2009-2010

by BRIAN JENKINS

2009-2010 SEASON

6th SEPTEMBER 2009 GLOUCESTER V BATH

Coming off the back of three successful pre-season friendlies and an excellent summer of preparation, Bath Rugby were armed with all the tools necessary to start their Guinness Premiership with a bang. However, after a frustrating match against Gloucester that left The Rec contingent 24-5 down, Bath Rugby will now have the task of righting those wrongs against London Wasps next weekend.

Playing bitter derby rivals Gloucester is never going to be easy. Even when benefitting from the fresh approach of the new faces at Bath Rugby, the opening match in the race for Twickenham was bound to prove a challenge. However, whilst Bath played with grit and aggression, it was not enough to defeat their hosts, but, in their defeat, the team will undoubtedly now be looking to analyse their mistakes and ensure that next time these sides face each other, the points will most definitely be in Bath Rugby’s favour.

An early penalty looked to put Bath Rugby into an instant lead, following some aggressive play from Ryan Davis, Andy Beattie and David Flatman. However the offence that was forced on Gloucester failed to award Bath with the points as the kick from Davis went wide of the right-hand post.

Nine minutes later and Gloucester, playing with the same venom as Bath, were offered the chance to slot three points as Nicky Robinson was tasked with a penalty kick following a fumble of the ball by Joe Maddock who had attempted to catch a high kick from the Gloucester fly half. The Gloucester 10 booted the ball between the posts and the hosts took the lead.

The points clocked up again for the home team in the form of James Simpson-Daniel as he shot over the line in the corner for the first try of the match. The winger had been fed the ball from ex-Bath player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu who tapped it to his new cherry and white team mate to finish the move. Robinson made the conversion, taking Gloucester up to a 10-0 lead after 18 minutes. With Maddock having halted a similar action from Mike Tindall just minutes earlier, the score deficit was a bitter disappointment to Bath, but it was also a catalyst to spur them on.

With Gloucester playing dangerously close to the try line, a good defensive display from Nick Abendanon and Matt Carraro gave Bath back the possession as Gloucester were penalised for a knock-on. Ben Skirving came strongly off the back of the scrum and made up some good ground, but it wasn’t enough to force entry inside their opposition’s 22 and instead a series of kicks up and down the pitch ensued as the clock counted down the last five minutes of the first half. Bath were unable to garner any points before the whistle and even with Gloucester down to 13 men after a yellow card to Andy Hazell, Bath went to the changing rooms 10-0 down.

The visitors came back on after the interval with a vengeance, as Abendanon made a rapid break midfield towards Gloucester’s 10 metre line. It failed to award the visitors with their much needed points however as Bath were penalised for crossing inside the 22 and Gloucester used the offence to try and turn the luck in their favour. However a missed penalty kick by Robinson did not afford them any points.

It was not long before the cherry and whites were able to make amends for the missed penalty and swapped the three-points for seven after a second try from Simpson-Daniel. The Gloucester winger had mirrored the 40 metre break made by newcomer Julian Salvi who had managed to slip through the midfield inside the opposition territory, but the sheer pace of Simpson-Daniel back towards Bath’s 22 was too much for the chasing Bath defence. After a successful conversion from Robinson, Gloucester led by 17-0 after 50 minutes.

Bath, benefitting from the fresh legs of replacements Jonny Faamatuainu, Peter Short and Duncan Bell, displayed greater defiance and energy and looked close to grabbing some points and Davis made a kick to the corner in Gloucester’s 22 for a line out and the boys in blue, black and white used the chance to drive hard for and over the line. The referee was forced to consult the TMO however and the try was not awarded – but this did not matter – because mere minutes later Hape shot over the try line for Bath’s first try of the game at 66 minutes. Carraro stepped up to take the conversion but did not convert.

Bath continued to pile on the pressure through the form of Hape, as he made a powerful break back inside Gloucester’s 22. A knock-on created by a Gloucester tackle on the centre led to a scrum, but was rapidly replaced by a penalty kick being awarded to Gloucester after Bath gave ‘back-chat’ to the referee. Whilst Bath held on and looked set to make amends for the lost scrum, a pass from Tom Cheeseman was intercepted by fly half Robinson and he sprinted from the halfway all the way to cross for five. Converting his own try, the number 10 handed the hosts a 24-5 lead after 76 minutes.

Despite some brave attempts by Bath Rugby to drag back the score divide it was not enough and the Rec contingent were left defeated at Kingsholm with a final score of 24-5 to Gloucester. However with just six days until Bath face London Wasps at home, there will be no time to feel disheartened but to feel confident of resolving the mistakes made this afternoon.

Man of the Match – Matt Carraro

12th SEPTEMBER 2009 BATH V WASPS

No-one could blame Ryan Davis for missing a touchline conversion of Ben Skirving’s try in the 20th minute of injury time after a pulsating finish to the first home of the season. Watched by a record crowd of 11,300, the fly-half sent his kick to the right of the posts and Wasps players jumped for joy at their second win of the season. After scoring three excellent tries to two, it was no more than they deserved.

Bath head coach Steve Meehan pulled no punches in his assessment of the performance. “We played well for 30 minutes – the first 10 and the last 20,” he said. “It’s not a physical thing. If you can do it in the 80th minute, you should be able to do it in the first few. It’s a question of application. There were times when we went to sleep.”

He added: “It was a far better performance than last week – but still not good enough. We’ve got to make some changes – there’s no doubt about that.”

There was little sign of the lethargy that had undermined the display at Gloucester as Bath attacked from the kick-off in bright ‘Indian summer’ sunshine. After nicking a line-out off the Wasps throw in the first minute, Matt Banahan latched on to a Ryan Davis chip ahead and was driven over the line from all of 25 metres. Unfortunately, there was no TMO to check whether the ball had been grounded and they had to be content with a 5-metre scrum.

The try was not long in coming, however, as referee Chris White awarded a penalty when Wasps infringed at a ruck and new skipper Michael Claassens took a quick tap to score. Fly-half Davis converted with some confidence to put his side 7-nil ahead with just three minutes on the clock.
Opposite number Danny Cipriani was not having such an easy time of it with the boot, missing with two efforts from 50 metres although his teasing chips were keeping Joe Maddock on his toes at full-back.

The real danger man was his half-back partner, Joe Simpson, whose electrifying pace provided Wasps with a stunning reply on 17 minutes. The scrum-half set off from a tapped penalty inside his own half and was eventually pulled down short of the line but David Lemi and Cipriani combined to send Varndell over in the left corner. Mark Van Gisbergen was wide with the conversion.

Bath responded with a straighforward penalty from Davis on 24 minutes by Matt Banahan, David Flatman and Julian Salvi but the speed of Simpson cut them open again almost immediately.

This time the platform was a scrum just outside the visitors’ 22 and Simpson sped away on the blindside on a searing run to provide a simple try for Varndell, his fourth of the season. Cipriani’s conversion from the touchline was off-target, leaving the scores level at 10-10.

The home effort was being undermined by a string of penalties conceded and also by an unusually high number of handling errors.

Wasps struck again on the stroke of half-time with a third try, created by Cipriani and centre Steve Kefu and finished off with a flourish by former Bristol wing David Lemi. Cipriani converted from wide out to send his side in at the break with a 17-10 lead.

Bath began the second half with a greater sense of purpose but Banahan, shown a rare glimpse of space, was eventually hauled down and when the ball was recycled for Davis to chip over the top, Tom Cheeseman was offside.

Although struggling to impose themselves in the loose, the scrummage was one area of superiority and a succession of put-ins – and penalties – on the Wasps line led to an inevitable yellow card for loosehead Tim Payne. Unfortunately for the home side, they lost control of the subsequent scrum and the chance was lost.

It was the same story at the line-out where a rare attacking position had been squandered when the ball was spilled at the tail and Wasps were able to clear their lines, their confidence growing visibly.

In the loose, the visitors mauled effectively and scrapped for every bit of possession to the extent that quick ball was a rare luxury for Claassens and his team.

Occasionally, Joe Maddock broke free from full-back and Shontayne Hape wriggled away from the suffocating cover but those chances were few and far between and much of the time Davis operated on the back foot at fly-half.

It was not long into the second half before Meehan rang the changes from the bench, giving Jack Cuthbert a chance at full-back after reshuffling the backline.

Slowly the pressure built up and it was Wasps who found themselves on the back foot, resorting to giving away penalties as the home team struggled for an equalising score. Again Payne found himself on the wrong side of the referee and, receiving a second yellow card, was then shown a red.

With the countdown clock long stopped at zero and the scoreboard showing 60 minutes, Maddock wriggled down the touchline, fed the ball inside at grass level and No 8 Skirving was forced over at the flag. Davis coolly took his time over the kick as a gang of Wasps players charged from the try-line but the effort was wide and a losing bonus point scant consolation.

18th SEPTEMBER 2009 SALE V BATH

Two tries from Matt Carraro helped Bath Rugby to an impressive win at Edgeley Park as they recorded their first victory of the new Guinness Premiership season in style.
Beaten by Gloucester and Wasps in their opening two matches, Bath bounced back with a convincing three-tries-to-nil victory over Sale Sharks.

Australian centre Carraro went over either side of half-time – with a Matt Banahan try sandwiched in between – as Steve Meehan’s side moved off the bottom of the table with a fully deserved victory.

Nicky Little, making his first Premiership start for the club, kicked 10 points as Bath claimed their first league victory at Edgeley Park for six years to move up to eighth in the table.

They were up against it in the closing stages, though, surviving for the final few minutes with 13 men after both Banahan and Andy Beattie were yellow-carded.

Yet despite their numerical disadvantage, Bath’s defence held firm under severe pressure to deny Sale a late try, which would have given them a conversion to seal a losing bonus point.

Bath were far more composed across the field than they had been in their opening two Premiership matches – and got their tactics spot-on against a side who are notoriously difficult to beat at home.

Head coach Meehan said: “It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty satisfying. I thought the tries were well worked, with some good skills and guys running hard.

“We finished off, whereas in the previous couple of weeks we’ve been having some difficulties there. Where the guys have really applied themselves at training, we saw the end result, so it’s been a worthwhile week.

“We did feel we had been building through this. The result against Gloucester came out of the blue, and we let ourselves down in two or three areas against Wasps, but we felt we were improving the whole time.

“We actually arrived quite confident, which is probably a strange thing to say, but that was the feeling – and the guys applied themselves well.”

Bath fell behind after five minutes when Lee Thomas landed a penalty after the visitors had strayed offside, only for Little to level the score three minutes later with a penalty of his own after home hooker Marc Jones was penalised for not releasing the ball in contact.

Thomas landed a penalty for a 6-3 lead when Bath were again penalised in defence – but the fly-half fell short with an audacious 60-metre effort soon after.

Jack Cuthbert then failed with a long-range penalty attempt for Bath – and Sale soon extended their lead with a 45-metre effort from Thomas.

But the fightback began shortly after the half-hour mark, Little halving the deficit with a penalty after Luke Abraham caught Michael Claassens as the Bath skipper prepared to pass from a ruck.

And Little was then the provider, setting up Carraro for the first try of the night – and his first in the Premiership.

Carraro still had a lot of work to do when he gathered Little’s pass 35 metres from the line, but he slipped past Ben Cohen’s tackle and raced away to score.

Little converted to give Bath a 13-9 lead – which they carried into half-time after Thomas failed with another long-range effort shortly before the interval.

Bath came out firing after the restart, adding a second try through Banahan five minutes into the second period.

They worked through the phases with patience and accuracy, before Claassens whipped the ball away from a ruck and Little released Banahan, who powered over from close range.

Little missed the routine conversion – but it hardly mattered as Bath powered into a 25-9 lead with a wonderful converted try soon after.

Cuthbert found touch with a big kick, Bath turned Sale over following the line-out, and Shontayne Hape’s brilliant offload sent Carraro away to score his second of the night and Bath’s third.

Another Thomas penalty – awarded following a high tackle by Claassens – brought Sale back to within 13 points at 25-12.

But they could not add any further points, as Bath’s defence held firm despite having Banahan yellow-carded for a late tackle on Mark Cueto, and Beattie sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball.

27th SEPTEMBER 2009 BATH V LEICESTER

Nicky Little calmly stroked over the 78th minute penalty that earned Bath a share of the spoils – and then dashed off to Manchester where his wife was preparing to give birth to their child.

It was quite an eventful evening all round for the Fijian fly-half, having received a yellow card in the 49th minute for a late challenge on Tigers skipper Geordan Murphy. During his 10 minutes in the sin-bin Little was no doubt wondering why a ‘spear tackle’ by Anthony Allen on him just minutes earlier did not attract a similar sanction.

It certainly puzzled Head Coach Steve Meehan who said: “That was an automatic yellow card, no doubt about that. I’ll have to have another look at the other incident where Nicky was yellow-carded but certainly the Allen one was a dead certain yellow card.”

Little, 33 earlier this month, was again an influential figure, kicking five penalties and distributing the ball effectively when Bath were really taking the game to the visitors.

Meehan observed: “He’s a pretty experienced player, with a reasonably boot on him – and quite physical for a No 10. So in his last two matches he’s been very good for us. It’s something that some of the younger fly-halves in the club can learn from as well.””

Little’s teammates worked hard to stop Leicester scoring while the fly-half was off the field early in the second half and celebrated his return by summoning a huge eight-man shove to earn a penalty near their own line. It was a significant moment as the Tigers had opted for scrums from successive penalties. David Flatman, on the field for only five minutes at that stage, took the individual plaudits.

Unfortunately the last quarter was not so impressive, as Meehan pointed out: “I think the last 20 minutes showed why we ended up in a draw. We didn’t control the ball coming out of our half, missed some opportunities to get a penalty, not to put it into touch for a lineout, some high balls went against us and there were various other bits and pieces.

“But there was some good work from the guys, the level of intensity was higher again than last week so we are heading in the right direction it’s a little bit frustrating. If we can go to Harlequins next week and sneak a win there, then after five games, two wins and a draw would be a reasonable return with a whole heap of rugby left in front of us.””

With the Rec filled to its new 11,700 capacity for the first time, Bath began promisingly, winning turnovers and earning penalties. Matt Banahan slipped fairly easily into his fresh role of outside centre, releasing Jonny Faamatuainu on the right wing with an offload out of the back of his hand. Duncan Bell, looking more sprightly than ever, carried the move on but Leicester regrouped only to present Little with his first penalty.

His placekicking duel with Jeremy Staunton punctuated the first quarter, the 9-6 scoreline hardly reflecting the fast and furious approach of both sides. Leicester, without a try since the Guinness Premiership final, finally broke their duck on 24 minutes when hooker Mefin Davies scored in the left corner under the clubhouse, Staunton adding the conversion.

Bath regrouped and began to ratchet up the pressure, with Bell again prominent in the open spaces. But it was Shontayne Hape who made the telling break and Banahan who eventually crashed through the tackles of the two Murphys for a try just short of half-time. Little could not convert but it was enough to give the home team a 14-13 lead at the break.

Allen’s tackle soon after the restart may or may not have warranted a yellow card but Little landed the kick. Soon after, his late hit on Murphy was spotted by the Referee’s Assistant but Staunton’s kick clipped the outside of the post.

Murphy, dangerous throughout, needed lengthy treatment before resuming but did himself an even greater mischief shortly afterwards, chasing his own kick. The Irishman’s headlong dive in the in-goal area only resulted in a clash of heads with Joe Maddock and, more seriously, a momentary dislocation of his shoulder.

While Little champed at the bit in the sin-bin, his 14 teammates found themselves increasingly under siege and were relieved to escape a particularly sticky spot near their own line when the Tigers front row of Ayerza, Davies and Castrogiovanni were manoeuvring themselves for a possible penalty try.

But once the danger was averted and Little returned to the fray, the Tigers really had their tails up and a fine Dan Hipkiss break would surely have led to a try in the left corner had Geoff Parling not fluffed his pass to Johne Murphy. And when the home backs fell offside just 30 metres out from the posts, Staunton hooked hi s kick badly.

The visitors’ second try still came as a nasty shock because it originated with a high kick just inside the Leicester half. The loose ball was snapped up by replacement scrum-half Ben Youngs who displayed pace and awareness to dart across the field and free Hipkiss on the right. Banahan stretched out a long, tattooed arm in an attempted tap tackle but the centre sped to the line for a try converted by Staunton.

However, Leicester failed to secure the ball at the restart and, having surrendered possession, fell offside from the ruck. Little gratefully accepted the lifeline.

3rd OCTOBER 2009 HARLEQUINS V BATH

Bath suffered an agonising defeat against Harlequins after Nick Evans converted Nick Easter’s last-minute try at the Twickenham Stoop.

Shontayne Hape’s 76th-minute try looked to have won the game for Bath, before Quins set up camp on the Bath line during a lengthy spell of injury time.

And it was in the final minute of injury time that Easter burrowed over – a score that had to be confirmed by the television official – that Quins broke Bath hearts, with Evans converting to give the Londoners their first victory of the season.

Bath had led the match from the seventh minute until the 74th, when Evans – who had earlier missed two penalties – made it 6-6.

Nicky Little could not convert Hape’s try – but Bath still led 11-6 heading into the final three minutes, only for Quins to stage a dramatic late recovery.

