been a revelation since joining Bath. However, after making a typically powerful break the centre was felled and had to be helped off the field with what looked like a very nasty knee injury.

Two tries in first half injury time compounded the home side’s misery as first Delon Armitage and then Ojo capitalised on Bath’s errors from a turnover and an interception respectively. The two quickes players on the pitch did not need to be asked twice to find their way through to the try line.

The Bath players must have been scratching their heads at the interval as to how they managed to find themselves 26-6 in arrears despite playing all the rugby. However, the second half was to be an altogether different affair.

Within two minutes Bath had scored two tries and within sixteen minutes had added a penalty to put the pressure on the Exiles. Both tries were from the top draw and both were from lineouts. Gareth Delve, fresh from winning his first cap, peeled away from a clever lineout to burst over the line and then Mears powered his way over the line from five metres out, rolled onto his back and placed the ball down over his head for a fine try.

Malone’s penalty shortly after made it game on, but despite being in the ascendancy, Bath were once again victims of their own mistakes. Frikkie Welsh did come close to the line and Michael Stephenson had a try ruled out for a forward pass, but turnovers began to creep back into the game.

The Exiles tacked everything in sight and then waited patiently for their chance. Replacement eight Phil Murphy drove at the heart of the Bath defence setting up Sailosi Tagicakibau for a try that was to prove the match winner.

Bath did rally one last time, and Alex Crockett burst over after a series of powerful drives near the line, but with time running out the home side could not find the all important winning score and had to settle for a bonus point on what was a disappointing, but thrilling afternoon.

Time Line

6 Leguizamon try 5-0
20 Malone pen 3-5
27 Ojo try, Flutey con 3-12
33 Malone pen 6-12
38 Armitage try, Flutey con 6-19
40 Ojo try, Flutey con 6-26
41 Delve try, Malone con 13-26
46 Mears try 18-26
55 Malone pen 21-26
71 Tagicakibau try, Flutey con 21-33
77 Crockett try, Malone con 28-33

Reps: Maddock for Fuimaono (34 mins), Williams for Welsh (66 mins), Short for Grewcock and Filise for Stevens (71 mins)

Bath Rugby: 15 Michael Stephenson, 14 Frikkie Welsh, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Eliota Fuimaono, 11 David Bory. 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe, 1 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears, 3 Duncan Bell, 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 5 Danny Grewcock, 6 Andy Beattie, 7 Michael Lipman, 8 Gareth Delve

16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Taufa’ao Filise, 18 Peter Short, 19 James Hudson, 20 Andy Williams, 21 Andy Dunne, 22 Joe Madock

London Irish:15. Delon Armitage; 14. Topsy Ojo; 13. Nils Mordt; 12. Mike Catt* (captain); 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau*; 10. Riki Flutey; 9. Paul Hodgson; 1. Neal Hatley; 2. Danie Coetzee*; 3. Faan Rautenbach*; 4. Bob Casey*; 5. Nick Kennedy; 6. Kieran Roche; 7. Olivier Magne*; 8. Juan Manuel Leguizamon*.

16. Michael Collins; 17. David Paice; 18. Paul Gustard; 19. Kieron Dawson*; 20. Phil Murphy*; 21. Ben Willis; 22. Michael Horak*.

Ref: Sean Davey

Attendance: 10,600

 

26th FEBRUARY 2006 GLOUCESTER V BATH

Indeed they may well have failed in what was possibly their best shot at some silverware this season and perhaps a place in next season’s Heineken Cup, but you get the feeling that the club that once dominated the domestic game is beginning to show signs of what lies ahead in this new era under Brian Ashton.
Prior to Ashton’s arrival, Bath were a club that required some finishing. Renowned for having a power pack under influential forwards coach Mike Foley, the West Country side lacked that attacking bite out wide and struggled to cross the whitewash regularly in the Guinness Premiership. However, things have changed dramatically in recent weeks and Bath are now playing rugby under Ashton, asking questions of opposition defences – it is a new philosophy for a club that has previously played with such structure.

The flip side to the infancy stages of this new philosophy is that there will be teething problems and that was evident within Saturday’s performance at the Millennium Stadium. Bath were perhaps guilty of playing too much rugby from within their own twenty-two playing against a Llanelli side that played with a great deal of heart and passion. Too often, Ashton’s side made unforced errors in dangerous areas of the field, whilst with the sin-binning of Andy Higgins for an offside infringement cost the English side seven points.

“There is a time to play and a time not to play and we have not quite understood that yet,” admitted Ashton. “In the lead we should have tied the Scarlets down in the corner for a while. For now, we are on a rollercoaster ride until we get it right.”

Ashton is right. If Bath do get everything right then Bath supporters can look forward to exciting times at the Recreation Ground heading into next season and beyond.

It is difficult to see how Bath lost this game. In total control at half time and 23-10 up after 45 minutes, it seemed as though Bath, playing some superb rugby, would race home at a canter. However, Llanelli deserve great credit for the way they came back and attacked Bath, seizing their chances through errors and taking the points when on offer – something they had failed to do in the first half.

