Bath batter brave Irish: Rugby Union

Bath 46 London Irish 3
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The Independent Online
Bath's season may have fallen flat but their power pack was bristling yesterday. Forget all the talk about expansive rugby. Get your points under your belt first. It was more than an hour before a Bath threequarter got in on the scoring, as the falling champions squeezed the life out of a brave London Irish side to stay in touch with the Courage League leaders and provide assistant coach Clive Woodward, who formerly had charge of the Exiles, with a deal of satisfaction.

As entertainment it grew on you. By the end, though, spectators could not have begrudged the pounds 14 they had paid for a seat as Bath produced some fine all- round rugby on a solid foundation laid carefully by some superlative work up front.

Mike Slemen, one of Jack Rowell's assistant England coaches, was at a dank and murky Recreation Ground to run the rule over Mike Catt at fly- half, ready for a possible call up for Saturday's match in Cardiff. Catt had a mixed game, juggling the good with the bad and the ugly before hitting his stride. By the end he was doing what he does best, using the ball well and running at the opposition.

Early on the only good things about the game were the odd break by Catt and Jeremy Guscott and the driving of the Bath pack. One 35-yard trundle culminated in John Mallett being shoved over for a try, converted by Jon Callard.

But Irish had not made it easy. They spent long spells digging in only to see Bath wriggle off the hook. Ireland's former captain Niall Hogan did not make his debut, instead the Australian Tim Ewington played at scrum-half. Hogan's first game will be against Wasps on Easter Saturday because he is contractually tied to the Irish RFU for another month.

All Irish had to show for some prodigious first-half effort was David Humphreys' 27th minute penalty. Then shortly after the restart another Bath front-row man got in on the scoring. Irish were penalised for offside and Catt placed an inch-perfect kick into the left-hand corner. Martin Haag caught the ball at the front, the forwards drove the couple of yards needed and the prop Kevin Yates flopped over.

Gradually the Irish unravelled. A series of rucks by Bath and a wonderful piece of handling by Catt saw the player-coach Andy Robinson, who later announced he was retiring as a first-class player at the end of the season, slither through for the try. The 32-year-old won eight England caps.

The US Eagles captain Dan Lyle joined the glory boys with a couple of touchdowns, which sandwiched the first two of the England wing Jon Sleightholme's hat-trick of tries.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (M Perry, 75), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, C Harrison; K Yates, G Dawe (F Mendez, 63), J Mallett, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson (N Thomas, 63), R Webster, D Lyle.

London Irish: C O'Shea; N Woods, J Bishop, N Burrows, T Howe; D Humphreys, T Ewington; J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam (T Redmond, 63), L Mooney (I McLoughlin, 63), G Fulcher, J Davidson, K O'Connell, K Dawson, R Yeabsley (B Walsh, 65).

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester)