2008-2009

by BRIAN JENKINS

29th AUGUST 2008 BATH V EDINBURGH

A cloudy and humid Friday evening at the Rec saw Bath fail to complete a treble of friendly victories over Celtic sides as they went down 8-19 to Edinburgh.
Bath got off to a great start. A good Bath move saw Joe Maddock make a run down the righthand side of the pitch and jink his way past the opposition defence before popping the ball to Nick Abendanon who then used his pace to take him over the try line and score. Shaun Berne was unable to convert this time round but in the 17th minute he slotted over a penalty to give Bath an 8-0 lead.

Bath went down to 14 men briefly after Jonny Faamatuainu was sin binned for an infringement. Bath then nearly scored in the 32nd after a kick and chase by Andrew Higgins saw Edinburgh just being able to prevent Bath from scoring as players from both side scrambled to put the ball down over the try line.

The rest of the half belonged to the boot of Edinburgh fullback Chris Paterson who hit three successful penalties to give the visitors a 9-8 lead going into the break.

Six minutes in the new half and with Bath pressing the Edinburgh line, a Michael Claassens fumble saw Edinburgh substitute David Callum kick the ball ahead and use impressive ball control to subsequently take the ball 60 metres or so down the pitch, before winger Simon Webster collected it and scored.

In the 57th minute, Edinburgh captain David Blair created the final score of the match when he made a good break which ultimately resulted in a Steven Turnball score. Paterson missed the penalty but Edinburgh led 19-8.

The biggest cheer of the match was left for Bath substitute Matt Banahan when his first touch of the ball saw him make significant yardage before a number of Edinburgh defenders were able to bring him down. However more Bath possession did not result in more points on the scoreboard and Edinburgh took the honours.

 

7th SEPTEMBER 2008 BRISTOL V BATH

After suffering a defeat against Edinburgh in the final of the pre-season friendlies, Bath Rugby were keen to stamp their mark on the opening match of the season against local rival Bristol, and stamp on it they did.

Enjoying three converted tries and four penalties, Bath got their Guinness Premiership campaign off to a perfect start with a 20 – 33 victory at the Memorial Stadium today.

If Bath were hoping for an early try, Bristol managed to fulfil that ambition first as Andrew Blower crossed the line within two minutes in the top right hand corner. Adrian Jarvis’s successful conversion gave Bristol a strong early advantage with a seven point lead. Bath attempted to make up some of the lost points and ground in the form of Peter Short who blasted through the Bristol defence and carried the ball over the halfway line.

A stolen lineout later, Bath’s energy levels were renewed and as the ball dribbled into touch in the corner, Bath were within inches of clawing back some points. Butch James, raring to go following his return from Tri-Nations duty, made a fast pass to Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu who slipped the ball to Joe Maddock on the wing. Stuart Hooper was ready and waiting at the top corner and he narrowly missed the try line as he was felled by a high tackle. The ensuing penalty afforded James the opportunity to reward Bath with their first three points as he kicked a penalty between the sticks.

Determined to keep the ball inside their hosts’ 22, Matt Stevens careered back towards the try line, but was once again halted in the corner. This failed to matter though, as two minutes later, as Maddock cut a perfect angle through the Bristol defence from the halfway line to register Bath’s first try of the match. After 17 minutes, Bath were ahead where they should be with a 7 – 10 lead. The lead was to be short-lived though as James Scaysbrook was penalised for not releasing and Bristol equalised with a second penalty kick from Jarvis. As the clock reached the final eight minutes of the first half, Bath finally broke the stalemate, as a pass to Matt Banahan from James allowed the winger to sprint towards the white line, where Tom Cheeseman was positioned well to take the ball over the white line. As James successfully converted the try, Bath went back into the lead with 10 – 17 advantage. Again the pendulum swung in favour of Bristol as sevens specialist David Lemi created a moment of individual brilliance to gather a kick, skip past a number of Bath defenders, and touch down despite a last-ditch attempt by Justin Harrison. The score roused the home crowd and the scores were locked at 17-17 at the interval.

Keen to press on and take advantage of a dominant scrum, Bath opened the second half in determined fashion. James sparked an early move which was carried on by Banahan, Cheeseman, Claassens and Matt Stevens and resulted in the South African being offered the chance to kick for goal once again. Faced with a difficult angle, the Springbok made no mistake and Bath nosed ahead once again 17-20. James was involved again as he kicked Bath deep inside Bristol’s 22. Captain Claassens took advantage of the ground, making a rapid break towards the try line off-loading to Stevens to finish. Unfortunately the prop was tackled well and Stevens failed to secure the five points. However, Bristol felt under enough pressure to offend again, giving James the chance to boot the ball between the uprights for Bath’s third penalty of the match, taking the score to 17 – 23 at 50 minutes.

The next three minutes saw three points won by both teams, but Bath kept the lead as Butch James, allaying any fears for the kicking calibre of Bath’s team this season, slotted 100% of kicks taken. Not satisfied with the six point lead, Jonny Faamatuainu injected some star quality as he made a defence-fooling break to open the Bristol defence and score near the posts. The conversion by James gave Bath a comfortable 20 – 33 lead. Bristol were given an opportunity to reduce the score divide when David Flatman, having entered the fray at 57 minutes, tackled a player without the ball. This gave Jarvis the chance to take a penalty kick at goal, but as the ball dropped just wide of the posts the score remained in Bath’s favour after 68 minutes.

Bristol made a valiant attempt to rescue the game, as the clock counted down the remaining five minutes and a charge by Greg Barden took the home side close to bonus point range. However, strong defence by Nick Abendanon put pains to that particular move. Bristol refused to buckle, but despite their efforts the action remained deep inside their 22 and Bath held out for an impressive opening victory.

Final score 20-33 to Bath Rugby.

14th SEPTEMBER 2008 BATH V GLOUCESTER

Bath finally surrendered their unbeaten home league record against Gloucester despite a brave late fight back at the Rec.

After trailing 21-5 with little more than 10 minutes to play, two late tries ensured Bath at least took a bonus point from what was a frustrating afternoon for Steve Meehan’s team.

Gloucester went into the match without a win on Bath soil since leagues began in 1987 – but an error-strewn performance from the hosts allowed their fierce rivals to put that record to bed.

Gloucester, beaten by Leicester on the opening weekend, were slicker and more cohesive than their opponents and deservedly claimed that first win at the Rec.

Bath clicked into gear in the closing minutes, with late tries from Joe Maddock and Nick Abendanon giving them hope – but Gloucester held firm to seal the four points.

“The fightback is supposed to start in the first minute of the match,” said head coach Meehan. “But we lost our way and the speed of our game wasn’t what it should have been. We saw in the last 15 minutes that when the tempo is up there and we use the width we are threatening. It was disappointing and there will be some truths told on Monday.”

Gloucester made a flying start when Willie Walker dropped a goal from the 22-metre line inside the opening minute, before missing a long-range penalty.

Bath punished his miss when they kicked a penalty to touch, Peter Short secured possession at the back of the line-out and put Jonny Fa’amatuainu through a gap. He was stopped, but managed to pop the ball up to returning skipper Michael Lipman to score.

Fly-half Butch James missed the conversion – as he did two first-half penalties – as Bath failed to capitalise on a brief period of dominance.

And Gloucester took advantage when Walker slotted a penalty after Bath were penalised at the ruck – and despite losing lock Will James to the sin bin on 32 minutes, Gloucester increased their lead through another Walker penalty.

James Simpson-Daniel’s tackle on Matt Banahan denied Bath a try early in the second half, before two more penalty misses by Springbok star James took his missed points tally to 13 for the afternoon.

Gloucester soon made Bath pay, No 8 Luke Narraway picked up from the base of a scrum 30 metres out and ran through unopposed to score. Walker missed the conversion but the visitors now led 14-5.

And that became 21-5 when James was charged down by Walker just inside the 22 – and the Kiwi ran through to score next to the posts and convert his own try.

Bath looked a beaten team at that point – but then played some of their most fluent rugby of the match in the closing stages.

First they worked the ball wide from a line-out, with Maddock being put through a gap to score out wide. Shaun Berne’s conversion made it 21-12.

And then they added a third try when Abendanon stepped past Mike Tindall and into space – and raced in to reduce the deficit even further, although Berne missed the conversion.

Bath sensed victory – but they had left it too late, and Short’s knock-on in a wide position signalled the end of the contest and Gloucester’s first ever league win at the Rec.

 

2nd OCTOBER 2008 WASPS V BATH

Adams Park proved to be a bogey ground for Bath Rugby last season, yet on a bitter evening in Buckinghamshire, Bath made amends in the best possible way, defeating champions London Wasps 23-27 in an exhilarating match to move to the top of the Guinness Premiership table.

Michael Claassens, Matt Stevens, Pieter Dixon and Joe Maddock scored tries for Bath ensuring a maximum-point haul from the away fixture. It was also an impressive performance, reminiscent of the Bath that set the Guinness Premiership alight last season, outlining the club’s title intentions.

On this form, there would be few who would disagree. Starting as they had finished against Worcester at the weekend, Bath wasted no time in taking the game to the champions and were rewarded with a deserved try from Michael Claassens after five minutes.

The build-up was all about power and brawn as Matt Stevens and Justin Harrison provided the impetus to drive Bath into the Wasps 22. The finish though was classic fluid Bath as Nick Abendanon’s clever chip split the Wasps defence and provided the opportunity for Pieter Dixon to charge towards the champions’ line. The hooker was hailed down off the whitewash, but Claassens was on hand to finish the move. Butch James missed with the conversion attempt, but Bath were five points up and in control.

The pressure was unrelenting. Bath were in control and after a prolonged period of possession deep inside Wasps territory, Bath were awarded a scrum feet from the Wasps line and with it the chance of extending the lead. The platform allowed the Bath pack to drive forward before before Stevens forced his way over for his side’s second try. James made up for his earlier miss, booting the ball between the sticks for the conversion.