Bath head coach Steve Meehan said: “The fact of the matter is we are a little frustrated and tired of games coming down the wire and not finishing them off.
“I saw some courageous actions out there – and a great work ethic – but we have to make better decisions and we have to apply ourselves better.”

Bath led 6-3 at half-time after a relatively low-key opening 40 minutes – but could have been further ahead after enjoying the better of the early chances.

The visitors went in front after seven minutes, Little landing a 45-metre penalty after Quins were caught offside.

The Fijian fly-half – who played despite the imminent birth of his first child in Manchester – doubled Bath’s advantage on 10 minutes with another penalty after Quins were penalised for entering a ruck from the side.

Nick Abendanon carried the ball from one 22 to the other as Bath threatened, but it was the home side who scored next, Evans landing a penalty after the visitors were penalised at a ruck.

A promising Bath attack was halted when Little’s pass to Julian Salvi was judged to have gone forward, before Evans missed an opportunity to draw his side level when he was off-target with a 40-metre penalty.

But Bath ended the half on top – and came within a metre or so of scoring the first try of the evening in the final minute of the opening period.

A well-worked line-out found Little, who ran 20 metres into Quins territory before selflessly shipping possession to Matt Carraro. The Australian, back in the side after a thumb injury, looked poised to strike – but was tackled one metre short of the line by Ugo Monye.

Monye then displayed his attacking threat as Quins created the first major chance of the second period, chipping over the top and putting Bath under pressure before seeing his side penalised for a knock-on against Gonzalo Tiesi.

Evans missed a second penalty as Quins cranked up the pressure, before Abendanon was forced to make a try-saving tackle on replacement Gonzalo Camacho.
Evans eventually drew Quins level – but they were only on level terms for two minutes.

Little found Hape, who ignored the man outside him and stepped inside two defenders to score what appeared to be the match-winning try.

Little missed the conversion – but Quins looked to have blown their chance of victory when Rory Clegg dropped a pass from Tom Guest with the line in sight.

However, Bath failed to keep the ball following a scrum with one minute to play – and when Ben Skirving was penalised for holding on, Quins were able to build the platform from which they eventually won the match.

Bath were reduced to 14 men a few minutes later when Skirving was yellow-carded for killing the ball – and Quins took full advantage.

Easter somehow tunnelled a route to the line – and when the television official confirmed the England back-rower had score, Evans knocked over the conversion to break Bath hearts.

10th OCTOBER 2009 ULSTER V BATH

Having switched from the Guinness Premiership to the Heineken Cup, Bath Rugby were faced with a tough test at Ravenhill against an in-form Ulster and whilst the team made a promising start, it was not enough to hold off the boys in Belfast and the first meeting of these two sides in the Heineken Cup ended in a 26-12 defeat to Bath Rugby.

With the rain lashing down long before kick off, the conditions were far from perfect. However, Bath Rugby began the game making a firm statement of intent keeping Ulster from leaving their own half for the opening minutes and forcing an offence when Ulster were penalised for dragging down the maul. Ryan Davis stepped up to take the penalty and landed a kick that slotted directly between the posts for the opening points.

Ulster did not wait long to equalise however making their first move inside the opposition 22 and forcing an infringement of their own. Ulster’s fly half Ian Humphreys also made a successful kick and the score was three-all after 10 minutes.

Eager to extend the lead some swift interplay from Ulster’s Darren Cave and Clinton Schifcofske paved the way for Timoci Nagusa to thrash over the line for five. A conversion from fly half Humphreys took the home side seven points ahead just three minutes after they had levelled the scores.

On the stroke of 20 minutes, Bath were able to grab back three points as Davis planted a strong penalty kick directly between the posts following an obstruction from O’Donohue

It was not for a further 10 minutes that either side looked close to notching up their points, although Bath continued to threaten. Good defensive work saw Bath fend off the advance inside their 22 from the Ulstermen after a grubber kick rolled into touch after bouncing off Nick Abendanon. But the full-back made up for his error a few minutes later by blasting down the midfield, off-loading to Davis and then finishing the move with a grubber kick of his own into touch on the hosts 22 metre line. However, as the minutes counted down to the end of the first half, the boys in blue, black and white (camouflage) were unable to get through the Ulster defence and the whistle blew on 10-6.to the Belfast boys.

The second half saw the Ulster fly half notch some rapid extra points for his time, in a bid to correct the missed penalty he had kicked just moments before the break. This time, he didn’t miss, and Humphreys’ three points acted as an impetus for his forwards as they turned the heat up on the Bath line.

In response Davis kept up his 100% kicking record in this match and stroked over a penalty in the 47th minute after an off-side offence from Ulster. But, it was not enough to keep the Ravenhill contingent at bay and as they charged down two attempted clearances by Davis, it was not long before Willie Faloon made use of Bath’s errors to cross the line for a try. Humphreys converted, taking the score to 20-9 after 52 minutes.

As the intensity heightened, Davis kicked a fourth and final penalty, but with a mirrored action being taken by Humphreys two minutes later, Davis’s penalty failed to award Bath with the advantage that was so desperately needed.

Instead, as the half wore on, frustration was prevalent and Andy Beattie was red-carded after a suspected stamping offence. The result was yet another penalty from Ulster which took them up to a 26-12 lead, spelling a bitterly disappointing loss for Bath Rugby.

However, competitions are never won or lost after just one match and Bath Rugby will be able to take away with them the knowledge of what they must correct to dominate the European stage in the manner that they should.

18th OCTOBER 2009 BATH V STADE FRANCE

A losing bonus point against the Pool 4 favourites means that Bath Rugby face an uphill task to claim a Heineken Cup quarter-final place for the second year running.

And it was that man Julien Dupuy, who broke Bath hearts at the Walkers Stadium with a late try for Leicester last Easter, who again delivered the stiletto under the ribs. This time it was a 79th minute penalty to give Stade the lead for the first time since the 11th minute.

Head coach Steve Meehan admitted he was sick of the sight of the canny little scrum-half but could at least take pride in the way the team, playing with a style that matched their snazzy new shirts, recovered their poise and panache to score two excellent tries to one. And Stade’s try was a very late one at that, scored by Englishman Ollie Phillips in the 76th minute.

“Yeah, that was pretty hard to take,” said Meehan. “The way we saw it we played some really good rugby in that first half. We’d set out this week to come out of the doldrums because we felt we hadn’t really been true to ourselves.

“Today we had the organisation in place and we used the width well. We caused them some problems and went into the half-time break with a well-deserved lead. After that I suppose it could be said we played a little bit too much but I won’t be too hard on the players over that because we’ve been trying to get away from being, I suppose, unexpressive.

“The guys worked hard and unfortunately were penalised a few times too often and Stade took their try in typical fashion. Obviously it’s disappointing but we should be happy with the way we went about things; we’ve just got to take our opportunities and finish games off.”

On his side’s prospects of progressing in the Heineken Cup, Meehan added: “We’re going to have to play very well in our remaining four games and probably some results are going to have to go our way. We played a far better brand of rugby than we did last week and we’ve turned that around in a week and we will continue to try to develop this. We go back into the Premiership now with two home games to come. With hard work and application, we can win those games and be up and running again.”

Bath initially found themselves under pressure as Stade fly-half Lionel Beauxis launched a high ball on to the home 22 only for skipper Rodrigo Roncero to ignore an overlap to his right. Presented with a penalty on the Bath line, they then turned down a straightforward kick but conceded a scrum from which Ben Skirving lifted the siege with a powerful drive off the back of the set piece.

Having failed to press home the advantage from short range it was left to Beauxis to open the scoring for the Frenchmen with a 48-metre dropped goal after six minutes.

A Nick Abendanon break, supported by Julian Salvi, Stuart Hooper and Rob Hawkins, on as a blood replacement, set up a promising position in the right corner but David Flatman and Hawkins again were driven back from the line.

On 11 minutes Little brought the scores level after Stade were penalised at a ruck and Bath upped the tempo. Twice in a couple of minutes Matt Banahan was set free on the left wing, bowling defenders out of his way as Bath ran the ball enterprisingly along their own 22.

It was high risk stuff however and after spilling the ball, they found themselves stretched by a French attack on the blindside of a scrum, lost a line-out and then conceded a penalty to Dupuy with 18 minutes on the clock.

Back came Bath with two quality tries in the space of four minutes. First Duncan Bell won a turnover in midfield and Nicky Little sent Johnny Fa’amatuainu barrelling through almost to the line. When the ball came back the Fijian fly-half dummied his way over in the corner, although he was unable to convert his own try.

On 24 minutes, Little set up a ruck on the 22, leaving Abendanon to fill in at fly-half and spin a long miss pass out to Matt Banahan. The big wing sent an equally accurate pass out to Matt Carraro who drifted outside his defender and crashed through Hugo Southwell’s tackle to touch down. This time, Little was on target with the conversion and Bath were 15-6 ahead.

Dupuy replied immediately with a penalty from the restart but Little banged over two kicks himself as Stade skipper Rodrigo Roncero was given a ticking off by referee George Clancy for his team’s repeated infringements. But the Irish official also had a beady eye on Bath and gave Dupuy a chance to cut the lead to 21-12 just before the break. It could have been worse though as the French ran a penalty advantage into touch and the whistle blew for half-time.

No sooner had the game restarted after the break than Mr Clancy sent French lock Pascal Pape to the bin for ten minutes for kicking the ball out of Claassen’s hands at a ruck. Little took the lead to 12 points but Dupuy continued the tit-for-tat with his third penalty and cut the margin to six points after Banahan was controversially sin-binned for an illegal tackle on 54 minutes.

Meehan’s verdict: “It was a terrific tackle, legal; he hits him in chest, wraps his arms around him – a real bell ringer – and gets a yellow card. Now where does that come from?”

Banahan had been having one of his most effective games for the club, said: “I thought I had won a penalty because I hadn’t hit him high; I wrapped my arms around him. It’s frustrating to see that and then for them to get a penalty which they put through the posts and we lose by two points. But the referee’s decision is final.”

There was actually no score while Banahan was off the field but Bath found it increasingly difficult to get out of their own half and, after Dupuy and Little swapped further penalties, the stage was set for Stade’s decisive late surge.

24th OCTOBER 2009 BATH V NEWCASTLE

Bath Rugby supporters again filled out the Recreation Ground to its new 11,700 capacity but streamed away still waiting for their first win of the season after this nervy defeat at the hands of the Falcons.

As against Stade Francais a week earlier, there were flashes of inspiration – Michael Claassens’ try just after the interval was high-quality rugby – but there were still moments of fragility which let Newcastle back into the game.

And it was a burst of 15 points from the 59th to the 60th minutes which swept the visitors to a bonus point victory.
While former Bath lock James Hudson claimed one of the four tries it was a far from enjoyable experience for Bath tighthead Davey Wilson, coming off the bench to face his old teammates for the first time since his move in the summer.

Although he impressed with a couple of bullocking runs late in the game it was too late to influence matters.

After a fourth Premiership defeat, Claassens and the coaching team urged the players to “relax and believe in themselves”.

Claassens said: “Perhaps we were guilty of mistakes and forcing things but they scored two tries against the run of play so it could have been a different game. In the first half we had two or three opportunities to score ourselves but didn’t take them.”

While skills coach Brad Davis pointed to two missed tackles costing two tries, head coach Steve Meehan insisted that the squad was training very well. “The effort is terrific,” he said. “But after this run of results we have to rely on the strong characters in this team, the belief that there really is a lot of talent in the side and get back to playing the type of rugby that we know we are capable of.

“They guys will spend a lot of time looking at themselves, their own performances and thinking about how they can do things better, individually and collectively.

“We’ve been through moments like this in the past and if they continue to work hard for each other then we will come out of it. We’ve just got to relax and do the basics.”

Neither side emerged with much credit from the first quarter which was a shapeless affair punctuated by knock-ons and other errors.

Falcons fly-half Jimmy Gopperth impressed with his tactical kicking but missed an opportunity to open the scoring from 40 metres after 12 minutes.

The spell was eventually broken when Nick Abendanon ran back a downfield kick and found support from Julian Salvi, Jonny Faamatuainu and David Flatman. The resulting ruck led to a penalty kicked by Nicky Little on 24 minutes and the momentum continued with a second score within three minutes. Bath won a turnover on the 22 and Pieter Dixon fired a pass straight to Matt Carraro, who finished expertly in the right corner.

Not for the first time, Bath allowed their opponents to respond almost straight away as Little failed to hold Charlie Amesbury who sped away to the corner. Gopperth converted from touch but Bath had a precious 8-7lead going in at the break.

Almost before everyone had taken their seats, Abendanon again collected an ill-directed kick and broke through the Falcons cover, with the ever-present Salvi and Dixon in support. Claassens appeared on the inside to finish off a 70-metre move but the try went unconverted.

Unfortunately, concentration was lacking again and Hudson scored on 46 minutes when Rob Vickerman wriggled out of a tackle to breach the Bath defence. Like Little, Gopperth could not convert the second row’s try.

If there was a turning point, it came in the 52nd minute when Shontayne Hape snaffled up a dropped pass and surged out of defence with Jack Cuthbert on his right shoulder. For a moment it looked as if Salvi would finish things off but the chance went begging.

And there was a sinking feeling seven minutes later when Dixon powered though a gap inside the Newcastle 22 and fed the ball inside – but only to scrum-half Micky Young who was left with a clear run to the Bath line 80 metres upfield. This time Gopperth did convert and Bath were behind for the first time in the game.

Ryan Davis, one of a number of fresh legs off the bench, dropped a goal in reply but hands in the ruck at the other end presented Gopperth with a penalty which restored Newcastle’s six point lead.

The fly-half then created the bonus point try for fullback Amesbury by slipping a delicate grubber through with the outside of his right boot and he could still afford to miss the conversion and a last minute penalty.

“We’ve got an eight hour coach journey home – it will be a little bit sweeter tonight,” said Falcons Director of Rugby Steve Bates.

 8th NOVEMBER 2009 SARACENS V BATH

On a crisp and cold Remembrance Sunday, Bath Rugby were in no way solemn following a respectful one minutes silence that preceded kick off. Instead, the travelling team entered the pitch with good energy and pace that was demonstrative of how they wanted to play the match and to win.

The fact that the visiting team failed to secure the victory with a final score of 30-22, did not add to their disappointment, following a slow start to the season, but instead filled the club with confidence that a good win is just around the corner, after a convincing display from all players.

The opening 10 minutes saw scores from both sides as Bath Rugby’s combination of youth and experience took on Saracens strong team and put in a convincing first half performance.

After seven minutes the hosts were the first to get the digits on the score board after good interplay between Glen Jackson, Kevin Barrett and Ernst Joubert took the men in black into the visitors 22 where Bath offended. Jackson was successful at booting the ball between the sticks, but they were only able to enjoy the lead for a mere three minutes before Bath answered back.

And with 10 minutes on the clock, Bath repaid the favour. Following a scrum on 15 metre line, Daniel Browne picked up and offloaded the ball to Jonny Faamatuainu who outmuscled the Saracens scrum half, Barrett before outpacing the covering defender Hayden Smith to cross the line in the top left corner for the first try of the match. Nicky Little missed the conversion.

Bath displayed a strong defence when Saracens came back at them in an attempt to retrieve five points of their own, but even whilst they continued to battle against the Bath boys near the try line, Bath were able to hold on for a further 10 minutes, before Saracens were awarded a further penalty kick and Jackson slotted the ball between the sticks for another three points after 20 minutes.

Five minutes later, young player Scott Hobson made his mark on the match, after a kick from Stephenson shot the ball rapidly down the wing and towards the white line. With good pressure on Saracens were forced to kick the ball out. The following line out and a long period of Bath pressure allowed Hobson to nip between their defence to the right of the post and plant the ball down for five points and the second try for Bath. Little made the conversion and Bath went into the lead with 12 points to six.

However, six minutes later and Saracens had notched up five further points of their own after a try from Justin Melck at 29 minutes. A third successful penalty from Jackson at 34 minutes took the home side into the lead by just two points, but they did not get to enjoy it for long.

After Bath’s Tom Cheeseman made a swift pass to Little who offloaded to Peter Short, who was captaining in Michael Claassen’s absence, the pressure was on Saracens who now found themselves back inside their own 22. This possession was enough to force an offside and Little stepped up again to kick for three points at 36 minutes. At half-time Bath Rugby were in the lead with 15 points to 14.

With just one point between them, both teams returned to the pitch determined to be the victors and it was Saracens who managed to enjoy the first celebration of the second half. After just five minutes, Saracens’ full back Michael Horak made a quick pass to winger Richard Haughton following an aggressive charge from the hosts towards Bath’s territory. Haughton took full advantage of his pace and crashed over the line for their second and final try of the match. Jackson converted and with a further penalty awarded for a Bath offside offence just a few minutes later, Jackson put his boot into action again for another three points. As 50 minutes counted on the clock, Saracens were leading by 24 to 15.

Begrudging the score deficit, Bath made an aggressive display of their own and Little made a break into Saracens’s 22 in a bid to regain some points. The ball was recycled well and after sustained pressure a brilliant offload from Ben Williams sent Faamatuainu over for his second try of the match and Bath’s third, which took them to just two points behind after a successful conversion by Davis from the touchline.