Led by Wales fringe player Alix Popham, who was immense on the evening, Llanelli took an early lead through their Scottish prop Craig Dunlea who burrowed through a mass of bodies under the posts for a converted try.

Bath, who had started well through the trusted boot of Chris Malone, asked questions of the Llanelli defence, but spilt ball in the midfield and despite some excellent arly periods of pressure had just two Malone penalties to show for their efforts. They were also let off by the poor kicking at the opposite end by fullback Barry Davies, who missed three first half penalty opportunities.

Bath though, always looked in control and when the ball did stick to the hands they threatened with every attack. The West Country side regained the lead in the 28th minute when Alex Crockett, who has been outstanding of late, scored a brilliant individual try. The centre, who has just signed a new contract with the club, received an offload from Salesi Finau before stepping one player, chipping ahead and gathering his own kick to score in the corner. Scottish referee Malcolm Changleng needed the assistance of the video referee to award the try.

From there on Bath were in complete control. They went further ahead after a high tackle on Lee Mears resulted in a third penalty for Malone and went into the interval with a six point lead after Davies finally found his range to reduce the arrears.

Bath started the second half in confident mood and after a series of attacks inside the Llanelli half went further ahead after Joe Maddock scored a beautiful try. The Kiwi flyer, who had a quiet opening first forty, gathered a superb offload from Finau to cut a beautiful angle to score. Malone’s conversion gave Bath a seemingly unassailable 23-10 lead.

Then came the Scarlets fight back. A move inside the Bath half was well finished by centre Regan King and Mike Hercus, who had inherited the kicking duties, slotted over the extra two points to ensure that Llanelli remained in the match.

Andy Higgins sin-binning for an offside, meant that Bath were down to fourteen men and Llanelli sensing the vulnerability of their opponents, pushed and pulled Bath across the field, searching for an opening. Eventually one came. When Joe Maddock was laid low after a blow to the face, Bath were effectively down to thirteen men and Mark Jones seized the opportunity to score out wide. Hercus’ conversion gave Llanelli the lead.

Bath fought back and Malone’s penalty recaptured the lead, but a three pointer by Hercus meant that the Welsh side entered the final ten minutes with a slender one point lead. Bath launched a series of attacks as the game neared the end and worked a drop goal opportunity for Malone, but it was not to be.

Bath may have travelled back down the M4 wondering how they had managed to lose a match 26-27 that they were in complete control of, but when you look at the bigger picture, it is just a matter of time before everything clicks under Ashton.

Bath Rugby: 15 Perry, 14 Higgins (yellow card), 13 Crockett (1t), 12 Maddock (1t), 11 Finau (Abendanon), 10 Malone (3p, 2c), 9 Walshe, 1 Flatman, 2 Mears, 3 Bell (Loader), 4 Borthwick (captain), 5 Grewcock (Short), 6 Beattie, 7 Lipman, 8 Feauanti

Reps: 16 Dixon, 17 Loader, 18 Delve, 19 Short, 20 Williams, 21 Dunne, 22 Abendanon

Llanelli Scarlets: 15 Davies, 14 Jones, 13 Watkins, 12 King, 11 James, 10 Hercus, 9 Stuart-Smith, 1 Dunlea, 2 Rees, 3 Davies, 4 Afeaki, 5 Jones, 6 Easterby (captain), 7 Thomas, 8 Popham

Reps: Madden, 17 Gravelle, 18 Dafydd Jones, 19 Gavin Quinnell, 20 Gareth Bowen, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Lee Byrne

Att: 50,811
Ref: Malcolm Changleng
Cards: Higgins

 

4th MARCH 2006 BATH V LLANELLI

Indeed they may well have failed in what was possibly their best shot at some silverware this season and perhaps a place in next season’s Heineken Cup, but you get the feeling that the club that once dominated the domestic game is beginning to show signs of what lies ahead in this new era under Brian Ashton.
Prior to Ashton’s arrival, Bath were a club that required some finishing. Renowned for having a power pack under influential forwards coach Mike Foley, the West Country side lacked that attacking bite out wide and struggled to cross the whitewash regularly in the Guinness Premiership. However, things have changed dramatically in recent weeks and Bath are now playing rugby under Ashton, asking questions of opposition defences – it is a new philosophy for a club that has previously played with such structure.

The flip side to the infancy stages of this new philosophy is that there will be teething problems and that was evident within Saturday’s performance at the Millennium Stadium. Bath were perhaps guilty of playing too much rugby from within their own twenty-two playing against a Llanelli side that played with a great deal of heart and passion. Too often, Ashton’s side made unforced errors in dangerous areas of the field, whilst with the sin-binning of Andy Higgins for an offside infringement cost the English side seven points.

“There is a time to play and a time not to play and we have not quite understood that yet,” admitted Ashton. “In the lead we should have tied the Scarlets down in the corner for a while. For now, we are on a rollercoaster ride until we get it right.”

Ashton is right. If Bath do get everything right then Bath supporters can look forward to exciting times at the Recreation Ground heading into next season and beyond.

It is difficult to see how Bath lost this game. In total control at half time and 23-10 up after 45 minutes, it seemed as though Bath, playing some superb rugby, would race home at a canter. However, Llanelli deserve great credit for the way they came back and attacked Bath, seizing their chances through errors and taking the points when on offer – something they had failed to do in the first half.

Led by Wales fringe player Alix Popham, who was immense on the evening, Llanelli took an early lead through their Scottish prop Craig Dunlea who burrowed through a mass of bodies under the posts for a converted try.

Bath, who had started well through the trusted boot of Chris Malone, asked questions of the Llanelli defence, but spilt ball in the midfield and despite some excellent arly periods of pressure had just two Malone penalties to show for their efforts. They were also let off by the poor kicking at the opposite end by fullback Barry Davies, who missed three first half penalty opportunities.

Bath though, always looked in control and when the ball did stick to the hands they threatened with every attack. The West Country side regained the lead in the 28th minute when Alex Crockett, who has been outstanding of late, scored a brilliant individual try. The centre, who has just signed a new contract with the club, received an offload from Salesi Finau before stepping one player, chipping ahead and gathering his own kick to score in the corner. Scottish referee Malcolm Changleng needed the assistance of the video referee to award the try.

From there on Bath were in complete control. They went further ahead after a high tackle on Lee Mears resulted in a third penalty for Malone and went into the interval with a six point lead after Davies finally found his range to reduce the arrears.

Bath started the second half in confident mood and after a series of attacks inside the Llanelli half went further ahead after Joe Maddock scored a beautiful try. The Kiwi flyer, who had a quiet opening first forty, gathered a superb offload from Finau to cut a beautiful angle to score. Malone’s conversion gave Bath a seemingly unassailable 23-10 lead.

Then came the Scarlets fight back. A move inside the Bath half was well finished by centre Regan King and Mike Hercus, who had inherited the kicking duties, slotted over the extra two points to ensure that Llanelli remained in the match.

Andy Higgins sin-binning for an offside, meant that Bath were down to fourteen men and Llanelli sensing the vulnerability of their opponents, pushed and pulled Bath across the field, searching for an opening. Eventually one came. When Joe Maddock was laid low after a blow to the face, Bath were effectively down to thirteen men and Mark Jones seized the opportunity to score out wide. Hercus’ conversion gave Llanelli the lead.

Bath fought back and Malone’s penalty recaptured the lead, but a three pointer by Hercus meant that the Welsh side entered the final ten minutes with a slender one point lead. Bath launched a series of attacks as the game neared the end and worked a drop goal opportunity for Malone, but it was not to be.

Bath may have travelled back down the M4 wondering how they had managed to lose a match 26-27 that they were in complete control of, but when you look at the bigger picture, it is just a matter of time before everything clicks under Ashton.

Bath Rugby: 15 Perry, 14 Higgins (yellow card), 13 Crockett (1t), 12 Maddock (1t), 11 Finau (Abendanon), 10 Malone (3p, 2c), 9 Walshe, 1 Flatman, 2 Mears, 3 Bell (Loader), 4 Borthwick (captain), 5 Grewcock (Short), 6 Beattie, 7 Lipman, 8 Feauanti

Reps: 16 Dixon, 17 Loader, 18 Delve, 19 Short, 20 Williams, 21 Dunne, 22 Abendanon

Llanelli Scarlets: 15 Davies, 14 Jones, 13 Watkins, 12 King, 11 James, 10 Hercus, 9 Stuart-Smith, 1 Dunlea, 2 Rees, 3 Davies, 4 Afeaki, 5 Jones, 6 Easterby (captain), 7 Thomas, 8 Popham

Reps: Madden, 17 Gravelle, 18 Dafydd Jones, 19 Gavin Quinnell, 20 Gareth Bowen, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Lee Byrne

Att: 50,811
Ref: Malcolm Changleng
Cards: Higgins

 

Attendance: 10,60

11th MARCH 2006 BATH NEWCASTLE

Bath were trailing the Falcons 13-18 when the full back, who entered the fray in the second half, latched onto a Alex Crockett’s pass from a incisive break to score a dramatic try in the corner, whilst Chris Malone struck over the difficult conversion to secure all four points for the West Country side.
The fact that the game ended in such dramatic style will probably baffle Brian Ashton, the Bath head coach, who watched his side build a 13-3 lead early in the second half in a game that they appeared to be in complete control of. However, the Lancastrian was pleased with the character displayed by his charges in coming back from a 73rd minute Anthony Elliott try which silenced the capacity 10,600 crowd at the Rec.

“I am delighted that we won and delighted with the way that we scored the try at the end,” said Ashton. “We showed a great deal of character to fight back.”