The champions were not going to give up without a fight and Paul Sackey, doing his bit to reverse the 12-0 deficit, made a scintillating break, side-stepping through the Bath defence before being eventually halted by Alex Crockett. It was an important tackle, but an offside infringement gave Wasps a small chance to reduce the points deficit as fly half Cipriani kicked the ball straight between the posts for the penalty.

It was to be a brief lapse against the run of play and Bath nearly added a third try. Jonny Faamatuainu’s show and go gave him the space to career up towards the line. Joe Maddock, supporting all the way, continued the charge and Stevens made a lunge for the line. Inches from the line and with Harrison staying on the floor, the melee did not conclude with a try.

Instead, Wasps fought back and a Bath infringement allowed Cipriani to put his boot into action again. The kick seemingly sailed through the posts, the assistant referee’s flags went up, but the Referee did not accept the kick, perplexing the home support. There was no mistake two minutes later though when another Bath offence allowed Cipriani to decrease the score gap to 6-12 after 35 minutes.

The score served to boost Wasps and after another strong Sackey break, Cipriani off-loaded to Riki Flutey who went over for the try Cipriani’s conversion gave Wasps a 13-12 lead.

A difficult period for the visitors was further compounded when another Bath infringement invited Cipriani to win a further three points for his side. The young England international made no mistake and Wasps went in at half time with a 16-12 lead.

Determined to recover the lead, Bath Rugby came back with renewed aggression in the second half as prop Stevens charged through Phil Vickery, offloading to Claassens who in turn passed to Harrison and then to Cuthbert who came close in the corner. Quick recycled ball kept Bath on the front foot and the ball was rapidly shipped to the other wing where Dixon was waiting to score the try that handed the visitors the lead once more. James pulled the conversion just wide, but Bath were simmering.

Cipriani, having scored 12 of his side’s 16 points, was penalised for a shoulder barge on Butch James. For the offender it was to be his last act of the game as the rehabilitated Cipriani made way for Staunton, but for James it was another routine three points to take Bath to a four point lead.

In an exciting seesaw of a match, Wasps took the lead once more as after a series of scrums close to the Bath line, flanker Tom Rees forced his way through the pack to touch down for the try. A conversion by Staunton gave Wasps a further two points and a 23-21 lead.

The lead was to be short-lived. Seconds later Abendanon burst past Josh Lewsey and Dominic Waldouck to find Maddock in support for the try that brought up the try scoring bonus point for the European Challenge Cup champions. It was also a second try in as many matches from the in-form Maddock. James converted and Bath were 23-27 to the good.

With time running out, Wasps embarked on desperate catch-up rugby. With pressure mounting, Wasps trying everything and Bath throwing everything at protecting the lead, both teams failed to demonstrate the same flair that had been shown earlier in the match.

Enjoying the benefit of the fresh legs of Lee Mears, Andrew Higgins and Duncan Bell, Bath put in a final effort to really make amends for the losses last season at Adams Park and held on valiantly to secure a 23- 27 victory that took Bath to the top of the Guinness Premiership table.

 

12th OCTOBER 2008 TOULOUSE V BATH

Bath Rugby’s opening Heineken Cup fixture against Toulouse was always going to be a fierce affair, but nothing could have prepared either side for the dramatic final minute victory for the home side that snatched the glory from Bath Rugby in the dying seconds. After a nail-bitingly close 80 minutes, Toulouse came out on top with a final score of 18-16.

After 80 tense minutes, the visitors looked to have sealed a famous victory after Nick Abendanon sliced through the French defence to score a timely try, only to have the win slip through their fingers as David Skrela capitalised an infringement five metres from the Bath line to kick the winning points.

Bath began with a determination that matched the intensity of the 37,000 cheering fans, as good interplay between Butch James, Matt Stevens and Matt Banahan ensured that ground was made into the hosts’ 22 in the opening five minutes. A clearance kick from Yannick Jauzion gave Toulouse a brief moment of respite, but the relentless charges from Bath kept the pressure firmly on the men in black and red and it was not long before Toulouse were penalised for holding on to the ball in the ruck
and James slotted the penalty kick perfectly between the posts for the first points of Bath’s Heineken Cup campaign after 11 minutes.

The defending champions came back with sudden ferocity as their captain Jean Bouilhou ploughed into an awaiting David Flatman, before off-loading to fly half David Skrela who was in turn taken down by Peter Short. The hosts were given a chance to equalise as Bath were penalised for a knock on and Skrela took the penalty, successfully scoring three points at 17 minutes.

With twenty minutes gone and the scores locked at three points a piece, Bath were determined to forge into the lead and James, Alex Crockett and Abendanon made some swift passes to ensure that Bath were heading dangerously towards Toulouse territory. Skrela made a break, but was met by Flatman, proving steady in defence against the French side and as the fly half attempted to make a clearance kick, Bath team captain Michael Lipman made a good interception. However, it was not enough and
moments later Maleli Kunavore broke away from the Rec defence and sprinted towards the try line. The ball rolled into touch in goal and relentless drives from Toulouse were not enough to secure the try.

With just three minutes of the first half left on the clock, both teams were desperate for that much needed five points and Skrela was back on the attack as he once again put in a strong run towards the Bath defence. Supported by Cedric Heymans, they made good headway towards the visitor’s 22 and as Bath were penalised for hands in the ruck, the number 10 awarded Toulouse with a further three points before the half-time whistle., Bath responded with a clearance kick from James and although it met with the hand of a Frenchman before going into touch on Toulouse’s 22 metre line, Bath were not awarded the ball. However, with the action now firmly implanted in Bath’s favour, an offside offence from the hosts gave James the chance to equalise at the break. But with the loud boos from the home fans, James failed to slot the kick.

The score remained at 6 – 3 to Toulouse at half-time.

Coming back on for the second half, Toulouse were set upon making an instant statement of intent immediately forging their way into Bath’s 22 and forcing them to offend. Skrela took the penalty and kicked another three points for his team. However, three minutes later Bath responded with a try. Having made headway inside their opponent’s 22, James was the victim of a high tackle that resulted in a scrum. As the offender tackler tried to peel the ball from the scrum, James intercepted the
pass and Michael Claassens finished the move by slipping over the line. James missed the conversion and at 47 minutes, Bath were behind by just one point.

The intensity heightened as the clock reached 50 minutes, when Lee Mears broke down midfield, performed a dummy and offloaded to Jonny Faamatuainu in support. Faamatuainu made a swift pass to Claassens, who kicked towards the white line, but Jannick Jauzion cleared the ball, preventing Bath from reducing the score divide. Instead, Toulouse increased it 10 minutes later as Bath were penalised once again for hands in the ruck and Skrela booted the hosts into a 12 – 8 lead. Toulouse did not enjoy the four point lead for long though, as three minutes following Skrela’s kick, James slotted three points of his own, leading Bath to bite at the ankles of the French team.

The final ten minutes were nailbiting. Yet another penalty kick from Skrela secured Toulouse in the winning seat with a four-point lead, and as the clock continued to count down, Bath were desperate to claim the lead. As the Rec contingent burst deep inside the Toulouse 22, James kicked to the corner for a line out. Bath won possession and Butch off-loaded to Tom Cheeseman who had replaced Matt Banahan and the Welsh winger slipped the ball to Nick Abendanon for the try. The following
seconds were tense as the referee waited for the signal from the video replay to award the try and with just three minutes left on the clock, it looked as though Bath may have clinched the win.

After the try was finally awarded, Bath claimed possession and looked to close out the game. However, in attempting to keep the ball tight and run down the clock, control was lost and the ball squirted out for Toulouse to attack. Bath’s defence was desperate and an attempting to prevent a try, the West Countrymen were forced to concede a penalty, handing Toulouse the opportunity they needed.

As Skrela stepped up to kick his sixth successful penalty, the stadium fell silent. The Frenchman seemed to have pushed the ball wide of the left upright, but to Skrela’s relief the ball shaved the post and fell on the right side of the posts to seal a 18-16 victory for Toulouse.

19th OCTOBER 2008 BATH V NEWPORT DRAGONS

The lights may be going out on the EDF Energy Cup as we know it as event organisers look to revamp the competition for next season, yet Bath Rugby re-ignited their Cup campaign with a 21-24 victory in a stirring encounter at Edgeley Park.

Fielding a team with more experience than that which faced Leicester at The Rec, Bath arrived in Stockport in purposeful mood, determined to record a first victory at the ground in over a year. However, the visitors made a far from perfect start, as the Sharks’ Charlie Hodgson proved his worth with the boot, kicking two penalties within the first eleven minutes to give his side an early six-point lead.

Bath were beaten 19-15 in their opening EDF Energy Cup fixture against the Tigers at The Rec and it looked as though it would be two fruitless matches in a row in the competition as Sale continued to dominate the contact area, preventing the west country side from clawing their way back into the game.

Despite the best efforts of Jack Cuthber, in for the rested Butch James, and League convert Shontayne Hape, Sale continued to dominate the match. Whenever Bath did secure good field position, they were turned over and although good interplay between Tom Cheeseman, Jack Cuthbert and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu took Bath within reach, the Sharks regained possession and a kick from Hodgson gave Chris Bell an opening to fly up the wing and cross the line for the opening try. Hodgson’s successful conversion catapulted Sharks into a 13 – 0 lead.

However, with the clock ticking rapidly towards the end of the first half, Bath were determined not to leave the pitch without winning some points of their own and after a fracas midfield, which resulted in the sin-binning of Brent Cockbain, fullback Cuthbert booted the ball into touch in the top left hand corner. The men in black, white and blue won the ensuing line out and lock Stuart Hooper forced over the line for five points. Cuthbert kicked the conversion square between the sticks just before the whistle, reducing the deficit to six points with a half-time score of 13-7 to Sale.

Bath re-entered the fray with no changes and determined to push on from their opening score. After 48 minutes and a number of frustrated skirmishes, the visitors were awarded a penalty kick after a Sale infringement at the tackle. Cuthbert continued his accurate kicking and took Bath to within three points of the leaders. However, two minutes later the score was cancelled out as Hodgson kicked another three points to give the Sharks a 16-10 lead after 50 minutes.