However, Bath were unable to hang on to steal the victory and instead were on the wrong side of two offences which kicked Saracens into a 30-22 lead. Whilst some valiant attempts were made in the dying minutes, the penalty count was against them and the travelling team were forced to endure the final whistle on a defeat. But, the team will be heartened by the effort and determination displayed at Vicarage Road today and this confidence will set them in good stead when they face Ospreys, at home, next Saturday.

14th NOVEMBER 2009 BATH V OSPREYS

What a difference a win makes! Luke Watson came off the bench to score the decisive try on his debut and Daniel Browne marked his return from long-term injury by adding a last-minute flourish after Ospreys had threatened to spoil the party.

Bath supporters’ spirits will also have been lifted by performances from the new generation, youngsters like Guy Mercer, Nathan Catt, Ben Williams and Scott Hobson.

The signal for Watson to make his long-awaited debut in blue, black and white came at the end of the half-time break but it almost caught him unawares.
“The strange thing was that I was late on to the field because I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be on,” said the bearded Springbok, latterly skipper of Western Province. “Someone said to me: ‘Are you ready?’ but I didn’t know they wanted me on immediately. I came running on a good minute after the team took the field.”

Once there, however, he wasted no time in imposing his will on the game, chivvying his new teammates, forcing a penalty turnover, linking effectively in the loose and in the 68th minute rumbling over for a try on the blindside after a catch and drive at a lineout.

A satisfying moment? “Yes, but it was more the fact that it took us out of range for the first time, so that was very exciting. I was aware of all the rivalry and tradition around today’s game so I knew it was going to be a physical encounter. I really enjoyed it.

“The main thing for me was to remember all the moves, try to fit into the structures, adapt as quickly as I could into the Bath strategy and to their style of play.”

After a night of gales and heavy rain, 10,789 spectators stood in silence when a bugler of the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment with honour guard sounded the Last Post as wreaths were laid at the memorial on the clubhouse wall.

The sun made a brief appearance soon after kick-off, prompting Ospreys fullback Barry Davies to attempt a highly optimistic dropped goal from his own half, hardly reaching the home 22. His pack were winning quick ball in the loose but just as liable to give away penalties at the breakdown.

However it was Bath who were first to be punished as young Williams was penalised for holding on in the centre and Barry Davies landed a 40 metre penalty on 12 minutes.

Ryan Davis had a chance to level the scores five minutes later but was defeated by the wind. However, given another chance from a much easier position in the 20th minute he put Bath on the scoreboard for the first time.

Ospreys were already under severe pressure in the scrum from the Bath eight but Rob Hawkins had to be helped off the field with a leg injury, allowing England and Lions hooker Lee Mears to make his first appearance since the Heineken Cup match in Belfast.

Both sides were conceding penalties rather too readily but the only score came from Ospreys fly-half Gareth Owen five minutes before the break, a fine kick from 40 metres.

Jack Cuthbert sent two attempts wide either side of the break but the introduction of Watson and Daniel Browne, with Ben Skirving moving up into the second row for Peter Short, had given Bath rather more zip up front.

Davis resumed the kicking duties and struck two successful penalties after 48 and 55 minutes to edge his side in front for the first time.

And when David Flatman entered the fray from the bench, the Ospreys scrum found itself under even greater pressure. Watson’s try originated with a high kick from Davis which embarrassed the Ospreys defence and almost let Tom Cheeseman in for a try. Flatman won a penalty at the resulting scrum and Davis opted for a line-out from which Watson jubilantly touched down. Davis’s conversion was wide in the blustery wind.

A more fluent and confident Bath display would have seen them pull away for a comfortable victory but the Ospreys fed off errors to mount a sustained assault in the closing ten minutes.

As a loose ball cannoned around on the home 22, Ospreys skipper Jerry Collins took charge, driving down the blindside and drawing Cuthbert before unloading to flanker Justin Tipuric who scored by the flag. Replacement Matthew Jarvis was just wide with the conversion but there were still three minutes for the Welsh side to snatch an improbable win.

It’s an uncomfortably familiar feeling for Bath supporters but this time there was to be no repeat of the heartbreaks against Harlequins, Stade Francais and Newcastle. Instead Watson took a quick free kick and booted the ball high into the Ospreys 22 where it was fumbled by winger Ashley Beck. As the posse closed in, the ball fell loose to Browne who scored with ease, leaving Davis with a simple conversion.

“Given the conditions, it was never going to be pretty,” said forwards coach Martin Haag, who could take a great deal of satisfaction from the way his pack dominated, particularly in the scrums.

“The performance in patches was really good. It may not have been the prettiest but sometimes when you need to win and you want some confidence, you just stick to the things you say you will do and come away with a win.”

On specific plus points, Haag added: “I also think that for some of the academy guys who played today and haven’t had many opportunities, it was a chance for them to show the senior coaches what they can do, not just through the A League but in a proper environment.

“There were a number of individuals who did a really good job today Nathan Catt, who came in today after being injured through the summer; Guy Mercer did a great job on open side in his first big game, Ben Williams in the centre, Scott Hobson too.”

 

20th NOVEMBER 2009 WORCESTER V BATH

This was a result that you viewed with your glass either half-full or half-empty.

With playing resources stretched all too thinly in places, avoiding defeat was another important step in building confidence. But again the win eluded Bath Rugby as Willie Walker pulled Worcester level for the third time in the game, with just four minutes left on the clock.

Head coach Steve Meehan, although disappointed that his players could not quite hang on to the lead, reflected: “It appeared to me that we spent a hell of a lot of time in our own half and defended quite well. It’s disappointing that we were in a position to win the game and didn’t.”

There were genuine plus points, four well-struck penalties from Ryan Davis who was also courageous in defence and another mature display from young centre Ben Williams.

“Ben does the basics well,” said Meehan. “At the moment there are not a lot of thrills to his game but he consistently delivers the basics to a high standard. He’s really developing well and we’re really happy with him.”

Williams retired just before the hour with a ‘stinger’ injury to his shoulder and may not have too many more opportunities for a while if Olly Barkley makes his expected comeback against London Irish at the Rec next week.

No sooner had the match kicked off than Jack Cuthbert missed a long range penalty after Miles Benjamin was caught in possession. Bath kept up the pressure through a multi-phase attack before Luke Watson’s grubber kick behind the defence was cleared by Benjamin.

When Bath attacked off a line-out it seemed for a moment that they had breached the defensive line but the ball was coughed up in the tackle and Chris Latham launched a counter attack, only for Willie Walker to kick the ball into touch.

But Bath lost the line-out on their own 22 and when they also conceded a penalty from the following scrum, Walker kicked the goal to put the first points on the board with 10 minutes on the clock.

Failure to hang on to the ball put an end to another promising attack from Michael Claassens’ men and Ryan Davis chased back to beat Marcel Garvey to a dangerous bouncing ball. But it was not only Bath who were guilty of handling errors as the game proceeded in stop-start fashion.

On the quarter hour, when a ball ricocheted loose to Benjamin, Carraro hared back to drag him down. Worcester then hammered away at the Bath line from a succession of scrums and line-outs and Aaron Jarvis breathed a sigh of relief when Walker hit the post with a 21st minute penalty, awarded against the Bath tighthead. Almost immediately, Walker tried a dropped goal but that was well wide of the mark and when Bath battled their way upfield, winning a line-out through Danny Grewcock, Worcester conceded a penalty in front of the posts. Davis, looking more authoritative than at any time this season, kicked the points.

Bath should have been in front just moments later when Davis floated a pass out to Grewcock but the second row somehow lost the ball over the line. Davis, pulling the strings most effectively, then lofted a kick to the left wing where Latham managed to deny Cuthbert, but at the cost of a 5-metre scrum. Watson drove for the line, Worcester conceded the penalty and Davis made it 6-3 after 32 minutes.

The last scoring attempt of the half fell to Walker but the 50-metre chance was just out of his range.
The second half began with a searing counter-attack by Nick Abendanon who unloaded to Carraro but his progress was halted by a high tackle. Davis’s kick was wide from a very narrow angle.

After some impressive runs from the fullback with ball in hand, Abendanon’s teammates’ had their hearts in their mouths as Sam Tuitupou charged down a clearance kick off the Bath man’s less favoured right foot. The defence held out, just, but Julian Salvi was guilty of a late tackle and Walker found the target from 40 metres to bring his side level on 48 minutes.

Davis’s ploy of testing Garvey with a succession of teasing kicks worked like a treat when the right wing fumbled and Bath forced a penalty at the resulting scrum. Davis’s kick was perfectly directed and he was just as decisive at the other end, diving on a dangerous volley through by Latham to save a likely try.

The two kickers swapped penalties on the hour to leave Bath ahead 12-9 and Tuitupou was sent to the sin-bin on 66 minutes for an illegal tackle on replacement Michael Stephenson as he hared across to mark a chip kick by Walker.

With Bath’s midfield defence rock solid throughout, Walker’s boot was the only weapon left in the Worcester armoury. But it was enough to earn the draw as a clearly pained Salvi conceded the 76th minute penalty that allowed the home fly-half to claim the draw.

Bath gave Worcester a sniff of a win when Abendanon cleared the ball to touch having received the ball from outside the 22 but Worcester surrendered possession just as quickly and Bath claimed held on to the ball to claim their second draw of the season.

 

28th NOVEMBER 2009 BATH V LONDON IRISH

The weather matched the mood as a chilled and sodden Recreation Ground witnessed Bath Rugby’s sixth defeat in nine Guinness Premiership games.
Former Gloucester fly-half Ryan Lamb accounted for all of London Irish’s points with a ‘full house’ – a try, conversion, two penalties and a dropped goal – while the home team barely threatened the visitors’ line.

Being beaten scoreless was bad enough but it could have been worse except for a last-ditch tackle on the hour mark by Nicky Little, Matt Banahan and Shontayne Hape, holding up Peter Hewat when the Australian seemed bound to score.

Head coach Steve Meehan, acknowledging the hurt felt by long-suffering supporters, said: “When the team is going through a rough trot we need everybody. It needs the supporters to get behind them and to support them; it needs the staff to pick them up, to keep working with them; and they need each other, to enthuse each other and to drive each other on.

“So obviously we are disappointed with people’s reactions and they are disappointed with our performance but as a wider club, and I include the supporters in that, we need to dig deep here.”

Reflecting on a defeat that keeps the club in 11th place, Meehan said: “I told the players there’s too much talent in this dressing room for people to throw their hands up in the air and walk away.

“I reminded them that we’re here to fight through this – and it starts on Monday. But the players are working hard. I don’t question their application one bit.”

A steady downpour shortly before kick-off quickly left the pitch both slippery and heavy but it was the visitors who adapted more readily.

Lamb was given an opportunity to open the scoring on nine minutes after the impressive Nick Kennedy stormed away from a line-out, forcing a penalty. But the kick was just wide.

While the Exiles were more than content to pursue a pragmatic, even limited, gameplan, Bath opted to work the ball back and forth across the field, searching for an opening.

Ultimately it backfired when Nick Abendanon was left with no option but to attempt a clearance from just outside his 22. Lamb charged down the kick, regathered and scored a simple try after 11 minutes.

After adding the conversion, the 23-year-old fly-half demonstrated his game management skills by pinning the home team in the corner. Bath quickly conceded another penalty but were relieved to see Lamb’s kick drift wide of the posts.

Former Bath player Elvis Seveali’i almost opened up the defence with a corkscrew run but Bath won the turnover and skipper Michael Claassens cleared his lines. The pressure was constant, however, and a late tackle gave Lamb the chance to make it 10-nil from 40 metres after 23 minutes.

The home team’s best spell came in the 10 minutes before half-time as the pack, getting the upper hand in the scrum, forced their opponents into giving away a string of penalties, but none close enough to the posts.

With England scrum-half Paul Hodgson entering the fray at the break, the Irish recovered their composure and the TMO was called into action when Abendanon and John Rudd contested a loose ball on the Bath line. No try.

Lamb added his second penalty on 54 minutes though to take the score to 13-nil and the TMO correctly denied Hewat a try as Bath defenders scrambled back to stop the winger grounding the ball. The conditions were making life increasingly difficult for Abendanon as the visitors rained kicks on the full-back and he was grateful to his forwards for winning a penalty at a 5-metre scrum after he had been forced to carry the ball behind the try-line.

The visitors were not to be denied however and Lamb rounded off his one-man show on the scoreboard by landing a drop goal on 66 minutes.

A 16-point margin was worth very much more in the conditions, rain which chilled to the bone and a gluepot pitch. So it was not too surprising that the Exiles began to loosen their grip on the game, offering Bath a chance to at least grab a consolation score.

Luke Watson came closest to breaking Bath’s duck, rolling off a maul and driving towards the posts. But the ball became trapped under the bodies and referee Dean Richards awarded the put-in to the visitors. Minutes later replacement lock Peter Short barrelled through in midfield and found support from his team-mates only to see the ball go to ground. It was that kind of night.

5th DECEMBER 2009 NORTHAMPTON V BATH

A distraught Matt Banahan looked on helplessly as Chris Myler lined up the last-minute conversion that would snatch victory for Northampton.

The England wing had been shown the red card in the 66th minute on the advice of the assistant referee who had flagged him for stamping, saying Banahan’s boot made contact with Myler’s head. So when Ben Foden and Jon Clarke created space with a last-ditch foray into the Bath 22, Banahan was conspicuous by his absence as Chris Ashton made the extra man count for his second try of the game. Myler, a 60th minute replacement for fly-half Shane Geraghty, landed the match-winning kick to leave Bath Rugby with only a losing bonus point. It was almost too much to bear, especially as the quality of performance was a world and a half away from the lacklustre defeat at home to London Irish a week earlier. “We need to deliver performances like that every week”, said head coach Steve Meehan afterwards. “Any other day we could have scored three or four tries. We were denied a couple of times but overall it was a far better performance, with far more intent. Early on we weren’t as good at the set-piece as we needed to be but we improved as the match went on.” Warming to the theme, Meehan continued: “It’s personal pride, isn’t it. That’s what it comes down to fighting for your mates and fighting for your club and your supporters. We’ve copped it from all corners this week and we’re not denying that we didn’t deserve it, given the performance last week. But the players need to look at this performance and say ‘OK, that’s what we’re capable of and that’s what we need to do to get everybody behind us, including ourselves.’ We need to show everybody, and ourselves in particular, the sort of team that we are and bring back that stubbornness and doggedness and produce it every week.” Meehan was disappointed to say the least at Banahan’s dismissal, saying: “We’ll see what happens from a judicial point of view but from where I was sitting it didn’t look like a red card. It’s even worse that Stephen Myler said that he made contact with his forearm, not his head. Matt’s pretty down in the dumps about it. The referee wasn’t influenced by anyone except the assistant referee who told him it was a red card. I do know that the assistant referee said he made contact with his head.” “Defeat was poor reward for a brave, gutsy effort from the players, particularly Andy Beattie. It’s the best performance from him for a long time”, said Meehan. “It was his 199th match and he was very disappointed. He showed the emotion at the end of the match and the commitment to the squad that we need from absolutely everybody.” With only three minutes gone, the Bath pack were marched back at a scrum before going to ground, prompting a scuffle between the two packs. Referee David Rose brought both captains together along with Bath’s Davey Wilson but then awarded a penalty for the technical offence. Shane Geraghty scuffed his kick however. The frenetic opening continued with Luke Watson being turned over in his own half and Bath then forcing a knock-on from the home side only for Little to have a clearance kick charged down. A free kick awarded against the home scrum brought relief but it was obvious that the scrum was going to be a problem area for the referee. Another penalty against Saints allowed Bath to step up the pressure as Banahan busted through in midfield and Michael Claassens was brought down just short of the line on 13 minutes. No 8 Watson drove for the line from the ensuing scrum under the posts but possession was turned over and Geraghty cleared. It was a chance and it had gone begging. Suddenly it was time to defend again as Nick Abendanon dropped a straightforward pass outside his 22 and the Bath scrum was again penalised on the retreat. This time Geraghty made no mistake from 35 metres to open the scoring on 20 minutes. Bath were on terms within six minutes however after Wilson made a dent in the defensive line and Banahan combined with Julian Salvi on the right, forcing a penalty which Nicky Little converted. After Michael Stephenson on the right wing was upended dangerously by Joe Ansbro, Bath stormed back on to the attack but were turned over on the opposite side of the field and damagingly so. The ball was whipped out on the short side to Chris Ashton who chipped and chased before plunging on the rolling ball for a 34th minute try. Geraghty was just wide with the conversion. The tit-for-tat continued and Little missed a chance to pull back three points but his penalty drifted wide from a narrow angle, leaving Northampton with an 8-3 lead at the break. Just three minutes after the break, Bath lost Danny Grewcock to injury but they put together their most fluent back line move after Lee Mears sped away down the touchline, supported by David Flatman. Quick, crisp passing sent Stephenson away but the wing was stopped in the corner. The die-hard travelling support did not have to wait long though as Bath moved the ball left and right and Banahan barrelled through to the line before it was whipped away through Little’s hands for Shontayne Hape to dive over on 47 minutes. Little converted magnificently from the touchline. It was not certainly not an error-free display from Bath but they were looking a wholly more confident side, even offloading in a fashion not seen since last season. Banahan’s dismissal offered Myler a long range kicking opportunity but the ball fell just short. Minutes later Little had a chance from a similar range on the other side of the field, all of 50 metres and very wide out. When it scraped over the bar to open up a five-point lead it seemed that the fates were on Bath’s side at last. But Northampton summoned up one last surge and Claassens’ men were denied at the death yet again.