After a bright start, the home side built an attack inside the Newcastle half and Salesi Finau came off his wing to cut a beautiful angle off Joe Maddock’s pass to score under the posts. Chris Malone added the extras.

Thereafter the game opened up into an exciting affair with both sides looking to play positive rugby. Whilst Bath pressed, Newcastle had chances of their own and it took some monumental tackling by the ‘Tongan Tank’ Salesi Finau to keep the visitors at rams reach.

Malone extended the lead with a routine penalty, but Newcastle should have scored their first try when Tom May made a lovely beak. However, the centre’s pass to openside Ben Woods went to ground and the move was snuffed out. Newcastle did finally get on the scoreboard when Burke converted a penalty opportunity after Bath were caught offside at a ruck.

Bath started the second half as they had done the first with sweeping attacking play stretching Newcastle’s defence. Malone added a second penalty to extend the lead and Bath should have gone further ahead when Peter Short crashed over the line only for referee Martin Fox to pull Bath back for a forward pass.

Nick Walshe’s sin-binning early in the second half threatened to stem Bath’s attacking flair, but the home side showed great guile in attack as Newcastle found it extremely difficult to get their hands on the ball. On the one occasion when the Falcons had possession they scored a wonderful try through left winger Ollie Phillips and suddenly they were back in the game.

Bath needed to get a little composure back into their game, but it was Newcastle who were looking the more confident with the ball in their hands, A second attack inside the Bath twenty-two resulted in a well taken try by winger Anthony Elliott.

The score jolted Bath back into life and a series of incisive attacks took the home side back into dangerous territory. A lineout five metres out was pilfered by Falcons second row Geoff Parling, but the home side continued to attack and after a quick move replacement Lee Best crashed over in the corner to level the scores.

4 mins: Finau try, Malone con 7-0
19 mins: Malone con 10-0
23 mins: Burke pen 10-3
44 mins: Malone pen 13-3
52 mins: Burke pen 13-6
60 mins: Phillips try, Burke con 13-13
73 mins: Elliott try 13-18
77 mins: Best try, Malone con 20-18

Bath Rugby: 15 Perry, 14 Higgins (Best, 48-49) , 13 Crockett, 12 Maddock, 11 Finau (1t) (Best 58 1t), 10 Malone (2p,2c), 9 Walshe, 1 Flatman, 2 Dixon, 3 Bell, 4 Hudson, 5 Short, 6 Beattie, 7 Scaysbrook (Delve), 8 Feaunati (Fidler)(captain).

16 Hawkins, 17 Loader, 18 Loader, 19 Fidler, 20 Williams, 21 Dunne, 22 Best

Newcastle Falcons:15 Burke (2p, 1c), 14 Phillips (1t), 13 May, 12 Mayerhofler, 11 Phillips, 10 Grindal, 1 Ward, 2 Long , 3 Morris, 4 Perry, 5 Parling, 6 Finegan, 7 Woods, 8 Buist

16 Williams, 17 Thompson, 18 Grimes, 19 Harris, 20 McCarthy, 21 Charlton, 22 Shaw.

Ref: Martin Fox
Cards: Walshe, 52
Att: 10,600

 

25th MARCH 2006 BATH V LEICESTER

As the players ran on to the field, the rain began to fall and we were reminded of last season’s 6-all draw in a deluge at the Rec. Scoring was not going to be easy and the side which played the conditions more intelligently was the one which would win.

Bath fumbled the first kick-off, setting the tone for the game; handling errors and turnovers were going to be the order of the day.

Leicester settled into the game first. Keeping the ball tight and using the rolling maul to good effect, they moved into a 6-0 lead after the first quarter with two successful Andy Goode penalties.

After 22 minutes, Bath had their first opportunity to put their opponents under pressure as they, too, began to use the rolling maul. As maul turned into ruck, Louis Deacon found himself interfering in an offside position and Chris Malone kicked a simple penalty to reduce the deficit to 6-3.

Another Bath restart error immediately handed the initiative back to Leicester, who soon had the home team on the back foot in their own 22. A collapsed scrum by Bath gave Goode the chance of 3 more easy points.

Inexplicably, given the conditions and the adequate defensive cover, Goode instead opted for the crossfield kick to the right hand corner flag. It fell well short of Leon Lloyd, the intended recipient, and into the hands of Michael Stephenson, who called for the “Mark” and the immediate danger passed.

Somewhat against the run of play it was Bath who scored next, on the half hour, to level the scores. Malone neatly slotted the penalty for another infringement at the breakdown; Julian White the culprit on this occasion.

Bath’s failings at the restart were again evident as they turned over possession from Goode’s drop kick. This time they were to be punished more severely. Neat work from Ollie Smith, Sam Vesty and Geordan Murphy down the Leicester left ended with Vesty being held up over the line by a desperate Bath defence.