Six points down, Bath did not have to wait long before they bombarded into the lead as Hape and Michael Stephenson crossed the line within five minutes of each other. Hape made his debut five-pointer following a combined effort between Josh Ovens, Scott Bemand and Fuimaono-Sapolu and Stephenson made the most of an interception by Bath captain, Lipman. With Cuthbert successfully kicking both conversions, the visitors rattled into a deserving 16-24 lead.

Sale threatened to grab back the lead and whilst Cuthbert and Hape managed to fend off a sequence of charges from Andy Tuilagi and Bell, the defenders could not hold them at bay for long and Bell managed to benefit from some good team play from the Sharks and reward them with a try with seven minutes left on the clock. Hodgson missed the conversion and Sale sat tentatively on the heels of Bath – three points behind.

The final minutes were nail-biting after a burst up-field from Hodgson on the wing looked like a certain try, but a good chase and tackle from winger Rhys Crane stopped him just feet away from the try line. Although the Sharks continued to put in fierce attempts for the five points which would offer them the victory, Bath refused to relent and as the final whistle blew, Bath remained the winners with a final score of 21-24.

Bath Rugby bounced back from last weekend’s heartbreaking defeat in Toulouse with a hard-fought 13-9 Heineken Cup victory against Newport Gwent Dragons at the Rec.
It may have been far from the classic running Rugby fest that had been predicted as the Dragons produced a stoic defensive performance to stem Bath’s try haul to just a solitary score by replacement wing Andrew Higgins. But, the men in black, white and blue are now back in contention, and trail reigning champions Toulouse by 3 points in Pool 5.

In cool, blustery conditions, Bath had the better of the scrappy opening exchanges, eventually getting on the scoreboard after 14 minutes when Butch James slotted over a routine penalty to give the home side a 3-0 lead.

The points served to inject life into Bath’s attacks as the Guinness Premiership leaders pressed deep inside Newport territory. James missed a chance to boot his side to a 6-0 lead before Joe Maddock made a blistering break to take Bath deep inside the 22. Alex Crockett, Michael Lipman and Nick Abendanon drove play on, before the Dragons finally infringed in desperation, allowing James the opportunity to kick Bath to a 6-0 lead.

With the Dragons frustrating Bath at the breakdown, the game began to boil over and when Colin Charvis was sin-binned for persistent infringement, Bath pushed to extend their lead with a much needed try and as Banahan burst through the yellow and red defence, offloading to Jonny Faamatuainu close to the line. Unfortunately for the Samoan and Bath, the final pass to Crockett went astray and the chance was lost.

As the clock counted down for the final five minutes of the first half, Michael Claassens was replaced by Scott Bemand. Bath’s second try scoring opportunity followed as Stevens punched upfield, providing the space for Banahan to set off on another incisive run only for the west country side to be penalized for holding on. The Dragons cleared as Bath held a 6-0 advantage at the break.

The second half opened with an instant three points for the Dragons as Bath were penalised for going over the top. Bath were quick to respond as, immediately after the kick, Banahan exploded through the defence. However, a knock-on prevented the conclusion of the move and Bath were left with just a three point lead.

Bath were intent on imposing increasing pressure on the visiting team and a series of offences invited James to go for a penalty kick from the halfway line on 50 minutes. The South African pushed the ball wide, but when Lewis Evans was shown the yellow card for further infringement by the Dragons, Stevens made a break down the wing, offloading to Stuart Hooper as he was tackled by Richard Fussell.

The break did not reap the intended rewards however and the Dragons took back possession, displaying enough attacking play of their own to force Bath back inside their own 22 and at 58 minutes the Dragons kicked to the top left corner for a line out. Bath refused to give in and just as Dragons’ prop Rhys Thomas looked good to score, Joe Maddock exploded away from Bath’s territory to prohibit the try.

No sooner had replacement Andrew Higgins entered the fray than Bath finally registered the try that they dearly sought. The winger combined with Berne to score in the corner and although the referee required the assistance of the TMO, the try was rewarded much to the delight of a capacity Rec crowd. James was on target with the touchline conversion and Bath had a 13-3 lead with 13 minutes to go.
Any thoughts of Bath cutting loose were quickly halted as the Dragons registered three points after Stuart Hooper was penalised for hands in the ruck, but Bath were still sitting pretty with a 10 point lead.

A penalty from Connor at 73 minutes took the Dragons to within four points of the leaders to set up a nervous finish. With the Welsh team desperate to claw back the points and the clock showing 80 minutes, James cleared the ball into the stands to secure a 13-9 win

received a ‘hair drying’ from their coach, but whatever was said it certainly did the trick as the Tigers responded with two penalties in swift succession from Hougaard.

Bath had the advantage on the board, but on the pitch the pendulum had swung as Bath struggled to claim quality possession. Meehan threw on fresh legs in the form of Andy Beattie, Aaron Jarvis and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu in an attempt to halt the slide and the home side responded with a steadying period, despite not showing the fluidity of the first half.

It was to be the briefest of respites. Sniffing the glimpse of a chance of another victory at the Rec, the Tigers upped the pressure and launched series of late raids on the Bath line using the heavy artillery of a pack primed for the close quarter encounters. Leicester are not best known for pretty rugby, but nobody could accuse the perennial champions of being anything other than effective and after a sustained period of pressure, Johne Murphy went over in the corner. The five points were bolstered 10 minutes later when replacement hooker Mefin Davies barraged over the line for the try that put his team in contention.

The Rec crowd fell silent as Geordan Murphy, not a renowned goal kicker, stepped up to take the conversion. The Ireland international made no mistake and Leicester had a dramatic 21-20 lead with three minutes on the clock.

Yet, like so many of these epic encounters, there was a sting in the tail and showing great resolve. Bath launched one final attack in the last 20 seconds and James, kicking to the wing, found Crockett, who passed back inside to James for a dramatic try. James did not get the conversion, however the delirium was such, it barely seemed to matter.

24th OCTOBER 2008 SALE V BATH

The lights may be going out on the EDF Energy Cup as we know it as event organisers look to revamp the competition for next season, yet Bath Rugby re-ignited their Cup campaign with a 21-24 victory in a stirring encounter at Edgeley Park.

Fielding a team with more experience than that which faced Leicester at The Rec, Bath arrived in Stockport in purposeful mood, determined to record a first victory at the ground in over a year. However, the visitors made a far from perfect start, as the Sharks’ Charlie Hodgson proved his worth with the boot, kicking two penalties within the first eleven minutes to give his side an early six-point lead.

Bath were beaten 19-15 in their opening EDF Energy Cup fixture against the Tigers at The Rec and it looked as though it would be two fruitless matches in a row in the competition as Sale continued to dominate the contact area, preventing the west country side from clawing their way back into the game.

Despite the best efforts of Jack Cuthber, in for the rested Butch James, and League convert Shontayne Hape, Sale continued to dominate the match. Whenever Bath did secure good field position, they were turned over and although good interplay between Tom Cheeseman, Jack Cuthbert and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu took Bath within reach, the Sharks regained possession and a kick from Hodgson gave Chris Bell an opening to fly up the wing and cross the line for the opening try. Hodgson’s successful conversion catapulted Sharks into a 13 – 0 lead.

However, with the clock ticking rapidly towards the end of the first half, Bath were determined not to leave the pitch without winning some points of their own and after a fracas midfield, which resulted in the sin-binning of Brent Cockbain, fullback Cuthbert booted the ball into touch in the top left hand corner. The men in black, white and blue won the ensuing line out and lock Stuart Hooper forced over the line for five points. Cuthbert kicked the conversion square between the sticks just before the whistle, reducing the deficit to six points with a half-time score of 13-7 to Sale.

Bath re-entered the fray with no changes and determined to push on from their opening score. After 48 minutes and a number of frustrated skirmishes, the visitors were awarded a penalty kick after a Sale infringement at the tackle. Cuthbert continued his accurate kicking and took Bath to within three points of the leaders. However, two minutes later the score was cancelled out as Hodgson kicked another three points to give the Sharks a 16-10 lead after 50 minutes.

Six points down, Bath did not have to wait long before they bombarded into the lead as Hape and Michael Stephenson crossed the line within five minutes of each other. Hape made his debut five-pointer following a combined effort between Josh Ovens, Scott Bemand and Fuimaono-Sapolu and Stephenson made the most of an interception by Bath captain, Lipman. With Cuthbert successfully kicking both conversions, the visitors rattled into a deserving 16-24 lead.

Sale threatened to grab back the lead and whilst Cuthbert and Hape managed to fend off a sequence of charges from Andy Tuilagi and Bell, the defenders could not hold them at bay for long and Bell managed to benefit from some good team play from the Sharks and reward them with a try with seven minutes left on the clock. Hodgson missed the conversion and Sale sat tentatively on the heels of Bath – three points behind.

The final minutes were nail-biting after a burst up-field from Hodgson on the wing looked like a certain try, but a good chase and tackle from winger Rhys Crane stopped him just feet away from the try line. Although the Sharks continued to put in fierce attempts for the five points which would offer them the victory, Bath refused to relent and as the final whistle blew, Bath remained the winners with a final score of 21-24.

 

 

31st OCTOBER 2008 CARDIFF V BATH

Bath gave a good account of themselves on Friday night but a try from Andrew Higgins and a penalty try awarded for a high tackle on Joe Maddock were unable to prevent Cardiff from claiming a 24-18 home win.

Early Bath pressure was rewarded with a penalty and fullback Jack Cuthbert was able to put Bath into a 3-0 lead.

The lead was short lived however with Cardiff soon scoring a try. Blues fly-half Nick Robinson put brother Jamie Robinson through the Bath defence, the centre then drew his man before offloading to flanker Maama Molitika who ran on to score underneath the posts. Cardiff fullback Ben Blair was on hand to hit an easy conversion.

The Blue nearly added to their previous score with another try when a chip behind the Bath defence nearly exposing Bath in their try area. Only last ditch covering from Cuthbert prevented a try.