13TH DECEMBER 2009 BATH V EDINBURGH

In quite the most extraordinary finale to this Heineken Cup Pool 4 game, Bath Rugby stretched supporters’ nerves to breaking point before finally securing the win their first half display deserved.

After Nicky Little’s 72nd minute penalty extended the home lead to seven points, Edinburgh summoned one last effort and it took a try saving tackle from Peter Short to deny scrum-half Greig Laidlaw.

There was an even more dramatic twist, however, as Edinburgh were awarded a penalty and pinned Bath back on their line in front of the clubhouse. As the clock ticked past 80 minutes a Bath turnover seemed to have dashed Scottish hopes but skipper Michael Claassens inexplicably threw the ball dead, conceding another penalty.

Thankfully, the defenders manned the barricades once more and it was Edinburgh who then gave away a penalty, allowing Nick Abendanon to finally end the game by booting the ball into touch.

Man of the match Luke Watson saw the funny side afterwards: “I think someone in the crowd was calling for the ball!” he joked. “It’s a very small dead ball area and I was under the ruck so I don’t really know what happened but I heard the ball thud into the sign board and I thought ‘Oh no’.”

Head coach Steve Meehan added: “It’s the result of wanting to win. It was as simple as that. He wanted to get the ball off the park and in the heat of the moment he just made the pass although it has been suggested to me that he wanted to see the boys do a little more work!”

All joking apart, however, Meehan could point to a performance which built on the improved showing at Northampton eight days previously and one which keeps alive Bath’s faint hopes of qualifying from Pool 4.

“It gives us a chance of a sniff”, he said “it’s great to be travelling to Edinburgh at the end of this week with an opportunity. Conditions being fine, you’d expect another entertaining game.”

“We made a terrific start. There was great intent from the guys and we want to see more of that. It’s terrific to see the effort transferred from the training field to the pitch. But it’s very important that it is maintained.”

Preparations had been disrupted not only by the loss of Jack Cuthbert with a hamstring strain when he should have been deputising for the suspended Matt Banahan but also by the very late withdrawal of Lee Mears, struck down by a virus.

There was considerable consolation though in the performances of their stand-ins, Tom Cheeseman and Pieter Dixon.

Hooker Dixon made an instant impression, scoring after just three minutes as Bath began with purpose and panache.

Taking the ball through umpteen phases, Bath created a smidgin of space for Nick Abendanon who found Michael Stephenson in support. Picking the ball off his bootlaces, the winger cut in from the right wing and almost made the line himself but Claassens transferred the ball smartly to Nicky Little who passed inside to Dixon and the touchdown was confirmed by the TV match official.

Little could not convert but made the score 8-nil on a couple of minutes later with a penalty from 30 metres.

Edinburgh skipper Chris Patterson chipped away at the lead with penalties on 13 and 21 minutes as Glasgow began to pick up the pace and referee Alain Rolland spotted infringements at the scrum and breakdown.

Little might have added a second penalty from long range on 25 minutes but Bath did not have to wait long for the next score and it was every bit as classy as the first one.

It began when Edinburgh rather optimistically tried to run the ball out of their own 22 and were forced into touch. Bath kept possession for five phases before Shontayne Hape’s slipped pass found centre partner Matt Carraro running a punishing angle through the visitors defensive line. This time it was the busy Cheeseman, appearing on the opposite side of the field, who provided the scoring pass to his fellow wing Stephenson.

When fly-half Phil Godman spoke out of turn in the 34th minute, referee Rolland had no hesitation in showing the Edinburgh player the yellow card but Bath failed to take advantage and actually conceded the only points in that ten minute period either side of half-time, a 38th minute penalty by Patterson. It could have been worse but Abendanon hared back to catch Nick de Luca after the visiting centre’s intercept on his own 22.

In fact the third quarter belonged very much to Edinburgh but they failed to trim further Bath’s 13-9 interval lead and the match degenerated into a prolonged spell of ‘kick tennis’.

A typically smart steal by Julian Salvi should have produced a try and one rolling kick by Abendanon forced a line-out to Bath inside the Edinburgh 22 only for the attack to peter out. Little saw a penalty kick strike the bar from 48 metres before he managed to extend the lead to 16-9 with an effort from nearly as far out.

The scene was then set for another dramatic finale and for a change it ended in smiles on the Rec.

 

19th DECEMBER 2009 EDINBURGH V BATH

Following a nail-biting win against Edinburgh in the first leg of Bath Rugby’s back-to-back games against the Scottish side, Head Coach Steve Meehan was confident that the team would be able to improve yet further at Murrayfield.

However, with the weather at times doing its best to impersonate arctic conditions, Bath were unable to clinch the win and instead slipped three points behind the victors.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a game played with that amount of snow falling,” said Meehan post-match.

“It certainly affected the style of play. As we saw last weekend, both sides like to play rugby, so it affected everybody’s mindset. But the fact of the matter is that after half-time Edinburgh came out and executed their territory game far better than we did.”

Speaking earlier this week, Meehan felt that whilst the match was always going to be a challenging one, the team had made enough progress over recent weeks that it was far from impossible for the team to leave Scotland with a further win in the bank.

So, with this in mind, it was hardly the start that Bath had been aiming for when Chris Paterson booted Edinburgh into a three-point lead after just two minutes following an offence on the 22 metre line and Nicky Little was unable to equalise three minutes later when a long range kick fell just short of the posts.

However, the next 10 minutes failed to offer Edinburgh an easy ride as Bath put pressure on the hosts, pushing them back towards their own territory and holding them up when they went on the attack.

With 20 minutes past, the score still at 3-0 and with the snow beginning to fall again, the teams went down for a scrum. The result offered Little the chance to make amends for his earlier miss as Bath, with the dominant scrum, forced a penalty on Edinburgh’s put-in and this time the Fijian made no mistake, slotting the ball perfectly between the sticks to equalise.

Ten minutes later and Bath remained with their hands on the steering wheel, even though the pitch was rapidly turning white and visibility was declining. After Edinburgh made repeated offences, Little was handed the chance to take his team into the lead with another penalty which he executed successfully. However, with Edinburgh remaining hot on their heels, Paterson followed suit and equalised within two minutes to take the score to six all.

Heading towards the end of the first half, Bath put pressure on Edinburgh in their own 22 and an Edinburgh defender timed his tackle on Michael Claassens perfectly, forcing a turnover after which the referee blew his whistle for the interval.

The first five minutes of the second half were predominantly owned by Edinburgh, however Michael Stephenson halted the home sides’ charge by marking a kick from Phil Godman and booting the ball back to the halfway line which enabled them the opportunity to make up the ground lost and Luke Watson chipped and chased to head into Edinburgh’s 22.

But, whilst the snow had eased, the pressure being put upon Bath had not and Edinburgh made the most of a Bath offence to boot the ball down the pitch to get out of their danger zone and made a concerted effort to gain, what had been the elusive five points.

Driving hard just feet away from the try line, it took all of Bath’s impressive defensive efforts to prevent the Dark Knights from grabbing five and the English team turned the fortunes to their favour after a series of scrummages resulted in the Bath captain offloading the ball to Nick Abendanon and, in turn, Tom Cheeseman to clear the ball. At 56 minutes, the score line remained unchanged.

The stalemate continued until 60 minutes when Watson and Claassens failed to deal with a high ball from Edinburgh, Danny Grewcock was penalised for being offside and the Edinburgh full back Paterson was offered the ball to kick three points, taking the men in black and red into the lead with 9 to 6. Following the pattern for this match, the points looked set to be match by Bath who made an aggressive charge towards their opponents 22.

And, as the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ – and that is exactly what Bath did. With the pressure mounting on Edinburgh, the boys in white and blue forced two offences, but sadly for Bath neither replacement Ryan Davis nor Jack Cuthbert could quite reach the posts and as the clock counted out the team were unable to grapple back the points to walk away with the win.

“Given the game we saw last weekend, which was great theatre, it is disappointing that we didn’t get the chance to double up on that,” admitted Meehan. It is a pity for the supporters, and there were a lot of Bath supporters that travelled, because we would have liked to have shown them a better performance than that and a more entertaining game.”

 

27th DECEMBER 2009 BATHV GLOUCESTER

What better way to say ‘good riddance’ to 2009 than with a comprehensive victory over our old rivals from Gloucester.

This first home Guinness Premiership win in the season was never so welcome and for a change the result was not in doubt until the final whistle.

Once the home forwards got to grip with the visiting pack, disrupting their line-out and scrum, and Julian Salvi and Luke Watson took control of the breakdown, there was only going to be one result, especially after the big men behind the scrum, Jack Cuthbert and Matt Banahan, crossed for tries.

In fact, things went pretty much to plan, as Head Coach Steve Meehan reflected. “At half-time it was pretty close but we all felt pretty confident,” he said. “We felt we were the most dangerous side and then in the second half the little half-chance and passes were sticking and overall I thought we played the better rugby.

“Apart from some attacking decisions that put us under the pump in the last few minutes and led to their try, I thought our defence was excellent. Our scrum was very good and although we lost a couple of line-outs early on, that got better and better. That was the trend and we just improved over the 80 minutes.”

Asked how much the win would boost confidence in the squad, he added: “The outside perception is that there is not as much confidence in the camp as there really is. While we’ve been dropping some games it’s only been by one or two points. Today proved that if you stick to your guns for 75-76 minutes you can come away with a victory.”

Former Bath player Gareth Delve led out Gloucester on a pitch softened by overnight rain and a shower just before kick-off. Gloucester lost control of the already slippery ball at the kick-off and Bath kept possession until Shontayne Hape spilled in contact. Just to show that local derby traditions never die, there were flare-ups at both of the first two scrums.

Bath were quickest into their stride as Hape threaded a kick deep into the visiting 22, forcing Tom Voyce to concede a 5-metre scrum but Gloucester put on the wheel and won a penalty.

Nicky Robinson’s boot propelled his side downfield and then provided the first points of the game on eight minutes as Luke Watson was guilty of not rolling away from the tackle on half-way.

Nicky Little could have evened things up immediately as Gloucester obstructed at the restart but the fly-half’s kick was wide from in front of the posts.

Neither set of backs was likely to shine on a sticky pitch but even James Simpson-Daniel was flung a pass to the ground and then Bath indulged in some finger-tip passing, with the same result.

Every scrum also seemed to need a reset but Watson was already making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, forcing a penalty turnover after 18 minutes.

The first half continued to be littered with errors, as much from over-eagerness as anything. David Flatman and Lee Mears found themselves contesting the same floated pass. While Hape was off the field being treated for a head wound, Ryan Davis filled in at inside centre. In a little cameo of 12 minutes he first found Matt Carraro with a clever miss pass and then prodded a kick through to the visitors’ 22. On both occasions, however, promising positions were lost at the line-out.

The tide began to turn on 36 minutes when Gloucester lost hooker Scott Lawson to the sin-bin for an illegal tackle on Salvi. Bath worked their way upfield and Little drew the sides level with a straightforward penalty kick just short of half-time.

Nick Abendanon was being treated for a shoulder injury at the time and did not appear in the second half but Little quickly sent another penalty into the hospitality boxes to edge Bath 6-3 ahead. Straight from the restart, Mears, Watson and Claassens broke upfield but Gloucester escaped further punishment until Little kicked his third penalty on 56 minutes.

By this time, Bath were well in command of the loose exchanges and Gloucester’s pride was further dented when their scrum was penalised and referee Sean Davey sent them back a further 10 metres for dissent.

On the hour, Delve high-tackled Claassens and Little made it 12-3 from 30 metres while Robinson missed a more difficult chance at the other end.

A neat grubber by Mears might have created the first try for Hape in the left corner but Charlie Sharples was back to save just in time. Bath were not to be denied for long though as the now dominant Bath scrum created momentum for Little to set up a ruck under the posts from which Claassens fired out a pass to Cuthbert. The full-back had plenty to do but forced his way over in the right corner on 68 minutes, leaving Little with a kick which was just a shade too difficult.

Five minutes later came the clinching score as Gloucester suddenly began to run with rather more ambition. Unfortunately for them, fly-half Robinson fired out a too-hopeful pass which was gleefully claimed by Banahan just inside his own half and the big wing ambled the 50 metres to the posts for Little to add the conversion.

Still in party mood, Bath tried to run the ball out from their own 22, lost possession and it was a simple matter for Simpson-Daniel to send prop Dickinson in for an unconverted try.

2nd JANUARY 2010 LEEDS V BATH

After a victory against Gloucester last Sunday, Bath Rugby’s Christmas wish to continue with their winning streak was granted as the travelling team started the New Year with the much needed ‘w’ over bottom of the table team – Leeds.200

With the pressure on both teams to climb up the ladder, it was Leeds who managed to get the first points of the match. Although Bath, led out by Lee Mears who made his 200th appearance today, got close to notching up the opening five after a strong run by Matt Banahan, it was an offence in Bath’s own 22 that led to a successful penalty kick by Tom Ford that took the hosts into the lead with three points after nine minutes.

Five minutes later and Joe Ford was back putting his boot in action after Bath were penalised at a scrum. The fly half slotted the ball directly between the posts and the home team slipped into a six-point lead. However, the visitors didn’t waste time in reducing the score divide and some good interplay between Shontayne Hape, Nicky Little and Michael Claassens enabled Luke Watson to chip and chase towards Leeds territory. Forcing an offence, Bath were able to win three points of their own by the boot of Little after 19 minutes.

A seesaw of points followed, as Ford kicked a penalty and then Little, all in the space of five minutes. But, it was Bath that broke the pattern after Watson, Hape and Hooper shot up the left wing and into Leeds’s 22, whereby Watson popped the ball back inside for Matt Carraro and Shontayne to make up some further distance. Staying focussed, Bath’s number 8, aided by the support of Joe Maddock and Nicky Little, took the ball to the opposite corner where Michael Stephenson finished the move for the try. Little’s conversion fell wide of the posts, but a penalty kick moments afterwards took Bath into the lead with 14 points.

With the clock counting down the remaining minutes of the first half, Leeds tried to grapple back into the lead and Ford narrowed the deficit with a well executed penalty kick at 38 minutes having unsuccessfully attempted a drop goal with the referee playing advantage. Despite further attempts by Ford and his team-mate Andy Gomarsal at drop goals, the players went into the interval with Bath leading 12 to 14.

Bath rejoined the fray with aggression, demonstrating their dominance for the opening minutes. It was not until a penalty was awarded to Leeds after a questionable penalisation of a Bath player that Ford was able to boot his team into a one-point lead just as the snow began to fall.

Bath responded with a series of attacks that pressured their opponents. A line out on the Leeds 22 metre line looked close to handing Bath another try after a strong drive and some quick thinking from Michael Claassens, Lee Mears and Carraro. However, by 64 minutes, Bath were able only to clinch three further points with a penalty kick taken from the 40 metre line.

The southern side continued to impose pressure on the Carnegie team with some exciting displays from the back line and one which saw Maddock sprint straight into the centre of the 22 before the Leeds defence put paid to his try-scoring attempt.

However, Bath remained the dominant party and the replacements added extra energy to the state of play with Ben Skirving, Peter Short and David Barnes making their presence felt deep in Leeds’ territory. It was not enough to score more than their one try, but that didn’t matter. As the final whistle blew, Bath had beaten the bottom of the table and could continue to look upwards with confidence and with the relegation wolf far from the door.

 

 

16th JANUARY 2010 STADE FRANCAIS

At a cold and rainy Stade Jean Bouin, Bath Rugby’s Heineken Cup clash against French giants Stade Français ended in defeat – by just two points. A score line that reflected not only Bath Rugby’s spirited performance but the endeavour which was displayed in poor conditions.

Having failed to deal well with the kick off Bath Rugby were immediately put on the back foot as Stade started the game with five minutes of pressure in the visitor’s half. Thankfully, having been given the chance for an early lead, Stade’s kicker Lionel Beauxis missed a penalty from 45 metres out.

Stade continued with the majority of possession until the hosts’ fly half Ignacio Mieres suffered a charge down of his attempted kick at goal and with the next phase of play being met by a good tackle from Lee Mears, Bath won a penalty so that they could clear their lines.

After 10 minutes, some strong defensive work from Michael Claassens gave Bath the opportunity to attack from deep, however, with the rain hacking down Bath spilled possession and whilst Michael Stephenson hacked on the loose ball and beat a covering defender, Stade’s hooker Dimitri Szarzewski was in position to tidy up the loose ball and halt the charge.

Stade continued to dominate and a chip through into Bath’s territory from Mirco Bergamasco and a subsequent knock on from Joe Maddock, led to a Stade penalty which was slotted successfully by Beauxis awarding them three points.

Two minutes later, Bath equalised after a great break from Maddock which was taken on by Davey Wilson, Luke Watson and Mears forcing a Stade offence at the break down. Bath’s Nicky Little booted the ball for three points at 17 minutes.