The reprieve was short lived as Leicester used the position to give the forwards a platform to drive towards the try line. Bath infringed to stop the Tigers’ gaining momentum but referee Chris White played a good advantage, allowing Goode to float a long pass out to Lloyd, who had the simple task of falling over the try-line with Bath’s defence having been sucked infield. An excellent touchline conversion from Goode extended the Tigers’ lead to 13-6.

Bath regrouped and, just before half time, narrowed the deficit.

Bath won a line-out just in their opponents’ half and as the ball came out along the line, it seemed inevitable that the move would peter out as the Tigers’ defence seemed to drift comfortably in tandem with the ball. Andy Higgins took the ball into a two-man tackle but managed to keep on his feet and somehow wriggle free. On he went; 5 metres then 10 and, with the cavalry arriving to help him on his way, he was finally brought down 10 metres from the Tigers’ line. The forwards drove the ball to within a couple of metres of the line before Lewis Moody, like a political party being offered a loan in General Election year, couldn’t help himself by picking the ball out of the back of the ruck from an offside position right in front of Chris White’s nose. Malone scored the simple penalty to make it 13-9 and Moody was given a yellow card and asked to keep the 4th Official’s seat dry for him for 10 minutes.

The last meaningful act of the first half was another successful Goode penalty; Gareth Delve being adjudged to have not allowed the tackled player to release the ball before trying to play it himself.

The half-time whistle went with Leicester just about deserving their 16-9 lead, having been the team who had better kept control of the ball in the difficult conditions.

The second half showed plenty of endeavour from, but little reward for, either side as both struggled to gain any continuity or momentum.

Leicester should have put the game out of reach when they squandered a two-man overlap. Fortunately for Bath, and unfortunately for Leicester, the critical pass asked too much of second row Louis Deacon, who found himself acting as left winger, and the ball spilled forward with the try line in sight.

Bath introduced 6 of their 7 replacements in the last 20 minutes as they attempted to mix things up a bit. It did have some success; shortly after the introduction of Fau Filise and Peter Short, Bath won a scrum against the head leading to their best period of continuity of the game. Forwards and Backs worked well together to keep possession and drive towards the Tigers’ line. With Leicester’s defence stretched, it looked as though Bath might create an overlap on the right wing, but Duncan Bell couldn’t gather the pass and the ball went forward. There was no-one in the ground more disappointed than Duncan – who says professional sportsman don’t care?

In fact, the ground clock had passed the regulation 40 minutes before Leicester put a win out of Bath’s reach. Given the conditions, it was perhaps appropriate (or should that be “inevitable”?) that it was a penalty for collapsing a rolling maul that gave Goode the opportunity to extend the lead to 10 points with 7 minutes still remaining on the official “countdown” clock; an opportunity he took to his, and his team-mates, great pleasure. Leicester 19 Bath 9.

There was enough time for Malone to kick a bonus point-earning penalty and for Bath to make a final assault on the Leicester line to try and snatch a draw.

With the countdown clock showing zero, Leon Lloyd’s seemingly deliberate palming of the ball into touch on the last play of the game went unpunished by referee Chris White who blew for full-time instead.

But what would Bath v Leicester games be without a bit of controversy?

At least we only have a week before we gain revenge!

Scorers:
Bath: Penalties – Malone (4)
Leicester: Try – Lloyd, Conversion – Goode, Penalties – Goode (4)

Bath Rugby: Stephenson (Abendanon 75), Finau, Higgins, Maddock, Bory, Malone, Walshe (Williams 75); Flatman (Filise 62), Mears (Dixon 75), Bell, Borthwick, Grewcock (Short 62), Beattie, Lipman (Feaunati 78), Delve.

Att: 10, 600

Ref: Chris White

8th APRIL 2006 NORTHAMPTON V BATH

For a neutral this game provided one of the most entertaining Guinness Premiership matches of the season with both sides playing some fine attacking rugby. For Bath Rugby a win would have meant almost certain safety from relegation and a chance of bucking a trend of having beaten Northampton Saints only once in their last eight previous visits to Franklin’s Gardens.

Bath started the game at a frenetic pace and some fine movement among the backs resulted in centre Alex Crockett releasing Andy Higgins down the right wing for what looked like a certain try, only for Ben Cohen to bundle him into touch at the last moment.

Whilst the game was certainly a free-flowing one, the battle amongst the forwards was always going to be important between the sides and early pressure was visible when Saints’ flanker Paul Tupai was given an early warning from referee David Rose. While the packs were evenly matched, Bath had a slight upper hand for most of the game.

The opening score came in the 18th minute courtesy of Salesi Finau who snapped up Chris Malone’s pass to crash over in the corner. The resulting conversion attempt produced some rest bite for the sell-out crowd as Malone’s placement resulted in the ball being blown over a few times before he had a chance to make contact. Once Andy Williams volunteered to hold the ball in place, Malone’s kick just missed the uprights.