Blair then extended Cardiff’s lead with two penalties to take the score to 13-3. The last ten minutes of the half saw Bath continually attack the Blues line, but excellent defence kept the visitors from closing the score gap. Cuthbert did have one more attempt on goal just before the break, but he was unable to convert a kick from a difficult angle.

Early in the second half, Cuthbert was substituted for Tom Cheeseman for precautionary reasons after he was on the end of a jarring tackle.

Bath were rewarded with a penalty and an extra man in the 55th minute after blues centre Tom Shanklin was shown a yellow card for persistently putting his hands in the ruck. There was then a surprise for the Bath faithful with the appearance of Joe Maddock as kicker. The New Zealander got his Bath kicking record off to a good start, kicking the ball straight between the uprights. 13-6.

Maddock’s effort was cancelled out two minutes later when Blair converted a penalty for the blues.

Maddock’s night still had a few more twists in store. In the 64th minute, a brilliant turn of pace saw him set off on a mesmerising run before he was brought down by a high tackle by Jason Spice right on the try line. A penalty try was awarded but Spice was not personally penalised with a card. Maddock then had a simple conversion charged down in front of the posts, perhaps still suffering from the tackle inflicted on him moments earlier. 16-11.

After a missed penalty by Blair, Cardiff then took the game to Bath and blue, black and whites were lucky not concede a try on a few occasions. However the pressure soon told and the Blues scored from a scrum, with former Bath prop Taufa’ao Filise taking the ball over the whitewash.

In the closing exchanges of the match, the hard and powerful runs that winger Andrew Higgins had been making all match were rewarded after quick ball through slick hands enabled him to score. Shaun Berne’s conversion cut the deficit to 21-18 before Blair was able to finish the game off with a successful penalty that was awarded after the sin-binning of Stuart Hooper.

15th NOVEMBER 2008 BATH V LEICESTER

This 25-21 victory was not a match for the faint-hearted. If Bath Rugby are to lift the Guinness Premiership title for the first time in a decade, they will not want to do so in the heart-stopping fashion in which they defeated the Tigers at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.

Having opened up a commanding 20-3 first half lead, Bath were cruising. Yet in a highly-dramatic second half, Leicester came storming back. The Tigers appeared to have sealed an unlikely victory in the dying moments, only for Butch James to step up and seal a dramatic win and maintain Bath’s advantage at the top of the table.

For James, the try capped a solid return to action after a two-week break to rest weary muscles after nearly two full years of continuous rugby. The Springbok came out with all cylinders firing, kicking the first of the game after six minutes when Leicester conceived a penalty from a lineout offence.

It was the kick-start that Bath required against their old adversary, but the buffer did not last long as Leicester’s forwards formidably drove their way towards the Bath line. Bath recovered, but under immense pressure Scott Bemand could not get the ball away and the home side offered Derrick Hougaard the chance to go for goal. The South African needed no second invitation and the scores were level.

One of Bath’s qualities this season has been their ability to remain calm under pressure and the black, white and blues, came storming back in the form of livewire hooker Pieter Dixon, who showed a great turn of pace to sprint fully 40 metres for a try that roused the Rec crowd. As the South African sucked in the air after his efforts, James calmly slotted over the conversion to give Bath a deserved 10-3 lead after 16 minutes.

Bath continued to apply the pressure and after Duncan Bell, Shaun Berne and the returning Daniel Browne propelled the home side into dangerous territory, Leicester concede a penalty once more and James extended the lead with his second penalty.

Bath versus Leicester encounters have always enjoyed an ‘edge’ and true to form tempers flared with a liberal dose of handbags on view and when play resumed it was Bath who weathered the bout better, creating the opportunity for Browne to cross for the home side’s second try on the stroke of half time. James, fresh and kicking beautifully, duly kicked the conversion and Bath went in at half time with a handy 20-3 advantage.

Having failed to get out of first gear in the first half, Leicester started the second period with much more conviction. No doubt the players received a ‘hair drying’ from their coach, but whatever was said it certainly did the trick as the Tigers responded with two penalties in swift succession from Hougaard.

Bath had the advantage on the board, but on the pitch the pendulum had swung as Bath struggled to claim quality possession. Meehan threw on fresh legs in the form of Andy Beattie, Aaron Jarvis and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu in an attempt to halt the slide and the home side responded with a steadying period, despite not showing the fluidity of the first half.

It was to be the briefest of respites. Sniffing the glimpse of a chance of another victory at the Rec, the Tigers upped the pressure and launched series of late raids on the Bath line using the heavy artillery of a pack primed for the close quarter encounters. Leicester are not best known for pretty rugby, but nobody could accuse the perennial champions of being anything other than effective and after a sustained period of pressure, Johne Murphy went over in the corner. The five points were bolstered 10 minutes later when replacement hooker Mefin Davies barraged over the line for the try that put his team in contention.

The Rec crowd fell silent as Geordan Murphy, not a renowned goal kicker, stepped up to take the conversion. The Ireland international made no mistake and Leicester had a dramatic 21-20 lead with three minutes on the clock.

Yet, like so many of these epic encounters, there was a sting in the tail and showing great resolve. Bath launched one final attack in the last 20 seconds and James, kicking to the wing, found Crockett, who passed back inside to James for a dramatic try. James did not get the conversion, however the delirium was such, it barely seemed to matter.

22nd NOVEMBER 2008 NORTHAMPTON V BATH

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.

30th NOVEMBER 2008 HARLEQUINS V BATH

Bath came away with a bonus point from the match against Harlequins on Sunday losing 21-14 at the Stoop.

The opening 10 minutes saw both sides’ trade penalties with Butch James and Quins fly-half Nick Evans landing two penalties each to put the sides level at 6-6.
In the 18th minute with Bath under pressure, a late tackle gifted the home side a penalty. Evans was unable to covert however and the scores remained level. Minutes later Bath nearly capitalised on some unease in the Harlequins twenty-two with Matt Banahan inches away from charging down a clearance kick to touch.

In the 27th minute Bath regained the lead with James hitting a penalty from a difficult angle out on the left. 6-9 to Bath. A period of sustained Quins possession was then rewarded with a penalty in the 34th minute and Evans slotted home to equal the scores.

The remaining minutes of the first half saw more of the same but Quins were unable to capitalise despite a putting a number of testing kicks behind the blue, black and whites defence. The sides went into the break on a 9-9 stalemate.

The game did not seem like it would be any different in the second half with both sides trading kicks in the opening exchanges. In the 47th minute the game came alive. A good kick to the corner by Harlequins winger Seb Stegmann put Bath under pressure but from the resulting line-out, Bath counter-attacked and within 30 seconds they had effectively taken the ball right up to the other end of the pitch with some crisp passing that had Quins on the back foot.

The platform laid out by this break resulted in Dan Browne crossing the whitewash in the 47th minute. From the break down Bath moved the ball from the left side of the field quickly before hooker Pieter Dixon was able to break through the Quins defence and then pop the ball to Browne who muscled his way over. James missed the conversion but Bath took a 14-9 lead.

Matt Banahan was then involved in one potential game saving incident and one potential game winning one. First a good tackle took the momentum out of what was almost a certain try for Quins and then minutes later he looked almost certain to score himself by capitalising on loose ball, only to have to be called back with the ref judging that Michael Claassens had knocked the ball on out of a tackle.

In the 62nd minute, Quins levelled the scores with Jordan Turner Hall breaking resilient Bath defence to score. Like James earlier, Evans missed the conversion. As Quins stepped up the pace looking for a winning try, prop Ceri Jones crashed over the line in the 69th minute and Evans hit the two extras to put the home side into a 21-14 lead.

Bath then had to take the game to Quins. In the dying minutes they were awarded a penalty but rather than go for the uprights they had no choice but to opt for an attacking platform and went for a scrum. Despite their best efforts Bath were unable to breakthrough and Quins kicked the ball to safety to end the match.

 7th DECEMBER 2008 BATH V GLASGOW

Bath Rugby won 35-31 against Glasgow Warriors in the Heineken Cup recording a four try bonus point victory as they only just held off the determined visitors to win at The Rec.

The opening try of what was to become a high scoring game was scored in the 5th minute by Glasgow. Spilt ball by Bath fullback Nick Abendanon was kicked ahead by Max Evans and eluded Butch James. Glasgow wing Tom Evans then came in at an angle to score. The extras were added by Ruaridh Jackson. Bath then had plenty of time on the ball but errors cost them. However a Butch James penalty from 45metres out closed the score to 3-7.

In the 22nd minute after an Abendanon break, Michael Stephenson was hauled down just before the try line but Bath were penalised for crossing. Glasgow missed a penalty in the 27th minute.

Bath’s endeavours on the attacking front finally paid off in the 32nd minute. A James chip and chase from within his own half unleashed Matt Banahan and only a last ditch football style clearance from Glasgow prevented the big winger from scoring. From the resulting line-out and maul, Andy Beattie was just able to get enough pressure on the ball for it to be awarded as a try by the television match official. James missed the penalty. 8-7.

The lead was short lived however and Glasgow’s Tom Evans crossed for his second try of the afternoon in the 35th minute, breaking through the Bath defence to score. Gregor converted.

Bath ended the first half’s scoring through a James penalty in the 38th minute. The half-time score was 11-14 to the visitors.

The second half started with Michael Stephenson crossing the whitewash in the 44th minute to restore Bath’s lead. James’ conversion and a penalty opportunity four minutes later put Bath 21-14 ahead.

Glasgow responded quickly. An Andrew Henderson kick slipped beneath Stephenson and allowed Tom Evans to claim a well deserved hatrick. Gregor hit the upright and Bath kept the lead.

Stephenson made amends for the earlier mistake to score his second try in the 55th minute. Claassens’ pass from the breakdown to James, saw the fly-half pop the ball to Stephenson on the angle and the winger scored. James’ conversion made it 28-19.

With both teams running the ball and the game going from end to end, Matt Banahan’s charge through the Glasgow defence culminated in Shaun Berne scoring. James again converted. 35-19.