However, the mirroring score spurred Stade to go for a try and following five minutes of possession in Bath’s half, Stade centre Mathieu Bastareaud chipped through to create a try for Julien Arias who crossed the line in the top left hand corner.

As the first half of the match entered the final 10 minutes, Stade continued to have the upper hand. Bastareau made some ground from a scrum and paved the way for Arias to score his second try of the match, but this time in the opposite corner. A good conversion from Beauxis set Stade in the lead with 15 points to 3 at 33 minutes.

From the restart, Stade caught the ball and Hugo Southwell passed back to Beauxis who, incredibly, tried to volley the ball, missed, and Michael Claassens pounced for a try that was awarded after going to the video referee. With Little converting the try, the half-time whistle blew with the visitors just five points behind.

Returning from the interval, the travelling Bath fans didn’t have to wait long for some more points to go in their teams favour as one minute into the second half Bath were awarded a penalty for a Stade offside and Little slotted the kick and narrowed the score divide to 15-13.

Following 10 minutes of stalemate, not helped by the pouring rain, Matt Banahan put in a superb kick from Bath’s 22 into their hosts’. However, Bath came away with nothing to show for their efforts, despite maintaining their best period of possession of the game.

As the clock ticked on, the jersey winger caught a loose kick from Stade, beating the first defender before offloading to fellow winger, Maddock. Bath attempted to put the pressure on Stade to go for the winning try, but Stade’s number eight Juan Leguizamon halted Bath’s advance by gaining possession and clearing the ball from their territory.

The closing minutes were tense, with neither team keeping possession for long. As the clock counted down, Bath pushed for the break through, but knocked on in their eagerness, and from the resulting scrum Stade were able to wind down the clock. Alan Lewis signalled the end of the game with the whistle and marked Bath’s courageous defeat.

23rd JANUARY 2010 BATH V ULSTER

As Steve Meehan reflected afterwards, this comprehensive defeat was a reflection of Bath Rugby’s season so far. Fatal lapses in concentration, particularly in the ten minutes after half-time, left the side 28-10 down and chasing the game with increasing desperation.
Meehan refused to blame the 32nd minute dismissal of Danny Grewcock, shown the red card by Jerome Garces for a stamp on Stephen Ferris’s arm, for a defeat which left Bath rooted to the bottom of Pool 4.

“I wouldn’t say that we lost the game because Danny Grewcock wasn’t on the field”, he said. “What was disappointing is that in that period after halftime we weren’t applying ourselves to the game. To miss tackles as we did is simply a matter of losing concentration. For whatever reason, we started the second half very poorly.”

Meehan added: “We were then playing catch-up. We’re down to 14 men and it’s 21-10. We were attempting passes that weren’t on, when you’d expect to be a bit more patient, setting up a ruck. “

“Our half-dozen matches in the Heineken Cup reflected the five months of our season almost getting there and then taking a step back. It’s been extremely frustrating for all involved, the supporters too.”

Ulster, who took over the mantle of Heineken Cup champions in 1999 after Bath were unable to defend their title because of an English boycott of the competition, came to the Recreation Ground never having won in England.

And head coach Brian McLaughlin sprang a surprise by naming Niall O’Connor at fly-half rather than leading scorer Ian Humphreys, trusting the youngster’s ability to get the line moving as the Ulstermen went in search of the bonus point victory that might take them into the quarter-finals.

O’Connor survived a nervous start to open the scoring with a penalty after six minutes after Bath fell offside at a ruck on the 22. Nicky Little was immediately presented with a 35-metre chance at the other end but the ball struck the left hand upright.

There was a nervous moment at the other end as Irish centre Paddy Wallace almost wriggled through but Ulster coughed up the ball and Bath won a penalty at the resulting scrum. An O’Connor drop goal attempt then cleared the bar from 50 metes but not before bouncing first!

Ireland and Lions blindside Stephen Ferris was a major influence in the close quarters and when he drove into the Bath defence at the end of the first quarter, Julian Salvi was penalised, allowing O’Connor kicked his second penalty.

Bath responded immediately and decisively, winning the ball back from the restart and moving the ball speedily to the right where Joe Maddock came into the line to send Matt Banahan in at the corner. Little converted from the touchline and it was 7-6.

That heralded a spell of concerted pressure from the home side but O’Connor, finding his range, kept them at bay with some astute tactical kicking.

Find themselves pinned back in their own 22, Bath conceded a penalty in a ruck. Ulster opted for the pick and drive and as the maul went to ground, the whistle blew. Referee Jerome Garces called Grewcock over and showed the veteran second row a straight red. TV replays suggested that Ferris had been holding the Bath man’s foot and Grewcock used his boot to free himself.

O’Connor made the most of the moment by landing his third penalty, giving Ulster a 9-7 interval lead.

The second half was barely two minutes old when former Bath wing Simon Danielli fielded a kick and set off on a run beyond his own 22. Andrew Trimble appeared on his shoulder for the offload and sped 70 metres upfield to score a remarkable solo try.

Seven minutes later, Ferris flicked a pass to Danielli on the Ulster 22 under the West Stand and it was the left wing’s turn to outwit the home defence. He nearly made it all the way but Darren Cave was left with the simplest of touchdowns under the posts, with O’Connor adding the conversion.

Little pulled back three points with a penalty as Ulster again failed to deal with the restart but the visitors continued to profit at the breakdown.

A break by Luke Watson appeared to have opened up the visitors’ defence on the hour but the inside pass went to ground. Michael Stephenson chased his own chip ahead down the right but the ball beat him into touch just short of the flag and Banahan put a foot into touch after collecting a high, hanging cross kick from Little.

The last quarter was all Bath but it was increasingly frantic and, almost inevitably, a spirited, well organised Ulster team had the final word when Wallace stepped through a couple of tackles to score under the posts. O’Connor converted quickly but the fourth bonus try eluded them, not that it would have mattered anyway because Stade collected a bonus point in Edinburgh.

29th JANUARY 2010 BATH V LEICESTER

Bath’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the LV= Cup were ended after they went down to an experienced Leicester side at Welford Road.
Bath, fielding a much-changed side from their previous match against Ulster, matched the Tigers for long periods of the Anglo-Welsh Cup contest.

But they were ultimately beaten by a Tigers side boasting seven full internationals and roared on by a crowd of more than 19,000.

Bath were just about in contention at 15-6 down with five minutes to go – but a late burst of drama saw Leicester score two tries and Bath grab one in a frantic finale.

Jonny Fa’amatuainu raced 30 metres after making the most of a poor Leicester kick – but his score could not change the course of the game as the hosts had moved 22-6 in front minutes earlier thanks to Billy Twelvetrees’ second try of the evening.

Head coach Steve Meehan, despite suffering defeat, was pleased with the performances of some of his younger players, including lock Scott Hobson and flanker Josh Ovens.

“I was very happy with the first half,” said Meehan, whose side were unfortunate to trail 8-3 at the break. “And if you go through the whole match, I was particularly happy with the way the younger fellas came on and did a good job.

“I think Scott Hobson and Josh Ovens, in particular, did well. I thought Scott Hobson was certainly our man of the match.”

Bath had opened the scoring with an 18th-minute penalty when a Leicester defender was penalised for not rolling away from a tackle. Ryan Davis kicked his side into a deserved 3-0 lead.

Bath had seen Sam Vesty hit the post with an earlier penalty – but it was the visiting side who looked the more lively during the opening exchanges.

Peter Short charged down Aaron Mauger’s attempted clearance, only for the alert Alesana Tuilagi to win the race to the line to deny Bath an early try.

Bath continued to create decent chances – but they were made to pay when Davis missed a penalty, awarded following a Bath scrum.

Bath should have enjoyed a 6-0 lead – but it was soon 3-3 after Vesty nailed a 45-metre penalty following an offside decision to put his side on level terms.

Bath were seconds from reaching half-time with the score level – but a moment of Leicester inspiration denied them. The Tigers’ back-line – which included Tuilagi, Twelvetrees, Mauger, Vesty and Harry Ellis – lived up to its star billing by conjuring an impressive try.

Tuilagi broke clear and passed to Lucas Amorosino, who released Mauger to send a clever chip over the top of the Bath defence. Twelvetrees read the play and arrived in time to gather to kick and dive over the line.

Vesty, as he had from an earlier penalty, hit the upright with his conversion attempt and Leicester held a five-point lead at the interval.

Bath cut that advantage to two points within four minutes of the restart, Davis kicking his second penalty of the evening after referee David Rose spotted Leicester hands in a ruck.

But Bath were soon under pressure, with Nicky Little penalised for a high tackle on Argentina full-back Amorosino as Leicester’s confidence began to grow.

Although Bath defended the initial danger, they were unfortunate to concede a penalty try when Rose deemed them to have a collapsed a scrum close to their own line. “The scrum was going sidways,” argued Meehan.

Vesty, as expected, landed the conversion to send Leicester into a nine-point lead at 15-6 – and there was little hint at that stage of the explosive finish that was to come.

Twelvetrees extended his side’s lead – and effectively sealed the victory – with a solo run in the 75th minute after a scrummage deep in Bath territory.

Bath roared back almost from the restart. Fa’amatuainu was the recipient of a poor Leicester kick – and showed the pace of a winger to race down the line and score his side’s only try of the evening.

That made the score 22-11 – but Leicester pulled clear again in injury-time when Tuilagi collected a loose ball deep inside his own half and ran 50 metres to grab a bonus point for the 2007 Anglo-Welsh Cup winners.

 

6TH FEBRUARY 2010 BATH V SALE

Well, he more than lived up to the billing, didn’t he! Butch James’s 40 minute cameo was remarkable not just for the variety and effectiveness of his distribution but also for its effect on the players around him.

Suddenly looking carefree rather than careworn, Bath Rugby turned in their most fluent performance for months, taking their cue from the World Cup winning fly-half to rip into Sale from the very first seconds of this LV= Cup-tie. Just 30 minutes later the match was all but over as a contest as Ryan Davis converted the fourth try to put Bath 28-7 ahead.

It was a special day too for right wing Michael Stephenson who scored three of the six tries. Davis kicked five conversions out of six, none of them easy.

James made a noble effort to play down his contribution afterwards, saying: It’s a lot easier for me when everyone else wants to get their hands on the ball. I was happy with the way it went; it all went so smoothly. Even if you are out for a long time, you don’t lose it, the mentality. It’s like riding a bike.

James, who did not appear for the second half, added: I was quite keen for another 10 minutes but I was pretty tired.”

Skills coach Brad Davis said: “Butch pulled the strings but it’s too simple to say that one guy coming back made all the difference. We varied our focus of attack today, hit them wide and hit them narrow. They couldn’t pinpoint where we were going to attack.”

For someone who had not taken the field since 19 April last year when he damaged knee ligaments against Newcastle at Kingston Park, it was clear that James had no intention of feeling his way back into action. Nor did Nick Abendanon, making an equally spectacular return after six weeks out with a sprung shoulder joint.

The fullback was prominent in the early attacks and there was no break in play from the kick-off before he sent Michael Stephenson in at the corner after just 90 seconds.

Scott Bemand was lively at scrum-half and played a major part in the next try, first looping around Pieter Dixon to send Stephenson away down the wing and then taking a return pass to set up a ruck at which Sale were penalised. Bath opted for the scrum and James linked with Davis who found Matt Carraro on a good angle to stretch out and score by the posts with 10 minutes gone.

With no further interest in the competition since the defeat at Leicester the previous weekend, Bath could afford to spurn any kicks from penalties. So, opting for a line-out from the next penalty five minutes later, Dixon found Stuart Hooper with his throw and took up position at the back of a driving maul to touch down under a pile of bodies. Davis’s conversion was on the mark again to increase the lead to 21-nil.

That finally stung Sale into a response and James had to move smartly to wrap up second row Dean Schofield from a quick tapped penalty within 10 metres of the Bath line. However, the fly-half was one of three players who reacted too slowly when No 8 Kristian Ormsby launched himself off the back of a five-metre scrum to force his way over the line, leaving teenage fly-half Mark Atkinson with a simple conversion after 23 minutes.

That was Ormsby’s last significant contribution however as he left the field injured and Bath used their dominance of the scrum to turn up the pressure at the other end. James dipped into his bag of tricks to fire an inch-perfect kick across the right corner where Stephenson swooped on the loose ball to score. Davis, looking composed and confident, drilled the conversion from the touchline.

Half-time was also the opportunity to change the entire Bath front row, giving young props Nathan Catt and Aaron Jarvis valuable game time along with Lee Mears.
The half was just seven minutes old when Stephenson completed his hat-trick, latching on to Bemand’s clever little grubber on the blindside. Davis made it five conversions out of five.

With changes from both sides, the game began to lose its shape and Bath their superiority, particularly after flanker Guy Mercer was yellow carded. Much of the half was spent in valuable defensive practice but Sale, fielding a number of inexperienced combinations, lacked the penetration or imagination that Bath had shown earlier in the game.

Eventually they broke out through Jonny Fa’amatuainu whose rampaging run was stopped illegally by Ben Cohen. That earned the former England wing a yellow card and Bath took advantage of the man advantage by sending Jack Cuthbert in at the corner. Davis’s conversion was wide just about the only blemish on a performance that hinted of brighter things to come.

 

14th FEBRUARY 2010 LDN IRISH V BATH

Following Steve Meehan’s call for Bath Rugby to “deliver each and every week,” the team did just that against London Irish today. Producing a scintillating display, the West Country contingent catapulted from 10th place to seventh after running in four tries and demonstrating a high quality and resolute defensive performance.

From the outset, the mood in the Bath camp was buoyant and the confidence felt following the victory against Sale Sharks last weekend quickly resulted in a three-point lead at five minutes after Irish were penalised for killing the ball.

Five minutes later and the hosts equalised, as Bath, who had already conceded one penalty, went on to concede a second in under a minute. Tom Homer kicked from wide and Irish were neck and neck with their visitors.

Determined to break away from their opponents, Bath mounted sustained pressure and when Irish attempted to clear the ball in the form of Alfredo Lelanne he was met by Joe Maddock who was poised and ready to make a stunning catch before offloading to Ben Skirving. From the resulting ruck, David Barnes stole the ball and burst through the midfield, palming off Lelanne on his way. The prop ran 20 metres to score behind the posts for the first try of the match and Barnes’s fifth try of his Bath career. After Ryan Davis converted, Bath went into a lead of 10-3 after 14 minutes.

Three minutes later and Homer and Davis exchanged penalties, but it was not long then before London Irish, pushing for the breakthrough, had a pass from ex-Bath player Chris Malone intercepted by the ‘jersey juggernaut’ Matt Banahan. The winger raced 60 metres to score for five points and with another successful conversion from Davis, Bath were battling ahead with a 20 to six point lead.

As the clock counted down and with just five minutes left of the first half, Bath captain Michael Claassens planted a strong kick into the corner forcing the home side to throw in for a line out just five metres from their own try line. Irish attempted to throw the ball to the back of their line, but Bath put paid to their efforts and snaffled the ball. After consistent pressure by the visitors, some brilliant handling from Duncan Bell, Luke Watson and Stuart Hooper ensured that the ball was carried to the right hand corner for Maddock to cross the white line. As the whistle blew for the end of the first half, Bath were leading 25-6 at the break.

Coming back from the interval, Irish returned to the pitch in more determined form than that which they started the match and were rewarded with three points after just two minutes after a Bath offside offence.

Fortune did not continue to look so favourably on the hosts, however, as a Gibson try was disallowed after a long deliberation by the television match official. But, the pressure from Irish continued and Homer booted the ball for a penalty after a Bath infringement.

Bath were next to receive the ‘disallowed try’ status, after good play by Bell, Nick Abendanon and substitute Pieter Dixon, aided Claassens to ground the ball under the posts. The try was not awarded though following an earlier Bath offence.

Inspired by the failure to seal another five points through Claassens, the visitors applied consistent pressure in a bid to secure the bonus point try and Irish began to crumble. At 66 minutes, Faan Rautenbach was sin binned for killing the ball and Davis booted another three points, as he slotted the ball between the posts for the third penalty of the game.

Bath finally got their fourth try at 68 minutes, after some good interplay between the forwards and backs sent Maddock down the right hand touch line, to beat the covering defence and score in the corner. Davis converted from a difficult angle, kicking Bath to a 35-15 lead.

Irish went in search of some consolation and found it, however meagre, in the form of their fullback Homer in the 79th minute. The 19 year old broke free on the halfway line and scored in the corner, converting his own try. Whilst the move narrowed the score divide by seven points it was not enough to claw back a victory and Bath Rugby remained victorious with a final score of 35-22.

 

20th FEBRUARY 2010 BATH V WORCESTER

Bath Rugby, oozing confidence and sheer joie de vivre, completed their fourth Guinness Premiership victory on the trot and collected a bonus point which propels them into the top six.

The only disappointment was a 47th minute shoulder injury to fly-half Butch James, although that allowed Olly Barkley to make a long-awaited first appearance in a Bath shirt since returning from Gloucester last summer.

Bath had been leading 15-10 when James left the field but, aided by Worcester’s indiscipline which saw flanker Tom Wood being sent off for a second yellow card and Chris Latham also spending time in the sin-bin, the home side eventually ran in five tries.