Saints replied eight minutes later with some Carlos Spencer inspired magic. The fly-half carved up the Bath defense with some fine running to find himself deep in the away sides territory and just as it looked like he was about to go for the try line himself, he passed to a rampaging Bruce Reihana who outpaced his markers to score a wonderful try. Reihana claimed all seven points by successfully converting. The home side then hit again in the 32nd minute as Saints pressure told with Ben Cohen this time taking the honors to score a try. Reihana hit the conversion. Northampton went into the break 14-5 up.

The second half started with fly-half Chris Malone going off at the break to be replaced by Samoan international Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu who made his first appearance since February due to a knee injury. With Fuimano-Sapolu going into inside-centre, Barkley took over the number ten jersey.

Almost immediately the tactical change, admittedly brought on by Malone being taken off through injury, paid off with Bath attacking the Saints line and it nearly resulted in a Bath try. Eventually after several phases, the home side gave away a penalty in front of the posts and Barkley stepped up to easily it hit over.

Minutes later though and Bath scored again. Quick decision making by Andy Williams, saw the Wales international scrum-half take a quick tap-penalty and he was brought down only ten metes from the try-line. Quick recycled ball resulted in a two man overlap and Joe Maddock strolled in to score. Barkley converted and Bath were back in front.

More Spencer magic then opened the away side up again and a good run by number eight Daniel Browne let in Reihana for his second try. Reihana missed the conversion but Saints had the lead. With the home support’s voice growing, Bath responded through two Olly Barkley penalties to set up a tense climax to the game.

Saint’s second half substitute Mark Easter won the game towards the end of the match after latching onto a Spencer pass and brushing off Nick Abendanon to score. Spencer then proved he was human by missing the conversion.

Bath then rallied and showed the tremendous progress that they have been making under Brian Ashton by almost conjuring up a late score with some excellent handling from their own twenty two through several phases of play. However the ball was eventually turned over and Saints secured the victory but Bath did come away with a bonus point.

Bath: Maddock (Abendanon 72), Finau, Crockett, Barkley, Higgins, Malone (Fuimaono-Sapolu 40), Williams; Flatman (Bell 50), Dixon (Mears 60), Filise, Borthwick (Fidler 77), Grewcock, Short, Lipman (Feaunati 70), Delve.

Scorers:

Bath: Tries – Finau, Maddock; Conversions – Barkley (1), Penalties – Barkley (3),
Northampton: Tries – Reihana (2), Cohen, Easter; Conversions – Reihana (2)

Att: 13, 454

Ref: David Rose

 

15th APRIL 2006 BATH V BRISTOL

This game was a tail of two halves. Bath Rugby blitzed a shell shocked Bristol in the first forty minutes playing perhaps their best rugby since Brian Ashton re-joined the club. Bristol then put up an effective rearguard in the second-half, putting Bath under pressure and refusing to be on the end of a hiding.
Bath hit first through two Olly Barkley penalties in the opening minutes of the game. Then after an extended break in proceedings due to Bristol’s Nathan Budgett having to be stretchered off the field after colliding with a teammate, Bristol hit back with a penalty through Jason Strange and then came so close to scoring the opening try of the match when winger David Lemi touched down in the corner. However the pass to him was judged to have been forward.

Then came Bath Rugby’s fantasy time. After number Zak Feaunati had set the attack up from a catch and drive at a line-out, an exquisitely judged cross-field kick from Barkley caught right winger Lee Robinson out of position and Andy Beattie capitalized by catching the ball and scoring across the whitewash.

Barkley then hit a penalty, given away by a sinbinned Roy Winters for interfering at the ruck. Strange hit a penalty of his own shortly afterwards before Barkley once again restored the eight point advantage with another well taken penalty.

Bristol went down to thirteen when Darren Crompton was given a yellow card for deliberately slowing the ball down and they suddenly found themselves under immense pressure.

After a sustained build up, Joe Maddock followed through on a short pass to score near the posts. Barkley then proceeded to thump the penalty so hard through the uprights that the ball rattled the advertising hoardings behind the posts shocking the corporate revelers in the Hamptons Stand. The sheer effort that Olly put into the kick reflected the solid and effective game he was having at fly-half.

Then came one of the best tries Bath have conjured up the Rec for many years. A move started deep in their own twenty-two led to Olly Barkley chipping ahead for Maddock to chase. Maddock then fed Salesi Finau who eventually passed inside for Zak Feaunati to trundle over the try line at pace and touch down. Barkley kicked the penalty and Bath went into half-time 31-6 up.

Bristol then came out for the second half clearly inspired by their Head Coach Richard Hill and they were suddenly taking the game to Bath.

Bristol quickly found a way back into the match when a poor pass by Nick Walshe was intercepted and hacked ahead by Sam Cox. David Lemi then picked the ball up and ran all the way to score underneath the posts. Strange hit a successful conversion.

However Bristol were unable to break down a solid Bath defense thereafter and aside from the turn around in the Bristolians performance, the remainder of the half was highlighted by another Strange penalty and Danny Grewcock being sin binned for stamping.

