Rugby Union: Saracens savour Guscott gaffe

Bath 13 Saracens 29
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IT HAS been an interesting few days for Jeremy Guscott, the super-swish Maserati of European rugby. Embarrassingly lapped by an Irish Robin Reliant by the name of Victor Costello at Twickenham last weekend, Guscott coughed and spluttered his way through yesterday's compelling Allied Dunbar Premiership showdown with Saracens and finally spun off the Recreation Ground track to hand the Londoners what could yet be their most precious win of a memorable season.

Agreed, injuries to Mike Catt and Richard Butland forced Bath into taking a long shot on Guscott at outside-half and given the presence of Francois Pienaar and Michael Lynagh in his immediate field of vision, a lesser talent might have been written off well inside the opening quarter. All the same, Guscott's uncharacteristic faux pas two minutes past the hour mark effectively drew a line under the European champions' chances of a unique double.

The sides were superglued together at 13-13 when Kyran Bracken, a superb wet-weather scrum-half, gave Andy Nicol the slip and kicked dangerously ahead. Guscott did not need to find overdrive to reach the ball ahead of his pursuers, but his attempted dead-ball kick was out of the Basil Fawlty cock-up manual and with Adedayo Adebayo impeded by an awkwardly placed post, Pienaar slid into view to claim the touchdown.

From then on, it was all Lynagh. The former Wallaby captain had played a majestic role in a first half of sublime quality, mixing up his kicking game cleverly enough to keep the Bath back row at bay. In the final 11 minutes, he landed three penalties out of the cloying West Country mud and come the end, the visitors were good value for their first Recreation Ground victory in more than a century.

As Nigel Redman and his colleagues in the Bath pack tore into the fray from the kick-off, the Londoners looked as though they might have to wait another century to break their duck. Adebayo stooped low to secure a try- scoring pick-up on 21 minutes and had the Bath decision-makers not invented new ways of wasting seven-point opportunities, the die would have been cast long before the interval.

But as they have proved of late, Saracens are now the most cussedly committed defensive unit in the English game. Pienaar led the way, clattering into the tackle areas as though his prized friendship with Nelson Mandela depended on it. Sure enough, the rest followed, especially Steve Ravenscroft, the unsung journeyman of the cup finalists' back division.

Richard Wallace's individual try on the stroke of half-time gave the visitors their first inkling that they might win the day; the Irishman capitalised on Lynagh's inspiration down the left to sidestep Ieuan Evans, Phil de Glanville and Nicol before stepping out of Richard Bryan's weak covering hit.

Bath: Try: Adebayo; Conversion: Callard; Penalties: Callard 2. Saracens: Tries: R Wallace, Pienaar; Conversions: Lynagh 2; Penalties: Lynagh 5.

Bath: J Callard (I Balshaw, 77); I Evans, M Perry, P de Glanville (J Pritchard, 53), A Adebayo; J Guscott, A Nicol (capt); D Hilton, M Regan. V Ubogu (J Mallett, 70), M Haag, N Redman, R Bryan, E Peters, R Earnshaw.

Saracens: G Johnson; R Constable, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken (M Olsen, 65); R Grau B Reidy, 78), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, B Sturnham, A Diprose (capt), F Pienaar.

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).