The result leaves opponents Worcester scrapping in the relegation zone while Bath can now set their sights on consolidating sixth place and perhaps better.

Head coach Steve Meehan said: “I was impressed with the way our guys played, the tempo and the endeavour. It’s very difficult to stop us when we play like that.

“Even when we weren’t having a great run earlier in the season, I said that this team was capable of going on a run of wins. We are confident and one of the major areas we wanted to concentrate on was enjoying ourselves. We are doing that.”

Barkley admitted to being pretty nervous about making his comeback. “I haven’t played in 10 months. It was my first home game and I was pleased to get through 20-25 minutes without any injuries. I really enjoyed playing today.”

James began the game with an unconventional grubber and followed up a couple of minutes later with cleverly disguised cross kick. But Worcester held their nerve and broke out through hooker Aleki Lutui whose barrelling run earned a penalty at the breakdown. Willie Walker’s kick was wide from 40 metres.

Worcester looked to the boot of former Wallaby full-back Latham to give them a toe-hold in the Bath half but Shontayne Hape was quickly up to snuff out the danger when the ball was shifted wide to Dale Rasmussen.

After Abendanon was caught ‘man and ball’ by a teasing grubber down the right, Bath went offside at the ruck and Latham this time opted for a kick to the corner. Two rucks from the line-out left Walker with Claassens to beat and he handed off the scrum-half to score and also added the conversion.

Being 7-nil down after quarter of an hour was not really in the script but the impressive Julian Salvi won a turnover and Bath set up camp in the Worcester 22. The pressure told when James combined with Hape and Ryan Davis and then lofted a pass to the in-form Joe Maddock who scored with a swallow dive in the corner after 20 minutes.

Davis was just wide with the conversion and when Bath were penalised at a scrum five minutes later Walker extended the visitors’ lead to 10-5 with a penalty from 35 metres.

Bath’s reply was instantaneous and incisive. James drew the defence from a line-out and flicked the ball inside to Maddock. A sidestep left Latham floundering as the right wing sped in under the posts to leave Davis with a simple kick.

The centre added a penalty on the half-hour to take Bath further ahead and, playing with increased confidence, they began to force Worcester into yet more penalties inside their own 22. Wood was then shown a yellow card on 35 minutes for handling in a ruck and was relieved to see his team-mates hold on as Bath failed to make the most of the opportunity.

Soon after the restart it was all hands to the pump again as a seven-man pack just kept the home side out from a five-metre scrum in the corner.

With Wood restored to the action, Worcester might have taken advantage but Chris Pennell stumbled just short of the line after collecting a clever kick through by Sam Tuitupou.

If that was not the turning point, then it came a minute or two later when Maddock was set free on the right and chipped over Latham, only to be blocked unceremoniously. The full-back protested that he was only holding his line but referee Tim Wigglesworth showed the yellow card for the second time and Davis put Bath 18-10 ahead on 52 minutes.

Walker pulled back three points almost immediately and Abendanon was forced to concede a line-out in his own 22. Worcester caught and drove but as the packs went to ground, the outstretched arm of the touch judge spelt more trouble for the visitors. Wood was again the culprit and having already received one yellow card was sent off.

With Latham still in the sin-bin, Bath quickly added a third try on the hour as Claassens spun through a clutch of defenders on the line to force his way over. The move had begun with excellent approach work by Abendanon, Flatman and Wilson and also Matt Banahan who handled twice before his skipper cashed in.

Latham’s return did nothing to stem the tide as Banahan ploughed through his attempted tackle to score the bonus point try. Davis, in fine form from the tee, added his second conversion from wide out in three minutes.

A rash of replacements made for an unstructured last 15 minutes to the extent that Bath had all the possession but found it difficult to subdue a spirited rearguard action by the Worcester 14.

Eventually, however, Latham was adjudged to have taken the ball into touch and the pick-and-drive earned Bath a fifth try for Jonny Fa’amatuainu. This time Davis could not convert but he could be content with another assured performance.

28th FEBRUARY 2010 BATH V SARACENS

Enjoying their fifth Guinness Premiership win on the bounce, Bath Rugby proved the old saying true – that the best does come to those who wait.
Having recognised the limitations of the Saracens style of play, that had taken them to the top of the table at the start of the season, Bath were able to expose their opponents weaknesses and steal the win at Vicarage Road.

“I think the scoreline flattered Saracens,” admitted Skills and Defence Coach Brad Davis after the game. “Their try came against the run of play, and was rather fortunate. But, our eight did ever so well and they rarely threatened our line. I hope this backs up what we have been saying for some time, that we are not a one-man team and we are able to win when Butch James is not on the field.

“Winning breeds confidence,” Davis continued. “And this type of performance at this time of the season is hugely satisfying.”

Demonstrating the confidence gained in the latter stages of this season, Bath wasted no time in stamping their mark on the match. After just three minutes, Matt Banahan made an excellent interception and booted the ball towards the 22 and made good chase. He was challenged by Chris Wyles just as he neared the try line and was prevented from scoring the try. However, their efforts were not in vain, as an offence from Saracens allowed Ryan Davis to boot three points instead.

Bath continued to hold the majority possession and prevented Saracens from being able to equalise until 17 minutes had passed and a Bath infringement allowed Derick Hougaard to boot the ball from 30 metres and slot it between the sticks for three points.

Five minutes later and Michael Claassens looked close to scoring his sixth try of the season. The Bath captain made a skilful break down the wing and chipped the ball into Saracens’ 22, only to see it bounce agonisingly over the dead ball line.

Saracens responded with an aggressive kick and chase from Neil De Kock and Brad Barritt which rewarded them with a five metre line out. The ball ricocheted fortunately for the hosts and Wikus Van Heerden, their captain in Steve Borthwick’s absence, went over the line for five points. Hougaard missed the conversion, but Saracens slipped into the lead.

With just over 10 minutes left of the first half, Bath looked determined to rack up more numbers before the interval and forced their way inside the home side’s 22. Their efforts paid off and a Saracens offence following a strong Bath maul gave Davis the chance to put his boot into action and kick for three successful points.

But, there were two more kicks before the half-time whistle – one a piece for each side – and Bath remained just two points behind the home team at the break.

With the score line marginally in Saracen’s favour, Bath returned to the pitch with the same determination as the first half and the pressure mounted on the men in black. After a strong scrum from Bath, an offence by Saracens handed Davis the ball to slot Bath into the lead, but being forced to rush his kick because the ball had fallen over, it fell just right of the posts and after 48 minutes the score remained 11-9 to Saracens.

However, Bath were unrelenting and the following 15 minutes were played deep within the host’s 22 and a series of scrums resulted, finally, in a penalty try. With the home crowd booing, Davis stepped up and successfully slotted the conversion and Bath nipped ahead. But, a penalty kick by Hougaard meant that the score divide was a mere two points by 58 minutes.

Limited by their game plan, Saracens chances were few and far between. A drop goal by Hougaard was unsuccessful and excellent work from the Bath pack prevented them from making any further headway.

At 66 minutes, Stuart Hooper stole the ball from a Saracens line out and Davis attempted to find Banahan with a cross kick. Unfortunately, Saracens replacement hooker Shalk Brits pounced on the ball and broke into Bath’s territory.

However, Bath were not to be undone and the team scrambled back quickly and regained possession. From the resulting scrum, Saracens were once again penalised but Barkley, who stepped up to take his first kick at goal back in the Bath jersey, failed to hit the mark.

As the clock counted down the remaining minutes of the match, Hougaard was given two opportunities to rescue the match. Having already booted the ball wide, he was gifted another chance to win the game just before the final whistle. The fly half kicked from wide, but, to the roars of the crowd, failed to succeed and Bath were left celebrating the 14 -16 victory.

Like a phoenix rising from the flames, Bath just managed to keep their Guinness Premiership title aspirations alive with a courageous second half comeback to defeat Newcastle Falcons 15-14 at Kingston Park.

Trailing 14-0 at the interval and seemingly in disarray owing to a host of missed kicks at goal and errors, the West Country side showed enormous character to summon all their reserves of energy and mental strength to take the game by the scruff of the neck as Michael Claassens and Shontayne Hape scored tries in a remarkable turn around.

The first half offered little hope that this would be an afternoon of celebration for visitors as Newcastle, searching for Heineken Cup qualification, were rewarded with the first try of the match after 17 minutes following wonderful play from scrum half Micky Young.

With Bath unable to secure the bobbling loose ball, Young hacked ahead before gathering and showing superb alertness to stave off the swarming white defence and chip the ball cross-field for Danny Williams to gather and score. Tom May, posing a threat all afternoon, added the extras for a 7-0 lead.

Bath’s problems were compounded by an inability to retain the ball at key moments and by continued kicking issues. Butch James, agonisingly wayward at the Walkers Stadium, toiled once more and the South African missed his first two shots at goal leaving Bath with an early mountain to climb.

Bath’s first try opportunity came after a free kick at a scrum allowed Bath to turn the screw as first Flatman and then Short rumbled deep behind Newcastle lines. Having forced a penalty from their opponents in the attack, James again was off target with another routine kick.

Bath had plenty of possession, but errors meant that they failed to make the most of excellent field position. The Falcons, on the other hand, were looking sharp and caught Bath napping when Young showed lighting reactions from a penalty to stride into the corner for Newcastle’s second try. May’s conversion gave the North East side a commanding 14-0 lead.

Facing a desperate score line, Bath were determined to register something on the board before the interval. With Claassens driving his team forward, the West Country side thundered into the Newcastle 22 only for errors to again hamper progress and leave the team frustrated and scoreless at half time.

Looking for inspiration, Bath replaced James with Ryan Davis and the former England Under 21 captain has an immediate chance to stamp his mark on the game. However, hampered by the same kicking gremlins as the man he replaced, Davis missed his opening shot at goal and a second opportunity three minutes later.

It was apparent early in the second half that the running game would be the answer for Bath and the visitors pressed on inside the Newcastle 22. A superb catch and drive five metres out provided the opportunity, but once again Bath were turned over in a dangerous position as points continued to elude the Guinness Premiership challengers.

Bath finally hauled themselves back into the game through scrum half Claassens. Matching Young’s quick thinking, the South African spotted an opportunity from a penalty close to the line, to dart through the Newcastle defence to score the match-needed five points. Davis failed to collect the extras, but Bath had a lifeline.

The Bath resurgence continued in the shape of Shontayne Hape, who sprinted down the touchline to record Bath’s second score with 17 minutes left on the clock. Bouyed by his teammate’s score, Davis slotted over the difficult touchline conversion.

Incredibly, Bath took the lead three minutes later. Buzzing with confidence and suddenly full of running, field position gifted points and the visitors were happy to oblige. Davis, whose introduction, added the impetus alongside Claassens, slotted over his first penalty of the afternoon to cap a remarkable turnaround and set up a thrilling final teen minutes.

The final moments were not without drama. Confident and incisive in the first half, Newcastle could not get their hands on the ball in the closing minutes and when they did it was their turn to make the errors. May missed a match-winning penalty attempt with five minutes to go when his radar seemed seemingly perfect, and a drop goal position broke down with a fumbled ball.

Bath, in contrast, were in control and showed tremendous stoicism in defence to close off a game that leaves the West Country side heading into the final match of the regular season against Saracens at the Rec in pole position for a semi-final berth.

Like a phoenix rising from the flames, Bath just managed to keep their Guinness Premiership title aspirations alive with a courageous second half comeback to defeat Newcastle Falcons 15-14 at Kingston Park.

Trailing 14-0 at the interval and seemingly in disarray owing to a host of missed kicks at goal and errors, the West Country side showed enormous character to summon all their reserves of energy and mental strength to take the game by the scruff of the neck as Michael Claassens and Shontayne Hape scored tries in a remarkable turn around.

The first half offered little hope that this would be an afternoon of celebration for visitors as Newcastle, searching for Heineken Cup qualification, were rewarded with the first try of the match after 17 minutes following wonderful play from scrum half Micky Young.

With Bath unable to secure the bobbling loose ball, Young hacked ahead before gathering and showing superb alertness to stave off the swarming white defence and chip the ball cross-field for Danny Williams to gather and score. Tom May, posing a threat all afternoon, added the extras for a 7-0 lead.

Bath’s problems were compounded by an inability to retain the ball at key moments and by continued kicking issues. Butch James, agonisingly wayward at the Walkers Stadium, toiled once more and the South African missed his first two shots at goal leaving Bath with an early mountain to climb.

Bath’s first try opportunity came after a free kick at a scrum allowed Bath to turn the screw as first Flatman and then Short rumbled deep behind Newcastle lines. Having forced a penalty from their opponents in the attack, James again was off target with another routine kick.

Bath had plenty of possession, but errors meant that they failed to make the most of excellent field position. The Falcons, on the other hand, were looking sharp and caught Bath napping when Young showed lighting reactions from a penalty to stride into the corner for Newcastle’s second try. May’s conversion gave the North East side a commanding 14-0 lead.

Facing a desperate score line, Bath were determined to register something on the board before the interval. With Claassens driving his team forward, the West Country side thundered into the Newcastle 22 only for errors to again hamper progress and leave the team frustrated and scoreless at half time.

Looking for inspiration, Bath replaced James with Ryan Davis and the former England Under 21 captain has an immediate chance to stamp his mark on the game. However, hampered by the same kicking gremlins as the man he replaced, Davis missed his opening shot at goal and a second opportunity three minutes later.

It was apparent early in the second half that the running game would be the answer for Bath and the visitors pressed on inside the Newcastle 22. A superb catch and drive five metres out provided the opportunity, but once again Bath were turned over in a dangerous position as points continued to elude the Guinness Premiership challengers.

Bath finally hauled themselves back into the game through scrum half Claassens. Matching Young’s quick thinking, the South African spotted an opportunity from a penalty close to the line, to dart through the Newcastle defence to score the match-needed five points. Davis failed to collect the extras, but Bath had a lifeline.

The Bath resurgence continued in the shape of Shontayne Hape, who sprinted down the touchline to record Bath’s second score with 17 minutes left on the clock. Bouyed by his teammate’s score, Davis slotted over the difficult touchline conversion.

Incredibly, Bath took the lead three minutes later. Buzzing with confidence and suddenly full of running, field position gifted points and the visitors were happy to oblige. Davis, whose introduction, added the impetus alongside Claassens, slotted over his first penalty of the afternoon to cap a remarkable turnaround and set up a thrilling final teen minutes.

The final moments were not without drama. Confident and incisive in the first half, Newcastle could not get their hands on the ball in the closing minutes and when they did it was their turn to make the errors. May missed a match-winning penalty attempt with five minutes to go when his radar seemed seemingly perfect, and a drop goal position broke down with a fumbled ball.

Bath, in contrast, were in control and showed tremendous stoicism in defence to close off a game that leaves the West Country side heading into the final match of the regular season against Saracens at the Rec in pole position for a semi-final berth.

19th MARCH NEWCASTLE V BATH

Like a phoenix rising from the flames, Bath just managed to keep their Guinness Premiership title aspirations alive with a courageous second half comeback to defeat Newcastle Falcons 15-14 at Kingston Park.

Trailing 14-0 at the interval and seemingly in disarray owing to a host of missed kicks at goal and errors, the West Country side showed enormous character to summon all their reserves of energy and mental strength to take the game by the scruff of the neck as Michael Claassens and Shontayne Hape scored tries in a remarkable turn around.

The first half offered little hope that this would be an afternoon of celebration for visitors as Newcastle, searching for Heineken Cup qualification, were rewarded with the first try of the match after 17 minutes following wonderful play from scrum half Micky Young.

With Bath unable to secure the bobbling loose ball, Young hacked ahead before gathering and showing superb alertness to stave off the swarming white defence and chip the ball cross-field for Danny Williams to gather and score. Tom May, posing a threat all afternoon, added the extras for a 7-0 lead.

Bath’s problems were compounded by an inability to retain the ball at key moments and by continued kicking issues. Butch James, agonisingly wayward at the Walkers Stadium, toiled once more and the South African missed his first two shots at goal leaving Bath with an early mountain to climb.

Bath’s first try opportunity came after a free kick at a scrum allowed Bath to turn the screw as first Flatman and then Short rumbled deep behind Newcastle lines. Having forced a penalty from their opponents in the attack, James again was off target with another routine kick.

Bath had plenty of possession, but errors meant that they failed to make the most of excellent field position. The Falcons, on the other hand, were looking sharp and caught Bath napping when Young showed lighting reactions from a penalty to stride into the corner for Newcastle’s second try. May’s conversion gave the North East side a commanding 14-0 lead.

Facing a desperate score line, Bath were determined to register something on the board before the interval. With Claassens driving his team forward, the West Country side thundered into the Newcastle 22 only for errors to again hamper progress and leave the team frustrated and scoreless at half time.

Looking for inspiration, Bath replaced James with Ryan Davis and the former England Under 21 captain has an immediate chance to stamp his mark on the game. However, hampered by the same kicking gremlins as the man he replaced, Davis missed his opening shot at goal and a second opportunity three minutes later.

It was apparent early in the second half that the running game would be the answer for Bath and the visitors pressed on inside the Newcastle 22. A superb catch and drive five metres out provided the opportunity, but once again Bath were turned over in a dangerous position as points continued to elude the Guinness Premiership challengers.

