Bath better West's best

West Hartlepool 15 Bath 20

THE revolution in rugby is certain to destroy the old order but in one particular area the status quo prevails: the excellence of Bath, who not surprisingly launched the new season with a highly professional performance at Brierton Lane.

That said, West's was a most vigorous and enthralling display which if repeated regularly should ensure that they are not battling to avoid relegation.

Bath's victory, which was seriously in doubt following a sterling recovery by West after the interval, was largely the result of outstanding kicking by the full-back Jonathan Callard who struck five goals. Predictably, after a promising beginning in which Ben Clarke and Steve Ojomoh launched incursions into West territory, Bath took the lead through a penalty by Callard.

West slowly began to apply pressure through their powerful pack, pressure which should have produced points. However, a straightforward penalty opportunity was fluffed by the full-back Tim Stimpson. By contrast Bath extended their advantage to 6-0 thanks to Callard's second penalty.

Bath, fielding 11 internationals, threatened to score the opening try following a break down the left touchline by Jonathan Sleightholme, but not for the first time, West's tackling kept the line intact. Bath's mobile forwards continued to dominate, enabling the backs to show glimpses of their pace, although Jeremy Guscott was contained satisfactorily for 30 minutes.

Nevertheless such class cannot be restricted for long. The flanker Andy Robinson set up Bath's try from midfield. Guscott's pace and swift handling in turn sent Sleightholme on his way to the corner.

Fortified with a 14-3 lead, Bath continued to advance dangerously, again relying on the consistent goalkicking of Callard. His fourth successful penalty from as many attempts opened up an 11-point advantage at the interval.

However, as Bath discovered last season, West are formidable opponents at home. Two early second-half penalties by Stimpson, whose kicking improved markedly, and a skillfully taken drop goal by the stand-off Paul Hodder threatened an upset.

With just over 20 minutes remaining, West trailed by only two points, a recovery which inspired a fiercely committed performance that resulted in Bath defending their 22 for longer than they are accustomed. Some relief was provided by the continuing excellence of Callard's kicking, his fifth penalty goal producing a 20-15 scoreline.

Five minutes from time, West's optimism soared when Callard conceded a penalty deep in his 22. Unfortunately from West's point of view the attack faltered as Bath cleared the danger. Undeterred, the Teessiders launched several more raids, but calm defensive work by the country's most proficient players ensured that Bath clinched the points.

West Hartlepool: T Stimpson; O Evans, A Elwine, C Lee, S Jones; P Hodder, S Cook; P Lancaster (capt), T Herbert, M Shelley, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Mitchell, A Brown, R Wainwright.

Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, J Sleightholme; M Catt, A Nicol; K Yates, G Dawe, V Obogu, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, S Ojomoh, B Clarke.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

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