Far from looking down and out, Glasgow took the game to Bath and scored two tries. Hefin O’Hare scored the first and then in the 74th minute, Ruaridh Jackson intercepted an Abendanon pass to run unopposed to the line. With one try converted, Glasgow were within one try of winning the match.

And that try so nearly happened for the Scottish outfit. Jackson once again broke through the Bath defence and it was only the pace of Nick Abendanon that allowed the England international to put the ball into touch and end the game for a relieved Bath Rugby.

 14th DECEMBER 2008 GLASGOW V BATH

With Toulouse securing victory in Newport, a solid win was essential if Bath Rugby were to hang to the French giant’s coat tails and entertain realistic ambitions of qualifying for the Heineken Cup as either pool winners or progressing as one of the two best runners-up.

After a disappointing defensive display against Glasgow at the Rec a week ago, it was also important for the West Country side to return to the mean form of the autumn period and bring some early Christmas cheer to the Rec faithful.

On both counts Bath Rugby delivered, proving just why they are, on their day, one of the toughest teams in the competition. Despite Glasgow’s intent to hustle and harass their opponents, Bath stuck to their guns, conceding just one try, while Matt Banahan’s brace laid the foundations for another five-point haul.

The visitors wasted no time in putting three points on the scoreboard as Glasgow were penalised for not rolling away inside their own 22 after just two minutes. Butch James converted the opportunity and Bath slipped into an instant lead. However, the lead was to be short lived as Scotland international Dan Parks made an equalising kick after five minutes.

Determined to take control of the match, Bath went on the attack and after some good interplay between Michael Claassens, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and Butch James, kicked ahead for Banahan to chase and the giant winger won the race to the corner to grab the opening try. James failed the conversion, but Bath had eight points in the bag after as many minutes.

Glasgow have proven over the two legs that they have plenty of heart and playing like for like and point for point, a strong drive from the Warriors took them deep into Bath Rugby’s danger zone and Colin Gregor rewarded his team with five points of their own. The conversion by Parks took them into a 10-8 lead after 11 minutes.

It was to prove a turning point in the half as Glasgow, in the ascendancy, took the Game to the 1998 champions. Playing with the same fluidity as they had a week previously, Glasgow worked themselves into a good position once more, forcing an infringement from the Bath defence. Parks, returning to the side after missing the encounter at the Rec, wasted no time in slotting the ball directly between the sticks to extend the hosts lead to 13-8 at the interval.

The second half started with Bath looking to seize the initiative and the visitors wasted no time in creating an opportunity. Fuimaono-Sapolu came close after Joe Maddock, Nick Abendanon and Michael Claassens had caused havoc..

The excellent work was not rewarded with a try, but five minutes later the breakthrough came as Abendanon and James paved the way for Shaun Berne to cross the line for his second try in as many weeks. The score was a relief to the Bath fans as the scores were levelled, but the conversion was missed by James to leave the scores levelled.

Despite having their Heineken ambitions quashed at the Rec, Glasgow refused to buckle and it took an almighty defensive effort from the men in black, white and blue to keep the Warriors at bay. However, the Scots moved into the lead once more as Parks kicked another penalty after 51 minutes.

Continuing with nail-biting intensity and a see-sawing scoreline, a lineout inside Glasgow’s 22, was won by replacement Jonny Faamatuianu who slipped the ball to scrum half Claassens for another break out. After excellent work from James, Fuimaono-Sapolu and Abendanon, Matt Banahan was set free to for Bath’s third try as the giant Jersey man bombarded over for a superb score – Banahan ‘nose’ the way.

Glasgow refused to ease with the pressure and work their way into Bath’s 22 again. Abendanon had to make a couple of try-saving tackles, but an offence by James at 66 minutes gave Ruaridh Jackson an open invitation to made a right-footed penalty kick from 42 metres that tiptoed Glasgow back into the lead with a point.

With Danny Grewcock stealing a lineout and Bath’s pack working in overdrive, Bath worked their way back into the Glasgow 22. Michael Claassens, remaining the terrier on the pitch that Bath fans so enjoy, made a swift pass to Samoan centre Fuimaono-Sapolu to collect and after finding Lee Mears, Banahan was offered the ball to finish for the try. Although he was denied a hat-trick, the winger had the vision to pass the ball over the tackles to find Maddock for the important bonus-point try and the lead. James landed the conversion, and held out for the remaining eight minutes to ensure that Bath preserved their 100 percent record over Scottish team in the Heineken Cup.

We would like to thank all of the Bath Rugby supporters who travelled to Glasgow. You were all seen and heard and it meant a great deal to the team. Thank you.

 20th DECEMBER 2008 BATH V SALE

Alex Crockett’s kick and Matt Banahan’s power and pace combined on Saturday afternoon to give Bath a last gasp 24-20 victory and give the blue, black and whites an excellent start to the Christmas and New Year period.

Sale struck first. Welsh scrum-half Dyane Peel took a quick tap penalty , found Hodgson before the fly-half released Luke McAlister who ignored a two man overlap next to him and backed himself to score. Charlie Hodgson missed the penalty. 0-5.

In the 15th minute Sale lock Sebastien Chabal was sin-binned for an altercation with Bath scrum half Michael Claassens. From the resulting penalty, Butch James kicked to the corner and from the following line-out a rolling maul from Bath saw Daniel Browne score. A Butch James conversion made it 7-5.

With Bath putting pressure on Sale, Stewart Turner was sin-binned for killing the ball and with Sale down to 13 men; James hit the resulting penalty to make it 10-5.

It was then Bath’s turn to lose a player with Michael Lipman yellow carded for a late tackle.

Into first half injury time, Sale fullback Mark Cueto scored his first try of the match ignoring an overlap to score. McAlister’s conversion took Sale into the lead before James hit a penalty on the stroke of half-time to put Bath back on top. 13-12.

In the opening 10 minutes of the second half, McAlister and James traded penalties before both then missing decent chances at goal. 16-15.

Sale then took the initiative In the 67th minute with the Sharks 20 metres out from the Bath line, Hodgson popped the ball to Cueto who then brushed off the tackles of Browne and Abendanon to dance his way to his second try of the match. McAlister was unable to convert but Sale regained the lead. 16-20.

James hit a penalty in the 72nd minute to take Bath within one point of Sale. With the game going from end to end now, the match was set for a dramatic ending.

In the 79th minute and with Bath on the attack, Alex Crockett chipped the ball ahead and Matt Banahan took the ball in the air before brushing off Cueto to score. James was unable to convert, but Bath and The Rec were already celebrating victory.

 

 

27th DECEMBER 2008 BATH V NORTHAMPTON

The chill wind that swept across the Recreation Ground did little to cool the festive mood as Bath Rugby produced a gritty 25-14 victory over Northampton Saints to ensure that the West Country side ended 2008 exactly where they wanted to be – at the top of the Guinness Premiership table.

After a succession of heart-stopping wins, designed only for those with the strongest of dispositions, Bath Rugby were looking for a more focused performance that would not give another full house indigestion after the Christmas indulgence, but instead leave them in a state of satisfaction after a comfortable victory.

However, this clash against Northampton Saints was far from dull viewing and opened in spectacular fashion when the first try came in the opening minute from Jersey giant, Matt Banahan. Spectators barely had time to settle in their seats before the winger had crossed for five points and a Butch James conversion shot Bath into an instant 7-0 lead.

Spurred on by the vociferous faithful, Bath pressed to extend the advantage and launched a series of penetrating attacks inside the Northampton 22 as Cuthbert, in for the injured Abendanon, and Joe Maddock looked menacing. However, the try-hungry hosts were unable to convert pressure into points and it was the Saints who scored the next points through the boot of Stephen Myler.

Offenses in quick succession widened, reduced and widened the score divide as first Northampton, then Bath and then the visitors again were penalised, giving each team the chance to add to their penalty haul.

Excellent interplay between Myler and Jon Clarke took the Saints to within inches of scoring a much needed five points, but instead of opting for a scrum when awarded a penalty, they chose the kick and thus were forced to content themselves with a 13 – 6 scoreline after 24 minutes.

Four minutes before the half-time whistle, and with both sides having failed to make use of some good opportunities, Jonny Faamatuainu attempted to make a break in midfield before meeting resolute Northampton defence. A penalty opportunity ensued and Cuthbert took over the duties for the long-range effort. However, the ball fell short and the players headed for the changing rooms with Bath leading13 to 6.

Coming back from the break, Northampton were offered the chance to make up some points as an early Bath offence allowed Myler to slot his third successful penalty of the game after 43 minutes. Determined not to allow the visitors to gain further points on the board, Michael Claassens made a gritty charge which Maddock continued, dancing straight through the defence. Unfortunately, the added pressure on the Saints, although leading to another penalty kick opportunity for James, did not result in a further three points for Bath.

Ten minutes into the second half and Northampton were caught offside. The home side opted for the scrum and Claassens broke, offloaded to James, who in turn found Shontayne Hape, before the ball was returned to the scrum half to slip over the line for a well-constructed try. The five points extended Bath’s lead to 18-9, with Claassens enjoying his third try of the season.

With 9 minutes left on the clock, Bath made some aggressive attempts to ramp up their lead and whilst Peter Short looked as though he was finishing the try that had been set up by replacement Daniel Browne, a penalty prevented the west country side from enjoying the points. However, just minutes later, after a gnarly battle inside Northampton’s 22, Claassens managed to sprint clear of the swarming defence to ground the ball for his second try of the match. With James successfully converting, Bath were sitting pretty with 25 – 9 lead and mere minutes to go.

Northampton made a last ditch attempt to claw back a losing bonus point and Juandre Kruger crossed to give them hope. It was not enough though and as the light dimmed on a bitterly cold day, Bath celebrated their last match of 2008 with a 25-14 victory and a return to the top of the Guinness Premiership table.

 

 2009

4th JANUARY 2009 LEICESTER V BATH

Bath do not play rugby for the faint-hearted. Leading 22-9 midway through the second half, and seemingly on course for a rare victory in the Tigers’ lair, the West Country side faltered, allowing Leicester to snatch an unlikely 24-22 victory in the dying moments of a thrilling match.

In a season full of dramatic finales, this was perhaps the most dramatic. The lead, although not unassailable, was commanding, but a combination of a resurgent Leicester fight back and the intervention of uncontested scrums in the final quarter, meant that Bath returned home with a solitary losing bonus point and dropped to third in the Guinness Premiership table.

Both teams opened play with the sort of energy and aggression that is especially reserved for grudge matches such as these, but after the ball travelled up and down the field by successive kicks, the Tigers were the first to put the points on the scoreboard after a Bath offence allowed Derick Hougaard to kick the ball directly between the posts from the 10 metre line after just four minutes.

Dissatisfied with the quick score grab by the Tigers, Bath invaded Leicester’s territory where Butch James was ready to receive the ball from the back of the scrum and drive forward. Stuart Hooper, replacing Justin Harrison who was moved to the bench due to a stomach upset, was in a perfect position to offer support and the lock drove over the line for a try. James’s conversion took Bath into the lead after seven minutes with a 3-8 score line.

The Tigers, spurned on by their lack of points, gained some ground after Aaron Mauger broke through Bath defence to offload to Matt Smith on the wing and into touch. With Bath penalised for failing to bind, Leicester were given an opportunity to satisfy themselves with three points, however Hougaard’s kick went wide and Bath remained in the lead.

Refusing to drop the pace or momentum, Bath came back. Joe Maddock ignited an attack and James, sensing a defencive lapse, pushed a grubber kick through to the corner, which was chased by Shontayne Hape and Alex Crockett. Hape appeared to have overshot the ball, leaving Crockett a simple score, but the celebrations were shortlived as Hape was judged to have knocked the ball on.

Bath’s pressure was relentless and dominating the forward exchanges, the men in black, white and blue tore into the Tigers’ defence once more. After a powerful maul took his side within a few feet of the white line, the blue scrum cap adorned Pieter Dixon blasted through a mass of bodies to score. Referee Chris White went upstairs for confirmation, but the five points were secured and although James failed to make the conversion, Bath were in an excellent position.

The Tigers do not lose many matches at home and with 12 minutes to play in the first half, the home side were awarded a penalty and Hougaard, full of kicking, struck the ball between the uprights to drag Leicester to within six points.

With four minutes left before the break, Bath were intent on making sure they left the pitch at the half-time whistle, with a secure lead under their belts – and they succeeded., As good interplay from Andy Beattie, Hape and Peter Short took Bath dangerously close to the Tigers’ territory, the attack resulted in a successful penalty kick by fly half James.

Five minutes into the second half and neither team looked set to make the points that were enjoyed in the opening half. Instead, something of a stalemate began, which meant that game time was played midfield for almost 10 minutes. It was not until Bath were penalised for not rolling away that Tigers were able to put the ‘catch-up’ operation into action and Hougaard booted three points.

A series of substitutions for Bath reinvigorated the side as the fresh legs of Michael Claassens and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu made light work of entering Leicester’s 22. Although the west country boys managed to get to within inches of the try line, good Tiger defence stopped them and prevented them scoring. However, they could not hold them off for long as an excellent break from James, and Joe Maddock saw the pair pass back and forth down the wing, fooling the Leicester defenders and allowing Maddock to soar over the line for his sixth try of this season and taking Bath up to a 9-22 lead.

As the match entered it’s concluding 20 minutes, Leicester Tigers put up an aggressive fight, in more ways than one, barraging their way into Bath’s territory with successive mauls. Having been awarded a scrum mere feet away from the white line, Ben Kay threw himself down for a try. However, it was disallowed and it was not until replacement Seru Rabeni bolted towards the posts that the home supporters thought they had finally clinched their five. Three minutes ticked on before Tom Croft broke free and scored the much needed try. A failed conversion meant that whilst the Tigers may have made some headway in reducing the point divide, they still trailed 14-22 after 66 minutes.

With six minutes left on the clock, Tigers continued with their barrage of attack, playing so close to the try line, it was only the unwavering Bath defence that kept the wolf from the door. However, they could not defend against Hougaard’s boot and the fly half racked up another three points for his team with a well placed drop goal which was rapidly followed by an explosive try from Croft. The conversion slipped Leicester into the lead by just two points and sealed the defeat of a dejected and disappointed Bath Rugby.

25th JANUARY 2009 BATH V TOULOUSE

Among all the permutations available on the last afternoon of the Heineken Cup pool stages, a 3-3 draw was the result no-one had really considered – but then we had not expected a truly biblical hailstorm just before kick-off.

The result was the lowest scoring match in the history of the Heineken Cup – 971 games over 14 seasons – leaving Bath with a quarter-final trip to Leicester on the weekend of 11-12 April. But it’s only three years since Bath tweaked the Tigers’ tail at the same stage of the competition.

Any notions of try bonus points were washed down the River Avon as the Recreation Ground pitch quickly became a morass. Although Bath battered away at the visitors’ line for the last ten minutes, Steve Meehan accepted that a penalty apiece was a fair outcome.

“We were fortunate. To be 3-3 at half-time didn’t do them any justice at all. They had all the territory, all the possession. We were looking for miracle fixes – it wasn’t going to happen – and we addressed that at half-time.

“They weren’t making any errors – but we weren’t putting them under pressure. When we did, they made mistakes”

Wasps’ defeat at Castres meant that both sides had qualified for the quarter-finals before kick-off but Meehan did not tell his players. “I am not aware that the players knew what was going on. Our whole focus was on winning this game.”

Bath’s points came after just two minutes, Butch James kicking a penalty after Toulouse infringed at a ruck in front of the posts. His opposite number Jean Baptiste Elissalde pushed penalty attempt wide of the posts at the other end as it became increasingly difficult for players to keep their footing.

On 16 minutes, Bath’s cause was hampered by the loss of skipper Michael Lipman, left face down in the mud after an accidental blow to the head. James Scaysbrook came off the bench as Toulouse stepped up the pressure.

Nick Abendanon was being peppered with high balls and eventually Toulouse forced a scrum in the corner under the West Stand. Veteran lock Fabien Pelous was held on the line as Bath manned the barricades but they eventually conceded a penalty in front of the posts and Elissalde kicked the points.

That score in the 24th minute was the last of the game but, as Toulouse turned the screw on the Bath scrum, Elissalde was given three more opportunities to give his side the lead before half-time, the easiest being from 30 metres.

In near-impossible conditions Bath did try to run the ball out of their half on one or two occasions but quickly found that this was a hazardous tactic.

The nearest they came to threatening a try came on 36 minutes when Joe Maddock worked himself free to chase his own kick. The excellent Clement Poitrenaud was back to cover the danger. Just before the break, Maddock charged down Cedric Heymans clearance kick to force a 5-metre scrum but No 8 Daniel Browne could not force his way through.

With David Flatman on for David Barnes at loose head, Bath attacked the Toulouse scrum from the restart, winning a strike against the head after just two minutes.

James attempted a highly optimistic penalty from 40 metes soon after but he was unable to lift the ball far out of the swamp. That was the signal however for a spell of sustained pressure by James’s teasing grubber into the corner, Bath opting for a scrum when Toulouse infringed at a ruck. Lee Mears came close to burrowing over but overeagerness cost a penalty which allowed the visitors to clear their lines.

Elissalde had a penalty chance from 40 metres on 57 minutes but the ball failed to clear the crossbar . Both sides were resorting to ‘rugby tennis’, hoping to capitalise on the one mistake that might swing the game. Having undergone a severe examination in the first half, Abendanon was now warming to his task and lifted his team with a superb clearance to beyond halfway from a narrow angle.

As the game moved into the last ten minutes, Bath roused themselves for one last big effort, roared on by the massed ranks of sodden Bath supporters. Another dangerous James grubber kick forced a lineout and Byron Kelleher did well to clear his lines.

That was virtually the last Toulouse saw of the ball as Bath’s forwards kept the ball for 19 phases in a determined effort to force the winning score. With a dropped goal out of the question – Meehan said afterwards “like dropping the ball into a bath tub” – time eventually ran out.

Meehan was left to reflect on a campaign that did not quite deliver the home draw they longed for. “To play six matches for four wins and a draw and only a narrow defeat to Toulouse is a great effort. I believe in these players – they are very resilient, full of character.”

14th FEBRUARY 2009 WORCESTER V BATH

Bath overcame the sickness bug that swept their camp in midweek to collect five valuable Guinness Premiership points with a resilient performance at Sixways this afternoon.

A hat-trick of tries from former Worcester winger Andrew Higgins and a flawless kicking display from Butch James helped depleted Bath to their first away Guinness Premiership win in four months.

Despite the selection difficulties caused by the withdrawal of Nick Abendanon, Matt Banahan and Alex Crockett through illness, Bath produced a committed and cohesive performance in their first outing since the Heineken Cup draw with Toulouse three weeks ago which pleased head coach Steve Meehan.

“What I am really pleased about is our three weeks in preparation for this game,” Meehan said.

“It is our best performance after a break in the last three seasons,” Meehan said. “I was very pleased with the way we went about playing the game. We played with a lot of width and tried to put as much pace on the game as we could.

“We weren’t perfect, but we played the full 80 minutes and scored the fourth try and I’m sure the guys will enjoy that win.

“Bonus points are very important in this competition. That finishes a very good week of training and we have achieved everything and more that we set out to.”

Meehan also praised the contributions made by Higgins, who played his first senior rugby for Worcester ten years ago, former Bradford Bulls rugby league centre Shontayne Hape, wing Michael Stephenson and flanker James Scaysbrook.

“I thought Shontayne Hape’s performance is the best we have seen of him in the Premiership, Michael Stephenson who hasn’t had much game time this season came in and played very well, Andrew Higgins has come back from a knee injury that has kept him out and he grabbed three.

“In addition James Scaysbrook steps in for Michael Lipman and throws himself about.

“So they have all done quite nicely. All those guys who had an opportunity to start took their chance today.”

Higgins topped and tailed Bath’s win, running in his opening try from Worcester’s 22 in the first half and his other two from closer range after the break, the third in stoppage time to clinch the extra point.