Bath finally hauled themselves back into the game through scrum half Claassens. Matching Young’s quick thinking, the South African spotted an opportunity from a penalty close to the line, to dart through the Newcastle defence to score the match-needed five points. Davis failed to collect the extras, but Bath had a lifeline.

The Bath resurgence continued in the shape of Shontayne Hape, who sprinted down the touchline to record Bath’s second score with 17 minutes left on the clock. Bouyed by his teammate’s score, Davis slotted over the difficult touchline conversion.

Incredibly, Bath took the lead three minutes later. Buzzing with confidence and suddenly full of running, field position gifted points and the visitors were happy to oblige. Davis, whose introduction, added the impetus alongside Claassens, slotted over his first penalty of the afternoon to cap a remarkable turnaround and set up a thrilling final teen minutes.

The final moments were not without drama. Confident and incisive in the first half, Newcastle could not get their hands on the ball in the closing minutes and when they did it was their turn to make the errors. May missed a match-winning penalty attempt with five minutes to go when his radar seemed seemingly perfect, and a drop goal position broke down with a fumbled ball.

Bath, in contrast, were in control and showed tremendous stoicism in defence to close off a game that leaves the West Country side heading into the final match of the regular season against Saracens at the Rec in pole position for a semi-final berth.

27 th MARCH 2010 BATH V HARLEQUINS

After a two week break, Bath notched up their seventh consecutive Guinness Premiership win to send Quins back on a resounding 24-13 win.
Duncan Bell’s exuberant celebrations began long before he reached the try-line but the tighthead prop was surely entitled to a little showboating, even if it did little for Steve Meehan’s blood pressure.

Belly’s score, appearing on Lee Mears’ shoulder after great running by the Lions hooker, came at a crucial point in the game. Harlequins had taken advantage of Michael Claassens’ 10-minute spell in the sin-bin either side of half-time to claw their way back to 10-6 but the try regained the momentum for Bath.

Joe Maddock finished off a sweeping move from a line-out almost immediately afterwards and Tom Williams’ try came too late to threaten a remarkable seventh successive Guinness Premiership victory for Bath.

Although most of the plaudits fell to Olly Barkley, making an impressive first start on the Rec since his return from Gloucester, Meehan was quick to pay tribute to Bell’s footballing skills.

He’s a good rugby player, probably better than he gives himself credit for. That’s the reality of it. I’ve seen him score a few tries for the club since I’ve been here. I was delighted for him perhaps I wasn’t quite so delighted that he started to celebrate ten metres out but it was a terrific move, a great bit of rugby and great reward.

Barkley opened the scoring with a 50-metre penalty in the fourth minute but that was not the only reason that Meehan is tipping him to win a place on England’s squad to tour Down Under in the summer: No, he’s not in his prime yet but before the end of the season we’ll start to see that. I think he has a real chance, a very strong chance of making that trip.

Quins may be battling to escape from the bottom four but they competed as strongly as ever in the loose and worked hard to deny Bath time and space to develop their off-loading game. At the cost of a few penalties, including a simple kick that Barkley should have nailed, their plan served them well for 20 minutes or so.

Eventually, however, Mike Brown cleared uncertainly to Matt Banahan whose strong run brought him just short of the line. Maddock and his supporting forwards sucked in more defenders under the posts, leaving Barkley to step his way over the line. The conversion was a straightforward task.

Quins enjoyed their best spell after Barkley failed to extend the 10-nil lead with a longer range penalty. Skipper Claassens was sin-binned for a high and early tackle on England scrum-half Danny Care and Nick Evans kicked Quins’ first points on 35 minutes. Back they came again and the home side conceded another penalty to the New Zealander on the stroke of half-time.

Soon after the break referee Martin Fox adjudged Butch James to have knocked on deliberately but Evans missed an angled kick from 30 metres. At the other end, Banahan thought he had scored but it was disallowed for a seemingly innocuous push on Brown as both players went for the bouncing ball. The crowd on the Riverside terrace and under the clubhouse roared their disapproval but Bell’s try soon had them roaring in delight.

No sooner had Barkley landed the conversion of that 48th minute try then Bath put the outcome beyond doubt with a peach of a try.
Peter Short won a line-out at the front; the ball was whipped out to James who sent an accurate left-handed pass to Barkley running from deep behind Banahan and Shontayne Hape. Barkley’s pass found Nick Abendanon at pace and, with Brown left in no-man’s land, Maddock stepped inside the final defender to score. Barkley converted from wide out.

Meehan was impressed: He has a very accurate long pass, Olly, and good speed so he can get to outside defenders and release outside attackers quite nicely. It was illustrated perfectly by Joe Maddock’s try. That was just a brilliant bit of rugby. If anybody scores a better try than that this weekend, it will have to be an absolute screamer.

Abendanon ran with pace and purpose in his 100th game and, although it was an early injury to David Flatman that gave David Barnes a chance to strut his stuff, he marked his 200th appearance by ensuring the Bath scrum enjoyed the upper hand.

Quins were by no means down and out and it took a tap tackle by Banahan to deny Saracens-bound David Strettle a try on the hour. For much of the last quarter, however, it was all Bath but much of it was unstructured and the visitors broke out to create a try for Williams at the death, Evans converting.

For a moment or two, it looked as if Bath might snatch a bonus point as Quins were caught in possession under their own posts but the chance went begging.

Meehan was philosophical. While we tried to play with a great amount of speed and width we were impatient, he acknowledged. It was the first thing that the players reflected on immediately after the match which is a clear indication of the change within the squad. If we had nailed that performance in October we would have been doing laps of honour.

 

3rd APRIL 2010 LEICESTER V BATH

It was a great adventure, one of the most remarkable turnarounds of any season anywhere, but after dreams of another grand day out at Twickenham, this Guinness Premiership semi-final at Welford Road was a rude awakening for Bath Rugby.

For an hour they stood toe-to-toe with the Tigers pack, denying the home team the merest sniff of a try-scoring chance. Olly Barkley’s penalty kicks put Bath 6-nil ahead at the end of the first quarter but a ‘dogfight’ was never going to give Bath the best chance of winning and when the Tigers settled for a ten-man tactics and penalty kicks, the visitors found it impossible to open up into their renowned off-loading game,

Instead the set-piece came under increasing pressure and Leicester assumed command, as Head Coach Steve Meehan acknowledged: “We found it difficult to get out of their half and when we did get hold of the ball we did show a lack of patience, looking for off-loads that weren’t on.

You know you’ve got to win your set piece to get yourself on the front foot and to put the opposition under pressure. But we weren’t controlling things and that made life difficult. In the first half we did have some opportunities but in the second half we just didn’t get into it.”

Meehan had no quibbles however with the application: “You can’t question the effort they can be very proud of that and at times the defence was outstanding, terrific. As a performance, it was much more applied, more honest, than when we were here last. They can all look themselves in the mirror.”

The Tigers’ line-up saw the return of England players Toby Flood, Louis Deacon and Jordan Crane and, of course, it was Lewis Moody’s farewell to Welford Road before joining the ranks of the blue, black and white after England’s summer tour. There was a huge ovation from the crowd of 21,575 as the England captain ran out alone ahead of his teammates.

Bath confined themselves to one change Matt Carraro for Shontayne Hape at outside centre.

Having drawn 20-20 at the Rec back in September Leicester had won 43-20 in the return league fixture last month and 12 points separated the sides as first and fourth place finishers respectively.

In a frantic first five minutes, Bath caught the home side on the hop. Gifted an attacking line-out when Leicester took the ball back into the 22 before kicking clear, Butch James first slid a teasing kick through for Nick Abendanon and came agonisingly close to scoring from two charge-downs.

Leicester only just scrambled the ball away and battled their way to the Bath 22 only to turn the ball over, sparking a quicksilver counter-attack which saw Lee Mears break away with Luke Watson in support but the last offload went to ground.

The Tigers roared back on to the attack but the Bath defence was equal to everything being thrown at them and won a penalty deep in their 22. A series of deft offloads between Mears, Watson, Michael Claassens, Julian Salvi and Andy Beattie then forced the home defence in to conceding a penalty at the breakdown and Olly Barkley kicked the 11th minute penalty.

Another fine counter-ruck turnover deep in Bath territory saw David Flatman and Matt Banahan come away with the ball. Barkley soon had another chance but was wide from 38 metres out on the left.

The nearest Bath came to scoring a try was when James released Banahan through the traffic and he spilled the ball in the tackle on the line. The chance had come from a scrum when Flatman and Co forced the Leicester front row to go to ground. With no advantage accruing, Barkley made no mistake from the left.

Almost immediately however Toby Flood pulled back three points after Bath were caught offside. Flood pinned Bath back in the corner by the big screen, setting up a series of pick-and-drives but the defence performed heroics to hold the line and then win a scrum.

A great running catch by Abendanon reminded the packed Welford Road stands of the threat he posed but the Tigers pulled level on 36 minutes with a controversial score. The assistant referees could not say with any certainty that Flood’s penalty kick had gone inside the post but, when called into action by referee Chris White, the TMO eventually gave the score.

Turning round at 6-6 Bath went straight in search of a try and James put in another deft kick for Banahan to chase. There was then a prime attacking opportunity after Geordan Murphy’s 22 drop-out went dead at the other end but the ball squirted out of the side of the scrum.

The Bath defensive effort was typified by a huge Watson tackle on Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni and it seemed that even the Tigers realised that they were not going to find a way around or through the tackles.

It then became a game of territory as Ben Youngs and Flood sent kicks deep into Bath territory, setting up the positions from which they would eventually kick the penalties to win the game.

A long throw over the top of the line-out to Andy Beattie eased one sticky moment and Matt Carraro brought off another stunning hit on Alesana Tuilagi. But Leicester built the pressure and Flood missed an angled penalty from 35 metres after Mears was penalised at the back of a ruck. The penalty could easily have been reversed though after a flag was raised, apparently after George Chuter swung a punch at his opposite number.

On the hour Flood finally edged his side 9-6 ahead with a 45-metre kick and, as the Bath line-out began to falter under intense pressure from the Tigers forwards, the England fly-half made it 12-6 on 64 minutes.

In their desperation to find some way out of the ‘choke hold’ exerted by Leicester’s tactics, Bath began to throw increasingly hopeful passes.

And the scrum provided the clinching score when Flatman, driving forward, was adjudged to have taken it down in front of the posts. His exasperation was clear for all to see as Flood’s 72nd minute penalty opened up a two-score gap and the loosehead, whose week had begun so well with a call-up to the England squad, trudged off to be replaced by David Barnes.

There was still time for Barkley to attempt a penalty from long range but his effort drifted wide.

17th April 2010 BATH V SALE

After all the excitement of the last three days a change of ownership, a stately home for a new state-of-the-art HQ and a firm commitment from the new chairman to build a new stadium in time for the club’s 150th birthday in 2015 it was back to the serious stuff.

There were still a few formalities, of course. Bruce Craig was led on to the pitch before kick-off by outgoing chairman Andrew Brownsword and introduced himself to the packed stands, reminding supporters how important they are as the 16th player. They each then shook hands with members of the matchday squad as they completed their preparations.

With the Recreation Ground bathed in sunshine for the occasion, all that was needed to round off a perfect week was a convincing victory.

And, after a hesitant opening quarter, that’s what Steve Meehan’s squad served up for the new boss, with tries coming from Lee Mears, Olly Barkley, Matt Banahan, Joe Maddock and David Barnes. Barkley kicked a penalty and three conversions.

With the bonus point try coming as early as the 50th minute there was even opportunity to rest players negotiating a tough schedule of three matches in eight days which will confirm Heineken Cup qualification and perhaps a play-off place.

“We were a little bit rusty but it was a good performance leading into Tuesday evening’s game with Northampton,” said Meehan, “It’s been the sort of week that none of us has experienced before and there were errors for the first 20 minutes but in the end it was a nice start for the new chairman.

“Now nothing less than three wins will do. The reality of it was we had to win today and we did it with five tries and a bonus point but we’ve still got to rely on other teams slipping up.”

Sale’s preparations were upset by the loss of Charlie Hodgson through injury, leaving scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth to switch to fly-half and take over the kicking duties. He was well off-target with two attempts when Sale enjoyed plenty of the play early on.

Barkley opened the scoring on 18 minutes from close range and although a 50-metre effort soon afterwards dropped under bar, he had no trouble converting Mears’s 25th minute try. The Lions hooker slipped off a maul after a catch-and-drive by Danny Grewcock at a line-out and was just too slippery for visiting tighthead Jack Forster.

Sale began to concede penalty after penalty, their indiscipline earning a warning for skipper Dean Schofield, and Bath were playing the advantage again when Barkley looped around the busy Matt Carraro to score the second with 33 minutes on the clock.

With the Bath forwards in commanding form at both scrum and line-out, the home backs were finding plenty of holes but the final pass too often went astray. Wigglesworth gave his side a brief glimmer of light with a penalty on the stroke of half-time but the home team came out after the interval and immediately snuffed it out.

The ball was in play for a full two minutes after the restart when Carraro offloaded to Banahan who barged through a weak tackle by Sale fullback Marika Vakacegu and then carried two defenders over the line with him. Barkley’s conversion took the score to a healthy 24-3.

The second half lost its way in a welter of substitutions from both sides understandable in the heat and in view of the challenges ahead.

But the bonus point try after 50 minutes was a masterclass in sidestepping from Maddock. The ball had been kept alive on the right by Julian Salvi and swept across field by Barkley’s inch-perfect pass to Abendanon. The fullback’s running with ball in hand had again thrilled the big crowd but this time he offloaded instantly to his wing who displayed perfect balance in beating four defenders before touching down.

Sale hit back with an excellent try by World Cup winner Ben Cohen three minutes later after good work down the left by Vakacegu, Mathew Tait and Chris Jones but it went unconverted.

The Bath forwards then decided to show that they could do plenty with the ball and mounted a series of assaults on the Sale line before Barnes drove over in the left corner with assistance from replacement Aaron Jarvis.

As the game became increasingly less structured, Sale came to close to breaking through on several occasions before No 8 Kris Ormsby went over for a 77th minute score, converted by Wigglesworth.

20TH APRIL 2010 BATH V NORTHAMPTON

Bath Rugby kept their hopes of a play-off place alive with a thrilling one point victory that also inflicted a first Guinness Premiership defeat on Saints for two months.

The result did however all but confirm that Steve Meehan’s team will qualify for the Heineken Cup next season, an achievement which looked far from certain before Christmas. It was heartwarming stuff for the loyal supporters and for new chairman Bruce Craig.

It was nip and tuck all the way and each time Bath edged in front, first with a try on the stroke of half-time by Lee Mears, and then when Matt Banahan barged over, Northampton clawed their way back into the lead. But an Olly Barkley penalty regained the advantage and Shane Geraghty was just wide with a dropped goal in the final minute.

“When you win by one point it’s always tighter than you would want but it’s a win”, said Meehan. It could be a very valuable one.

He added: “It was done in a very courageous and characterful manner. I’m delighted with the guys … great stuff. They’re a very competitive side, Northampton.”

“We had some opportunities but didn’t quite get the ball into space. It was just 72 hours after our last game and we were playing one of the teams who have been top all season, Heineken Cup quarter-finalists and LV Cup winners. We’ll be happy with that.

But the situation hasn’t changed for us. We’ve got to win our remaining two games.”

A strong effort at the very first scrummage earned a penalty which gave Barkley the chance to open the scoring from 40 metres after just three minutes but Bath fell offside at a ruck almost immediately afterwards and Geraghty brought the scores level.

It was obvious from the outset that the second string players brought into the Saints line-up for the second of three matches in eight days were not there to make up the numbers. They fiercely contested every breakdown, denying the home team the quick ball on which their game thrives.

On 12 minutes, scrum-half Alan Dickens broke from a line-out, combining with Neil Best and Jon Clarke to force Bath on to the back foot. When they moved the ball quickly from the ruck, Paul Diggin came in on the angle from the right wing and Nicky Little stuck out an arm at throat level. Whether instinctive or not, it meant 10 minutes in the bin, although Geraghty missed the simple penalty.

Bath’s attempts to get their fast-paced game moving was continually stymied by slow ball and a scrum penalty allowed Geraghty to pin them back into the cricket pavilion corner. With Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe carrying well, Saints kept possession and eventually stretched the 14 remaining players to breaking point, Diggin racing over unopposed in that same corner on 20 minutes.

Bath responded by upping the intensity of their game and Barkley kicked a penalty awarded for a hightackle but when Northampton foiled a dangerous breakout by Luke Watson, Michael Stephenson and Mears by falling offside, Barkley’s kick was wide.

The home side were struggling to impose themselves up front but Northampton hooker Brett Sharman undermined his team’s efforts by twice throwing long at line-outs straight into the arms of Julian Salvi.

The second time, on his own line with the first half almost over was far more damaging. The flanker was held but Mears picked and was driven over. Barkley’s conversion was wide but Bath led 11-8 at the turnaround.

Just six minutes into the second half it was level again as Geraghty kicked a 35-metre penalty, but brought Banahan off the bench as a statement of their intent.