Bath survived a late Bristol surge to seal their place in the Guinness Premiership next season. Next stop San Sebastian and an enticing Heineken Cup semi-final encounter with Biarritz.

Bath Rugby: Maddock, Higgins, Crockett, Finau (Stephenson 48), Bory, Barkley, Walshe (Williams 56); Barnes (Bell 58), Mears (Dixon 71), Filise (Barnes 71), Borthwicj, Grewcock, Beattie, Lipman, Feaunati (Delve 52).

Scorers:

Tries: Beattie, Maddock, Feaunati
Con: Barkley (2), Pen: Barkley (4)

 

27th APRIL 2006 SALE V BATH

Disbelief was the strongest sentiment after this 38-12 defeat. With ten minutes to go, Bath were only 19-12 adrift and looked like they might go on to win. But three tries in the final few minutes for Sale, by Chris Mayor, Mark Cueto and Chris Jones, flattered the league-leaders, and ensured, with the result at Leicester, that they will finish the regular season at the top of the table.

Needing one win from their last two Guinness Premiership matches to be certain of a home tie in the play-off semi-finals, Sale fielded their strongest side. They weathered the storm of an energetic start by Bath, who with ball in hand were playing in the creative style that Brian Ashton has been trying to instil throughout the side.
Successive attacking moves in the opening minutes posed a real threat to the Sale line. A tapped penalty by Andy Williams maintained the pressure and yielded another penalty, but Chris Malone kicked to touch rather than going for goal, and the chance to score went begging with a wonky line-out throw.

Soon after, Malone threaded a neat grubber kick over the line but Nick Abendanon, making his first Premiership start, could not quite control the touchdown.

In contrast, Sale provided a lesson in how to take the most of their opportunities. They probably saw less of the ball and territory but three moments of indiscipline by Bath within Charlie Hodgson’s range saw the England fly-half slot three penalties for the home side.

But as half-time approach, Sililo Martens, the Sale scrum-half, was penalised for a high tackle on Joe Maddock. From the resultant lineout, Malone took the ball, chipped it towards the posts and touched down under the sticks, making his conversion attempt simple, and Bath went in to the break just 9-7 down.

Sale struck first after half-time, when Hodgson punished Bath again. Sale looked very dangerous on the counter-attack or with turnover ball, and although they twice wasted overlaps, Hodgson eventually gained the elusive try, also converting it.

19-7 down, Bath now found their way into the Sale half, and nearly scored via two cross-field kicks by Malone, the first intended for Zak Feaunati, the second for Maddock, who knocked on under a challenge by Elvis Seveali’i.

Sale could not get out of their own half, as Bath controlled the possession and did not let up the frantic pace. Bath’s persistence was rewarded when James Hudson slid over on the far right-hand side. The intensity took its toll, leading to uncontested scrums when David Flatman had to be replaced.

But Sale’s concluding scores added mental bruises to the physical knocks. Ashton said: “With a side of match-winners like Sale you can’t afford to lose concentration.”

On a positive note, he added: “It was difficult for them playing like that but it’s the way we want to go. I was quite encouraged by the ambition we showed.”

BATH: Maddock; Abendanon (Davis, 78), Crockett (Stephenson, 62), Barkley, Bory; Malone, Williams (Walshe, 18-30); Flatman (Goodman, 71), Dixon (Hawkins, 57), Bell (Loader, 55), Hudson (Fidler, 73), Short, Faamatuainu, Delve, Feaunati (capt).

SALE: Robinson (capt); Cueto, Taylor, Seveali’i (Mayor, 60), Ripol; Hodgson, Martens (Wigglesworth, 66); Coutts (Faure, 53), Titterrell, Turner (Stewart, 62), Jones, Schofield (Lobbe, 53), White, Lund, Chabal (Day, 75).

Referee: Martin Fox.

Attendance: 10,641.

13: Hodgson pen, 3-0
20: Hodgson pen, 6-0
30: Hodgson pen, 9-0
35: Malone try and con, 9-7
42: Hodgson pen, 12-7
48: Hodgson try and con, 19-7
69: Hudson try, 19-12
76: Mayor try, Hodgson con, 26-12
78: Cueto try, 31-12
80: Jones try, Hodgson con, 38-12

 

 

 

6th MAY 2006 BATH V WORCESTER

The Guinness Premiership table does not flatter either Bath or Worcester, but as if released from the care of the preceding eight months, both teams celebrated the end of the season with champagne rugby at the Recreation Ground, and sent the capacity crowd home with memories to last them for the summer.

In all honesty, “champagne rugby” is perhaps a generous description as far as it describes the quality of the game, for it was not without error from both sides, and there was more than a hint of end-of-term-ism in the levels of concentration

But the entertainment derived as much from the players’ mistakes as from anything else, and all this combined with the exhilerating pace and moments of brilliance to ensure that the match fizzed and sparkled almost continuously. Bath’s four tries clinched a bonus-point victory that lifted them to ninth in the table, a more respectable position than the eleventh place in which they started the day.