After James had nudged Bath in front with his opening penalty, Higgins latched on to a poor pass from Worcester’s rookie fly-half Joe Carlisle. Though he was chased down by his opposite winger Marcel Garvey, Higgins had the strength to step out of a flimsy challenge from the former Gloucester man and was able to canter over for a spectacular long range score.

Worcester, without a league win since early November, briefly threatened an upset when Loki Crichton and Rico Gear combined well to set up former Australia full-back Chris Latham for the first of two tries in three minutes.

Carlisle partly atoned for his earlier mistake by popping a neat short pass to Kai Horstmann who galloped through the middle.

Matt Mullan was hauled down short of the line, but Worcester arrived in support and flanker Tom Wood put Crichton over for the try which Carlisle improved.

Though Bath played most of the rugby in the first half they had been heavily penalised for going off their feet in the rucks and they turned around four points adrift.

“There were a couple of interesting decisions,” Meehan said. “We got done in attack. Staying on your feet was an area that referees were very hot on at the start of the season with the new ELVs.

“We got into November and December and they weren’t policing that in the same manner. But we had a director of rugby and referees meeting at The Stoop on Thursday and they said they would be drawing everybody’s attention back to that.

“But we are OK with that. It suits us. We are going to get penalised because we play with the ball perhaps a bit more often than others. But if the referees look after that area of the game, it’s good for Bath.”

But referee Dean Richards found fewer reasons to penalise Bath after the break and an early try from Higgins, who rounded off a sustained attack that pulled Worcester’s defence out of alignment, restored the lead.

James slotted the conversion and Hape then slipped through a poor tackle from Crichton, cleverly drew Latham and delivered a perfectly-timed scoring pass to Joe Maddock who went over under the posts.

James’ conversion gave Bath a ten points cushion which was reduced when fly-half Willie Walker, recruited on loan from Gloucester for the rest of the season, found the target with his first kick for Worcester, a penalty after 59 minutes.

James responded in kind but Walker then fluffed an eminently kickable penalty nine minutes from time which might have given Worcester a losing bonus point and caused Bath some late anxiety.

Instead Bath demonstrated their confidence by spurning the opportunity to kick for goal when they were awarded a penalty in injury-time.

They kicked for the corner, won the line-out and another multi-phase move again stretched Worcester’s defence to breaking point and Higgins found sufficient space to power over in the corner for his hat-trick try.

That left James with his most difficult kick of the afternoon but the Springboks fly-half coolly levered over the conversion from the right hand touchline to give him 14 points for the afternoon and six goal kicks out of six.

Bath’s performance also won praise from Mike Ruddock, Worcester’s director of rugby, and a former Wales head coach.

“Bath are a great rugby side, they are a dangerous side, they looked very sharp, they play some good back rugby and they are very difficult to defend against,” he said.

28th FEBRUARY 2009 GLOUCESTER V BATH

After Steve Meehan called for an aggressive campaign against Gloucester earlier this week, the players responded with exactly that – putting up a fierce and intense battle against their bitter rivals at Kingsholm.

Within 80 minutes, spectators were treated to two tries from Bath hooker Rob Hawkins, one from Andrew Higgins making his 100th appearance for Bath and three tries in four minutes by the home side.

From the start, both teams went into the match with a ferocity reserved only for derby clashes such as these and within the opening minute Michael Claassens was forced off after sustaining a knock to the head whilst in the ruck. However, the loss of the scrum half failed to hold back the Bath attack and hooker Hawkins burst over the line two minutes later for the opening five points of the match. With Butch James booting a successful conversion, Bath shot into the lead with seven points.

Riled by the speed with which Bath had won points, Gloucester swept into Bath’s territory and Apo Satala made a strong bid for a try. However, the Bath defence denied him his five points and it was not until captain Alex Crockett was yellow carded for the team being persistently offside that Carlos Spencer was able to award Gloucester with some points.

The fierce battle continued for a further 10 minutes as Gloucester were penalised when Iain Balshaw failed to release the ball in a ruck and James put his boot back into action, slotting the ball directly between the sticks for another three digits. Once again, the points enjoyed by Bath acted as a catalyst for Gloucester and James Simpson-Daniel and Olly Morgan made a break towards the corner. With Bath refusing to break defence, neither the centre nor full back could get across the line until a rapid sprint from Simpson-Daniel sent him over the line where he planted the ball just inside the dead ball line. The following three minutes saw two more tries from Sharples and another from Simpson-Daniel catapulting Gloucester into the lead with 20 points to 10 with just one conversion.

With the impetus to get back on the attack, some exhilarating interplay between Crockett, Higgins and Duncan Bell offered Bath some much needed ground and after Bell offloaded to Matt Banahan to make even more headway, Hawkins was perfectly placed one again to score his second try. With just three minutes left on the clock, James’s successful conversion was took Bath to within three points of their hosts, but just before the whistle, replacement Barkley stepped up to boot a penalty for his new-team, kicking the hosts into a six-point lead at the half-time whistle.

Returning after the break, Bath came back determined to continue the onslaught of attack and James Scaysbrook made a break down the wing, swiftly passing to Peter Short who continued the charge and offloaded inside for James and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. Under pressure, Gloucester’s Anthony Allen received the yellow card for entering the ruck from the side and James slotted another penalty.

As was becoming typical for this match, each time one team scored, the other would respond with points of their own and rather than change the trend of the first half, Iain Balshaw chased a kick down the wing, competing with Bath winger Banahan to reach the ball. However, it was Rory Lawson who scooped up the ball and he grounded it to score Gloucester’s fourth try. Barkley’s successful conversion from the 22 metre line meant that by 47 minutes, the hosts were leading by 30 points to 20.

Preventing the spectators for having time to take a breath, Higgins, just two minutes later continued in his recent form and grabbed five more points for Bath and the conversion took Bath up to 27 points. The visitors were now barking at the heels of the home side and baying for blood. Unfortunately, a Bath offence gave Barkley the chance to leave his old club further behind as he booted another penalty at 53 minutes.

As the intensity heightened, Gloucester prop Nick Wood was yellow carded.for a high tackle on Maddock only to be followed into the sin bin by Alex Crockett for the second time. Barkley went for the penalty and his successful kick gave Gloucester a 36-27 lead with 15 minutes left.

As the clock counted down the final five minutes, James was handed the ball to try and rescue his team with a penalty kick, but as the ball fell short just before the sticks, the win seemed to be slipping from Bath’s fingers.

A last Gloucester offence gave Bath that last ditch attempt to reclaim the victory, but with just over one minute left, and James’s kick falling wide, Gloucester walked away with the win. Final score 36-27.

7th MARCH 2009 BATH V BRISTOL

After Steve Meehan called for an aggressive campaign against Gloucester earlier this week, the players responded with exactly that – putting up a fierce and intense battle against their bitter rivals at Kingsholm.

Within 80 minutes, spectators were treated to two tries from Bath hooker Rob Hawkins, one from Andrew Higgins making his 100th appearance for Bath and three tries in four minutes by the home side.

From the start, both teams went into the match with a ferocity reserved only for derby clashes such as these and within the opening minute Michael Claassens was forced off after sustaining a knock to the head whilst in the ruck. However, the loss of the scrum half failed to hold back the Bath attack and hooker Hawkins burst over the line two minutes later for the opening five points of the match. With Butch James booting a successful conversion, Bath shot into the lead with seven points.

Riled by the speed with which Bath had won points, Gloucester swept into Bath’s territory and Apo Satala made a strong bid for a try. However, the Bath defence denied him his five points and it was not until captain Alex Crockett was yellow carded for the team being persistently offside that Carlos Spencer was able to award Gloucester with some points.

The fierce battle continued for a further 10 minutes as Gloucester were penalised when Iain Balshaw failed to release the ball in a ruck and James put his boot back into action, slotting the ball directly between the sticks for another three digits. Once again, the points enjoyed by Bath acted as a catalyst for Gloucester and James Simpson-Daniel and Olly Morgan made a break towards the corner. With Bath refusing to break defence, neither the centre nor full back could get across the line until a rapid sprint from Simpson-Daniel sent him over the line where he planted the ball just inside the dead ball line. The following three minutes saw two more tries from Sharples and another from Simpson-Daniel catapulting Gloucester into the lead with 20 points to 10 with just one conversion.

With the impetus to get back on the attack, some exhilarating interplay between Crockett, Higgins and Duncan Bell offered Bath some much needed ground and after Bell offloaded to Matt Banahan to make even more headway, Hawkins was perfectly placed one again to score his second try. With just three minutes left on the clock, James’s successful conversion was took Bath to within three points of their hosts, but just before the whistle, replacement Barkley stepped up to boot a penalty for his new-team, kicking the hosts into a six-point lead at the half-time whistle.

Returning after the break, Bath came back determined to continue the onslaught of attack and James Scaysbrook made a break down the wing, swiftly passing to Peter Short who continued the charge and offloaded inside for James and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. Under pressure, Gloucester’s Anthony Allen received the yellow card for entering the ruck from the side and James slotted another penalty.

As was becoming typical for this match, each time one team scored, the other would respond with points of their own and rather than change the trend of the first half, Iain Balshaw chased a kick down the wing, competing with Bath winger Banahan to reach the ball. However, it was Rory Lawson who scooped up the ball and he grounded it to score Gloucester’s fourth try. Barkley’s successful conversion from the 22 metre line meant that by 47 minutes, the hosts were leading by 30 points to 20.

Preventing the spectators for having time to take a breath, Higgins, just two minutes later continued in his recent form and grabbed five more points for Bath and the conversion took Bath up to 27 points. The visitors were now barking at the heels of the home side and baying for blood. Unfortunately, a Bath offence gave Barkley the chance to leave his old club further behind as he booted another penalty at 53 minutes.

As the intensity heightened, Gloucester prop Nick Wood was yellow carded.for a high tackle on Maddock only to be followed into the sin bin by Alex Crockett for the second time. Barkley went for the penalty and his successful kick gave Gloucester a 36-27 lead with 15 minutes left.