Nick Abendanon nearly scrambled over in the right corner and the ball was swung left where Watson looped a pass to David Barnes on the wing, only for the prop to be forced into touch at the flag by Sharman. The hooker again threw long and Bath were awarded a scrum. Saints conceded a penalty and it was scrum-time again.

A reset led to a free-kick and another scrum saw the visitors marched back. Up went J P Doyle’s arm and 11,615 spectators fully expected him to run round behind the posts to award a penalty try but the Irish referee was in lenient mood. Although Saints lifted the siege they conceded another penalty which allowed Barkley to set up posiition deep in the visitors’ 22.

As Saints prepared to bring on the ‘wrecking ball’ that is Soane Tonga’uiha, Bath worked the ball from a ruck and their own ‘force of nature’, Banahan, stretched a long arm to score at the posts, leaving a straightforward conversion for Barkley. With 20 minutes left, they led 18-11.

But this Saints side, mixed selection or not, were not going to take this lying down and hit back immediately when Michael Claassens fell offside at a scrum and Geraghty pulled back three points. Another offside saw the fly-half land a fourth successful penalty from even further out and when the Bath scrum was adjudged to have stood up in the 69th minute, he put his side 20-18 in front. In nine minutes, his pinpoint kicking had wiped out the home lead.

With Tonga’uiha carrying strongly and Bath using all their subs, they needed a decision to go their way and it came in the 72nd minute when Best was yellow carded for slowing up ruck ball illegally. Mr Doyle’s patience had been exhausted and Barkley’s kick squeezed inside the left hand post to regain the narrowest of leads.

The remaining minutes were tense in the extreme but whereas earlier in the season Bath were being ambushed at the death, this time the boot was on the other foot. Geraghty sat back in the pocket for the drop goal but fired his attempt a foot or so wide. There was still time for Northampton to launch a last ditch attack but Abendanon launched himself at Bruce Reihana to snuff out the danger.

 

24th APRIL 2010 WASPS V BATH

There may have been better Bath performances on the grand stage in the last ten years but it’s hard to remember when. With an impressive attendance of 60,208 making the St George’s Day game in support of Help for Heroes at Twickenham a memorable occasion even before the match kicked off, Bath Rugby capped things off with a stunning bonus point victory.

Joe Maddock grabbed a hat-trick with a superb display of finishing and Olly Barkley added the fourth try in addition to kicking 15 points.

In terms of pure league points, it leaves Michael Claassens’ team with a simple task. They have to beat Leeds on May 8 to hang on to fourth place and earn the right to a play-off semi-final on the following weekend, most probably at Leicester.

“There’s a lot of rugby yet; a lot of things can happen,” said Head Coach Steve Meehan afterwards. “There’s the small matter of a match against Leeds who have been playing well, dogging it out.

“But we’ve always believed that we could win these last three games. The players have done very well to achieve that. For the first time this season we get the opportunity to play a game knowing that it’s in our hands.

“We’ve come a long way since the first four months of the season,” added Meehan. “Work and belief in one another was how the spirit built up in those unenjoyable moments.

“We’re playing well but we can play better that’s the challenge we throw to the team every week. We’ve won well and we’ve had to win tough at times.”

Meehan acknowledged the contributions of Barkley and Maddock, also Julian Salvi whose work at the breakdown eclipsed that of Wasps skipper Tom Rees. But the coach also paid tribute to Claassens who had been up since 3am with a stomach bug: “The way he captained that side was a brilliant effort.”

Sky’s man of the match award went to Barkley for his commanding performance in midfield as well as his place kicking. But the forwards played an heroic part in one of the great Bath victories and that includes the famed era of the 1980s-90s with Stuart Hooper and Andy Beattie linking intelligently and carrying powerfully.

After all the pre-match razzamatazz, it was Wasps who were riding highest on the emotion of the occasion and Danny Cipriani put them 6-nil ahead inside nine minutes with two penalties.

Barkley replied with a 45-metre kick and made a crucial tackle on Mark van Gisbergen before appearing on Butch James’s shoulder at the other end of the field to link with Nick Abendanon who supplied the scoring pass to Maddock on 18 minutes.

Barkley added the conversion and kicked another penalty to extend the lead to 13-7.

For all the Wasps’ fans expectations, it was Bath’s finishing that was crisp and deadly as Barkley stepped past Steve Kefu and Simon Shaw and found Hooper in support on 26 minutes. Claassens provided support at the crucial moment and Abendanon again provided the scoring pass to Maddock for an unconverted try in the corner.

That was the full-back’s last real contribution of the half after he was sin-binned for blocking Danny Cipriani on the touchline. The fly-half missed the kick but was then presented with another opportunity which allowed him to send his side in at the break 9-18 adrift.

There might have been more points against 14-man Bath but Barkley and Co pulled off a succession of last-ditch tackles which prevented try opportunities but also sapped Wasps’ will.

Cipriani kicked the first points of the second half after 48 minutes and nearly created a try for Paul Sackey with a cross kick from a penalty, when he might have kicked for goal. Then Lee Mears made a try-saving tackle on the France-bound winger.

But the storm blew over and the immaculate Maddock completed his hat-trick on 57 minutes by intercepting a telegraphed floated pass by Cipriani on the 10-metre line. Barkley’s conversion, closely followed by a penalty in front of the posts, stretched the lead to 28-12.

The contest was over to all intents and purposes but Bath needed the bonus point to make it a perfect evening at HQ. It came just three minutes after the hour when the hapless Cipriani dropped a simple pass and Bath went for the jugular.

Replacement prop Nathan Catt barrelled into the tiring Wasps defence, the ball was carried on by his pack and James attacked the short side, flicking an exquisitely timed pass to Barkley for the try. The conversion was a formality.

With 15 minutes left, Cipriani was replaced but still Wasps struggled to display the quality of finishing that had shone through the Bath performance.

Even when David Lemi broke away, giving himself an easy run-in, he chose to pass to scrum-half Joe Simpson who promptly dropped the ball. It was not until the final minute that Ben Jacobs broke away from a scrum to score a try, converted by Dave Walder.

By that time Bath had used all their replacements, Danny Grewcock staying on until the 78th minute of his 200th appearance for the Club and one of the most memorable

8th MAY 2010 BATH V LEEDS

Bath Rugby emphatically booked their place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs for the third year in a row with yet another commanding bonus point victory to round off the regular season.

Five tries took their tally of touchdowns to 49 the best in the league and two better than Leicester, their semi-final opponents last season.

An 11th league victory in 12 matches since Christmas represents the most extraordinary turnaround in fortunes, yielding 49 points out of a possible 60.

But the statistics tell only part of the story. As Leeds discovered, Michael Claassens’ team at times produced dazzling moments of handling and offloading to end any doubt about their right to be contesting the championship.

And the last match of the season was neatly topped and tailed by Joe Maddock, first when he ran out in splendid isolation ahead of the Bath team and then when the little Kiwi winger finished it all off with the final try shortly before the final whistle.

Maddock confirmed afterwards that he would be leaving the club during the summer: “It’s not just about me it’s a family decision, he said. My time at Bath has come to an end. I’m just not able to say where I’m going at the moment.

“I’m just happy that I equalled Banners’ for top try scorer,” he laughed, before adding a little more seriously: “It was emotional though last games always are. It’s not quite over yet though there’s a semi-final and, hopefully, a final.”

The right wing was treated to a huge ovation from the packed stands. It was a heartfelt appreciation for a player whose finishing prowess has marked him out as one of the most prolific try-scorers in the club’s recent history.

If only the weather had been as warm but there was a bitter north-easterly blowing across the Rec as Butch James kicked off.

The first scoring opportunity came almost immediately as Matt Banahan broke clear with Nick Abendanon on his elbow but the full-back was forced into touch just short of the line. Leeds fly-half Ceiron Thomas then rolled a kick 60 metres to the Bath 22 to force Bath on to the defensive but his side clearly lacked a cutting edge, despite the physical presence of centre Seru Rabeni.

Pieter Dixon was off the bench as early as the 11th minute as Lee Mears left the field with a rib injury and looking far from his usual cheerful self.

After 17 minutes of the teams sizing each other up, the game came to life when Davey Wilson suddenly broke clear on a 20-metre charge into the Leeds 22. As the tighthead was finally brought to ground, Bath moved the ball left and Danny Grewcock appeared to force his way over from a melee on the line. The TV Match Official took several looks at the video before ruling ‘no try’.

A minute later, Leeds lost former Bath scrum-half Andy Gomarsall to the sin-bin when he tackled Claassens barely two metres from the penalty mark. After a succession of reset scrums, Bath took advantage of the Gomarsall’s absence when Butch James and Olly Barkley combined to free Abendanon going right and he outpaced Richard Welding as Jon Goodridge drifted wide in an attempt to cover Maddock. Barkley converted from the right touchline across the wind.

The TMO was once more called into action in the 25th minute when Claassens was held on the line but again the decision disappointed the Bath ranks. Leeds’ effort began to wane from this point as the penalty count began to mount against them and Barkley edged his side into a 10-nil lead on 27 minutes from close range.

When Leeds did get a chance to exert some pressure, a fierce Banahan tackle on temporary replacement Henry Paul forced a turnover on the Bath 22. Barkley broke away but his attempted offload was knocked down by fly-half Thomas.

Gomarsall returned from his spell in the bin but, even with 15 on the pitch, the visitors could not stop Claassens scoring direct from a scrum on 33 minutes, breaking inside Thomas’s attempted tackle and then running around behind the posts to leave Barkley with a simple conversion. At 17-nil, the play-offs were already in sight.

A rumble by prop Mike MacDonald raised Leeds hopes but the supporting Rhys Oakley was bundled into touch and as half-time approached, Banahan and Julian Salvi combined to turn Leeds over again.

Apart from Mears, the other significant casualty before the break was referee Martin Fox who appeared to tweak a hamstring and gave way to David Rose.

Four minutes into the second half, Barkley made it 20-nil with a penalty from in front of the posts but Thomas replied almost immediately to give the visitors their only points.

Against the wind and with Bath’s scrummage causing them particular problems, Leeds saw little of the ball. Instead, they were kept busy in defence and Shontayne Hape made considerable yardage in midfield.

Barkley hit the post with a fairly straightforward penalty attempt on 57 minutes but when the ball rebounded, Bath kept possession and the centre wriggled free to send Banahan surging down the left. Thomas half-held the big wing but was unable to prevent the score and Barkley again converted from the touchline.

By this time the home team were in full cry and it was just after the hour mark that Abendanon scored a mesmerising try on the other side of the field, dancing down the touchline after being set free by Dixon’s perfectly timed pass. Could Barkley convert from the touchline again? Yes, he could and the score mounted to 34-3.

By this time there were plenty of new faces off the bench and Ryan Davis even downed the huge Leeds centre Seru Rabeni with a stunning tackle.

For the third time in the game, the TMO was called into action again and for the third time Bath were denied as Claassens claimed a try.

The score that the crowd had been waiting for came on 74 minutes when Dixon again provided the ‘assist’ for Maddock to touch down in the corner. For once, the impeccable Barkley just failed with the conversion.

16th MAY 2010 BATH V LEICESTER (TWICKENHAM)

It was a great adventure, one of the most remarkable turnarounds of any season anywhere, but after dreams of another grand day out at Twickenham, this Guinness Premiership semi-final at Welford Road was a rude awakening for Bath Rugby.

For an hour they stood toe-to-toe with the Tigers pack, denying the home team the merest sniff of a try-scoring chance. Olly Barkley’s penalty kicks put Bath 6-nil ahead at the end of the first quarter but a ‘dogfight’ was never going to give Bath the best chance of winning and when the Tigers settled for a ten-man tactics and penalty kicks, the visitors found it impossible to open up into their renowned off-loading game,

Instead the set-piece came under increasing pressure and Leicester assumed command, as Head Coach Steve Meehan acknowledged: “We found it difficult to get out of their half and when we did get hold of the ball we did show a lack of patience, looking for off-loads that weren’t on.

You know you’ve got to win your set piece to get yourself on the front foot and to put the opposition under pressure. But we weren’t controlling things and that made life difficult. In the first half we did have some opportunities but in the second half we just didn’t get into it.”

Meehan had no quibbles however with the application: “You can’t question the effort they can be very proud of that and at times the defence was outstanding, terrific. As a performance, it was much more applied, more honest, than when we were here last. They can all look themselves in the mirror.”

The Tigers’ line-up saw the return of England players Toby Flood, Louis Deacon and Jordan Crane and, of course, it was Lewis Moody’s farewell to Welford Road before joining the ranks of the blue, black and white after England’s summer tour. There was a huge ovation from the crowd of 21,575 as the England captain ran out alone ahead of his teammates.

Bath confined themselves to one change Matt Carraro for Shontayne Hape at outside centre.

Having drawn 20-20 at the Rec back in September Leicester had won 43-20 in the return league fixture last month and 12 points separated the sides as first and fourth place finishers respectively.

In a frantic first five minutes, Bath caught the home side on the hop. Gifted an attacking line-out when Leicester took the ball back into the 22 before kicking clear, Butch James first slid a teasing kick through for Nick Abendanon and came agonisingly close to scoring from two charge-downs.

Leicester only just scrambled the ball away and battled their way to the Bath 22 only to turn the ball over, sparking a quicksilver counter-attack which saw Lee Mears break away with Luke Watson in support but the last offload went to ground.

The Tigers roared back on to the attack but the Bath defence was equal to everything being thrown at them and won a penalty deep in their 22. A series of deft offloads between Mears, Watson, Michael Claassens, Julian Salvi and Andy Beattie then forced the home defence in to conceding a penalty at the breakdown and Olly Barkley kicked the 11th minute penalty.

Another fine counter-ruck turnover deep in Bath territory saw David Flatman and Matt Banahan come away with the ball. Barkley soon had another chance but was wide from 38 metres out on the left.

The nearest Bath came to scoring a try was when James released Banahan through the traffic and he spilled the ball in the tackle on the line. The chance had come from a scrum when Flatman and Co forced the Leicester front row to go to ground. With no advantage accruing, Barkley made no mistake from the left.

Almost immediately however Toby Flood pulled back three points after Bath were caught offside. Flood pinned Bath back in the corner by the big screen, setting up a series of pick-and-drives but the defence performed heroics to hold the line and then win a scrum.

A great running catch by Abendanon reminded the packed Welford Road stands of the threat he posed but the Tigers pulled level on 36 minutes with a controversial score. The assistant referees could not say with any certainty that Flood’s penalty kick had gone inside the post but, when called into action by referee Chris White, the TMO eventually gave the score.

Turning round at 6-6 Bath went straight in search of a try and James put in another deft kick for Banahan to chase. There was then a prime attacking opportunity after Geordan Murphy’s 22 drop-out went dead at the other end but the ball squirted out of the side of the scrum.

The Bath defensive effort was typified by a huge Watson tackle on Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni and it seemed that even the Tigers realised that they were not going to find a way around or through the tackles.

It then became a game of territory as Ben Youngs and Flood sent kicks deep into Bath territory, setting up the positions from which they would eventually kick the penalties to win the game.

A long throw over the top of the line-out to Andy Beattie eased one sticky moment and Matt Carraro brought off another stunning hit on Alesana Tuilagi. But Leicester built the pressure and Flood missed an angled penalty from 35 metres after Mears was penalised at the back of a ruck. The penalty could easily have been reversed though after a flag was raised, apparently after George Chuter swung a punch at his opposite number.

On the hour Flood finally edged his side 9-6 ahead with a 45-metre kick and, as the Bath line-out began to falter under intense pressure from the Tigers forwards, the England fly-half made it 12-6 on 64 minutes.

In their desperation to find some way out of the ‘choke hold’ exerted by Leicester’s tactics, Bath began to throw increasingly hopeful passes.

And the scrum provided the clinching score when Flatman, driving forward, was adjudged to have taken it down in front of the posts. His exasperation was clear for all to see as Flood’s 72nd minute penalty opened up a two-score gap and the loosehead, whose week had begun so well with a call-up to the England squad, trudged off to be replaced by David Barnes.

There was still time for Barkley to attempt a penalty from long range but his effort drifted wide.

6th AUGUST 2010 AIX V BATH

Bath Rugby were thwarted in the final moments of their opening pre-season fixture in France tonight as Aix scored twice in quick succession to snatch victory 29 – 24.

Whilst the result will not be of great concern to Steve Meehan, coming as the game did after a hard week’s training in France, his staff will need to assess injuries to Scott Hobson and Aaron Jarvis as they return to Bath over the weekend.

Bath, who were coming off the back of a week-long training camp in Provence, took the lead on nine minutes through a Tom Cheeseman try, although Sam Vesty missed the conversion. Pays d’Aix fought back to within two points with a penalty after Stuart Hooper was penalised for not releasing, before a Ross Batty try on 35 minutes gave Bath a 10-3 half-time lead.

Bath fielded a mixture of new signings, emerging youngsters and established first-teamers – but introduced a raft of replacements and soon found themselves 20-10 down after the break. They rallied, though, to take a 24-23 lead through tries from Andy Beattie and Tom Biggs, with Vesty and Paul Roberts claiming a conversion apiece, only for the French side to steal victory with a penalty and drop goal late on.

Bath face Ulster in Belfast on Friday, before rounding off their pre-season preparations with a home match against Edinburgh on August 21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page was added on 15/11/2019.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *