IF, as seems highly likely, the league championship is as good as won - with Bath having beaten their two principal rivals, Leicester and Wasps, away from home - may we now suspend the rest of the club season to spare ourselves from further punishment? This was a dreadful match, quite the worst of what has been a dismal opening to the season. The quality of the play from two of the best sides in the land offered yet more evidence of how quickly the game is sinking and those who believe that it can survive in its present form in the professional arena are living in a fantasy world.
Not all of the blame can be attached to the players. It is the laws and, more important, the way they are being applied, which are chiefly responsible. But yesterday Ed Morrison, the world's premier referee, was not alone in having a poor match.
But however painful it was to watch no one can have enjoyed the afternoon less than Rob Andrew. One calamity followed another, ending two minutes from the end when he was led off the field bleeding and dazed following a collision with Ben Clarke which needed 14 stitches in his forehead and mouth. That Andrew's misfortune should have resulted from a woeful pass by his partner Steve Bates was in keeping with the general tone of the match.
By this time Andrew, poor man, was thoroughly distraught. He had missed six penalty kicks at goal from seven attempts, had had four drop kicks charged down and, worse still, had watched in helpless disbelief as Andy Robinson , a brooding shadow over all that England's fly half attempted, charged down a drop out on the 22. From the scrummage underneath the Wasps posts, Bath ran the ball left and Jeremy Guscott's pass allowed Adedayo Adebayo to slide in at the corner. The Bath wing scored a second just before the end despite, not because of, the passing of those inside him. It was that kind of game, which, alas, is becoming more the rule than the exception.
That Bath should have won was in itself a travesty. They had surrendered almost all the territorial advantage and had remained in touch through robust defence and the sheer incompetence of the Wasps attack. In that area Andrew could be largely absolved of blame. One lost count of the times the Wasps' threequarters, with overlaps beckoning, turned back inside. They were not alone in that. Twice Guscott did exactly the same thing, which does nothing to allay fears that, in attack, this gifted player is a spent force.
Wasps' curious belief that they could bludgeon Bath to defeat through the scrummage persisted throughout the match despite the fact that David Hilton proved a formidable barrier in his unaccustomed position at tight- head. Nigel Redman and Martin Haag may not be the greatest line-out exponents but their street cred in all the other areas of play remains impeccable and wherever the action was thickest and fiercest there was Haag and the gleaming reflection from Redman's follicle free zone.
Jon Callard and Andrew swapped penalties in the first half and, before Adebayo's tries, Andrew did manage a drop goal although even this glanced off an opponent on its way over the bar. Unfortunately Andrew's bad co- ordination was matched by the person responsible for the newcomers' scheme on the Wasps' jersey which was garish orange rather than bright yellow. But that, at the moment, is the least of Wasps' worries.
Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, D Hopley, A James (A Gomarsall, 65-70), S Roiser; R Andrew (Gomarsall, 78), S Bates; N Popplewell, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), L Dallaglio, M White, P Scrivener.
Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol; K Yates, G Dawe, D Hilton, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, S Ojomoh, B Clarke.
Referee: E Morrisson (Gloucester).