As the clock counted down the final five minutes, James was handed the ball to try and rescue his team with a penalty kick, but as the ball fell short just before the sticks, the win seemed to be slipping from Bath’s fingers.

A last Gloucester offence gave Bath that last ditch attempt to reclaim the victory, but with just over one minute left, and James’s kick falling wide, Gloucester walked away with the win. Final score 36-27.

15th MARCH 2009 SARACENS V BATH

When skills and defence coach Brad Davis had spoken of the “freedom and abandon” that the hosts might play with, due to their recent off the pitch turmoil, he may have been surprised to see how accurate he was after 40 minutes when Bath went from safe victors in the first half to the defeated in the second.

Having enjoyed an ostensibly safe lead in the first half, with a try from captain, Alex Crockett, a conversion and three successful penalty kicks, it was not only a surprise, but a huge disappointment that the men in black managed to claw their way back to not only steal the victory but to win with a bonus point as well.

A match with such a turnaround is, unfortunately, no stranger to Bath Rugby, and if they are to remain the title contenders that they deserve to be, the “focus” that Davis spoke of earlier in the week will need not to falter for the remainder of the season as the team now enter the all-important ‘business end’ of their campaign.

The glorious sunshine acted as a rose-tinted veil for what opened and ended as a ferocious battle from start to finish, as Duncan Bell was the first casualty after just seven minutes as Aaron Jarvis came on as his blood replacement for a bleeding nose, following a clearance kick from Butch James that had handed the prop the ball to make a charge. Insightful play between Joe Maddock, Bell and Matt Banahan, raised the tempo of the match, as well as marking a clear indication that this game was going to be anything but a walk in the park.

However, Rob Hawkins, demonstrating his worth whilst Pieter Dixon recuperates from a knee injury, blasted down the midfield through Saracens’ defence and made enough headway for James Scaysbrook and Justin Harrison to force the home side to offend. This allowed fly half James to boot three points, taking Bath into an early, marginal lead after 12 minutes.

Bath kept the pressure on, as James, Nick Abendanon and Maddock flew down the right wing, where the ball was passed swiftly to the opposite wing, for David Flatman to make more distance. Unfortunately, although Saracens were penalised, and James kicked to the corner for the try, Saracens managed to work their way free and run the ball to the other end of the pitch via Richard Houghton. But, it failed to hold Bath back for long though, as captain Alex Crockett broke through to cross the line at 22 minutes and with James kicking successfully once again, Bath enjoyed a 10-point lead.

The try acted as a catalyst to increase the tension on the field and within a couple of minutes the try scorer had taken a swipe from Kris Chesney, who was duly sin-binned for the display.

Now down to 14 men, and with just eight minutes left of the first half, Bath made a determined effort to rank up the score divide and after a close encounter at the hosts’ try line, Maddock managed to clear the ball midfield for Flatman. The prop was supported by number 8 Daniel Browne and Hawkins, before the ball was lost, as the hooker charged down the wing. The pressure however was enough to incite another Saracens penalty and James slotted another three points, which was doubled after just four more minutes, which took Bath to a comfortable 16-0 lead.

However, ‘comfortable’ is not a word that should be used when referring to the Guinness Premiership, for as this match proved, anything can happen, and Saracens refused to go into the sheds at half-time with only a zero on their side of the scoreboard. The Vicarage Road team launched an attack from their backs that forced their way deep inside Bath’s 22. James attempted to clear the ball away, but failing to get it into touch, it gave Kameli Ratuvou the space to make a good run, which was supported by Ben Skirving and finished by winger Rodd Penney for a try. The half-time score was 16 -5.

The opening seven minutes of the second half saw Bath back inside Saracen’s territory and just inches away from crossing the line. But the lack of points for the men in black in the first half appeared to only inspire them to a new level of ferocity for the second and after Bath were nail bitingly close to grabbing another five, Alex Goode and Haughton made a dash down the right wing, relieving the pressure away from their territory.

The stalemate continued for a further 10 minutes as the West Country contingent attempted to battle through and get back inside Saracen’s danger zone, but a run from Adam Powell, who had replaced Ratuvou at the break, was supported by a hasty Haughton. Although some strong tackling from Banahan held back the charge, Bath failed to get back to within point scoring distance until James booted the ball to the left wing where the jersey giant wing dropped over the line. However, the ref’s whistle signalled that Banahan had been penalised for a questionable barge and the five points were withheld.

As the match entered its final 15 minutes, Saracens were able to claw themselves back into the game, as Haughton once more broke through the Bath defence. After a consistent barrage, hooker Alex Walker was able to scrabble through the sea of Bath jerseys on the right side of the posts and ground the ball for their second try of the match. The failed conversion by Gordon Ross kept them at just 10 points to Bath’s 16.

However, the points continued to rack up on the wrong side of the score board for Bath, and even though Abendanon managed to dance his way through the black and red defence, a small grubber kick by James would have made for a perfect try, had it not been collected by Penney who ran with the ball for the entire distance of the pitch, launching himself over the opposite try line before anyone could catch him. Another failed conversion meant that Bath were still in the lead, just, but the game was now so nail-bitingly close, it was heart-stopping.

As Bath tried desperately to keep a grip on their victory, the final disappointment came in the form of Don Barrell who had managed to break down the left wing and, with Maddock right on his tail, plant the ball just over the white line. Nerve-wracking moments followed as the video referees conferred over whether Barrell’s foot was in touch, but to Bath dismay, the try was awarded.

With a bonus point try, Saracens cleared the ball to sound the final whistle, signalling a bitter defeat for Bath Rugby. Final score, 20-16 to Saracens.

27th MARCH 2009 SALE V BATH

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.

11th APRIL 2009 LEICESTER V BATH

Bath Rugby face an away match at Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership semi-finals after ending the regular season with victory over Saracens at The Rec.
Tries from Andrew Higgins, Peter Short and Matt Banahan – plus 18 points from the boot of Ryan Davis – set up the victory over Saracens.

Bath were made to fight for their win by a determined Saracens side, who tested Steve Meehan’s men throughout a frantic clash which lasted 104 minutes in total.

And Bath’s reward for finishing fourth in the Premiership after the 22-game regular season is a repeat of this season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final away at the Walkers Stadium.

With Joe Maddock, Alex Crockett and Butch James all ruled out through injury, Bath head coach Steve Meehan put his faith in Higgins, Tom Cheeseman and Davis with his side needing two match points to guarantee a place in the semi-finals.

And Bath led 13-8 after an incident-packed opening half which – like the second half – lasted 52 minutes, after two sin-binnings for Saracens players and several stoppages for injury.

One of those unfortunately claimed Bath captain Michael Lipman, who hobbled off after only 13 minutes and was replaced by James Scaysbrook.

Bath fell behind inside the opening 30 seconds when possession was coughed up in midfield and Saracens flanker Andy Saull broke clear, before supplying the scoring pass to winger Chris Wyles. Glen Jackson missed the touchline conversion, so Saracens held a 5-0 lead.

Bath were then unable to capitalise on a couple of line-outs deep inside Saracens territory – but were also given a reprieve when the hesitant Jackson broke but delayed his pass, allowing Davis to force the visitors to concede possession.

A midfield flare-up saw Saracens lose prop Tom Mercey to the sin-bin – and fly-half Davis made no mistake from the 45-metre penalty to bring Bath to within two points at 5-3 after 17 minutes.

There was concern for Bath when both Lee Mears and Justin Harrison required attention from the physiotherapists at the same time – but the duo soldiered on and their side were soon in front.

Davis profited from another yellow card to a Saracens player, sending a 40-metre penalty between the posts after Hugh Vyvyan had been sin-binned for killing the ball.

With Mercey still off the field, Bath made the most of the two-man advantage, scoring a try through Higgins after patiently working through the phases. After Cheeseman, Banahan and Michael Claassens had all gone close, Davis sent a pass out to Higgins, who held off Noah Cato to extend Bath’s lead to 11-5.

Davis, starting only his second Premiership match of the season, held his nerve with the conversion to see his side into a 13-5 lead after 29 minutes

But, on 32 minutes, Saracens were awarded their first penalty of the afternoon – at a scrum – and Jackson found the target to make it 13-8.

Bath hit back with another lengthy spell of possession, but referee Rob Debney brought a frantic opening period to a close after Davis’ long pass to the left wing could only find touch.

The first score of the second half went to Saracens, after 48 minutes, when Jackson landed his second penalty of the game after Debney penalised Bath for handling at a ruck.

Bath’s advantage was briefly cut to two points, but Davis landed his fourth successful shot at the sticks from four attempts to give his side a 16-11 lead after Saracens committed a ruck offence of their own.

Saracens then lost a man to the sin-bin for the third time in the match, Saull seeing yellow for a cynical late tackle on Nick Abendanon, who had kicked ahead and set off toward the try-line after a sweeping Bath move.

Bath almost scored from the line-out that followed, but were denied – even though Scaysbrook got the ball down over the line – for crossing.

Saracens failed to find touch, though, and Bath were soon celebrating their second try of the afternoon. Higgins and Abendanon combined to launch the attack, before the forwards took over, Duncan Bell and Justin Harrison sending Peter Short in to score under the posts.

Davis converted to take his personal points haul for the afternoon to 13 – and it was not long before his tally reached 16, finding the middle of the posts from a penalty after Saracens had infringed at a line-out.

Bath then lost both starting props, David Flatman and Bell, to injury – and following the first uncontested scrum, Saracens conjured a second try of the game.

They worked the ball from right wing to left, with Andy Farrell’s long pass setting up Cato for the score. Jackson converted to leave 26-18 in front with 15 minutes to play.

Bath had another try ruled out for crossing, Davis getting the ball down on 69 minutes after some powerful work from the forwards, only to see his efforts denied.

They did manage to add a third, however, in the closing minutes when Banahan intercepted a loose Saracens pass deep inside the Bath 22 – and tore up-field to score. Davis landed his seventh successful kick at the posts from seven attempts to put the seal on a 33-18 victory.

 

 

 

 

 

This page was added on 22/11/2019.

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