Worcester opened the scoring with only two minutes gone, when Thomas Lombard – even as Bath’s defence seemed to have bundled him into the left-hand flag, touched down and was awarded the try.

The visitors looked dangerous in the backs but an attacking move including a penetrating run from Michael Stephenson soon yielded Bath a score, when Worcester were penalised just outside their 22, and Chris Malone kicked from in front of the posts.

Then from his own half, Williams took a tapped penalty, and via some neat footwork and handiwork from Taufa’ao Filise, Andy Beattie and Olly Barkley, Duncan Bell charged through a gap towards the tryline. He was hauled down short, and Malone likewise could not quite make it, but it was thrilling and encouraging rugby and an example of the superb interplay between forwards and backs throughout the game.

But the Warriors backs looked ominous on the counter-attack, and took the ball into the Bath 22, where Brown had a chance of a penalty, but luckily for Bath he had yet to find his range.

There was plenty of fiery rugby from both sides – the referee called both captains together on the half hour to put an end to any hint of off-the-ball incidents – but Bath then demonstrated the perfectly executed driving maul to score from a penalty lineout, through Filise.

Bath had done well to keep Worcester out to this point, but crucially let them in just before half-time, from turnover ball, when Dale Rasmussen was put clear via Uche Oduoza and an inside ball to Thinus Delport. The half-time score was 10-8 to the visitors.

Although it might just as easily have been Worcester, Bath were the first to score in the second half. Barkley was held up after an attack that began in Bath’s own half, but from the resulting scrum, Feaunati picked up from No. 8 and scored. Moments later, James Hudson scythed through the visitors’ defence allowing Joe Maddock to score under the posts, and Malone converted.

Worcester were under all sorts of pressure. Barkley released Hudson down the right wing, the second row scorched 50 metres down the right wing, and passed to Stephenson, but alas, the pass was forward. They were pressing the line again when miscommunication allowed Worcester to break up field and Lombard to score his second.

It was now the visitors’ turn to score two in quick succession, as Tom Harding then made the most of some missed tackles to recover the lead.

But more was to come when the ball was hacked up field by Andy Beattie, and although Oduoza beat him to it, the winger hacked it dead, setting up a Bath scrum. Walshe picked up and threw a miss-pass to Stephenson, who was not denied this time.

An enforced breather ensued when Worcester’s Simon Whatling, who had only just entered the fray and formerly of Bath’s Academy, needed prolonged attention. But as soon as play resumed, the game returned to its scintillating pace. Worcester it was who were on the offensive in the closing minutes, but Bath’s tired bodies kept up the defensive battle and managed to hold on for a three-point victory, 25-22.

Bath’s Head Coach Brian Ashton said afterwards: “There was some fantastic rugby, some entertaining rugby, and some crazy rugby. It’s a great shame that sides leave it till the last day to play in such a manner. You don’t see games like that very often in the Premiership.”

But it bodes well for Bath next season that they can play in that manner.

2: Lombard try, 0-5
11: Malone pen, 3-5
29: Filise try, 8-5
39: Rasmussen try, 8-10
48: Feaunati try, 13-10
51: Maddock try, Malone con, 20-10
60: Lombard try, Brown con, 20-17
62: Harding try, 20-22
66: Stephenson try, 25-22

BATH: 15. Joe Maddock 14. Michael Stephenson 13. Andy Higgins 12. Olly Barkley 11. David Bory 10. Chris Malone (Davis, 64) 9. Andy Williams (Walshe, 60) 1. Taufa’ao Filise (Bell, 75) 2. Lee Mears 3. Duncan Bell (Barnes, 60) 4. James Hudson 5. Peter Short 6. Zak Feaunati (capt; Fidler, 69) 7. Chris Goodman (Faamatuainu, 60) 8. Andy Beattie

Replacements: 16.Rob Hawkins 17. David Barnes 18. Jon Faamatuainu 19. Rob Fidler 20. Nick Walshe 21. Ryan Davis 22. Ian Davey

WORCESTER: 15. Thinus Delport 14. Uche Oduoza 13. Dale Rasmussen 12. Thomas Lombard (Whatling, 65; Hallam) 11. Gary Trueman (Hylton, 60) 10. James Brown 9. Nick Runciman 1. Mike MacDonald 2. Chris Fortey (Van Niekerk, 52) 3. Lee Fortey (Black, 79) 4. Phil Murphy 5. Craig Gillies (O’Donoghue, 49) 6. Pat Sanderson (capt) 7. Tom Harding 8. Kai Horstmann (Hickey, 60)

Replacements: 16. Andre Van Niekerk 17. Callum Black 18. Ed O’Donoghue 19. Drew Hickey 20. Chris Hallam 21. Simon Whatling 22. Jonny Hylton

Referee: David Rose

Attendance: 10,600

 

 

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