Bath ready to reclaim their title

Steve Bale says England's top rugby club would flourish under Welsh rules
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The Independent Online
If - not when, since they lost the equivalent fixture last season - Bath beat Sale at the Rec this afternoon, points difference will make them champions of the Courage league for the sixth time in its nine seasons. And they will thoroughly deserve the honour.

OK, this is a statement of the obvious as even Leicester, the outgoing champions who have dogged Bath every step of the way, would not demur. But it is also based on a revealing set of statistics that show Bath to be both consistent and capable of dazzling one-off performances.

They not only play winning rugby - or, like Leicester, have done so in 15 of their 17 First Division fixtures - but do so by scoring tries and, usually, overwhelming inferior opposition. Only Harlequins, courtesy of the 14 they amassed against the doomed West Hartlepool, have scored more but even the free-scoring Quins cannot match the bonus points Bath would have scored under the Welsh system.

Now it may be a facile comparison but it is of interest none the less to see which clubs have most ventured to be bold. In addition to two points for a win, the contentious Welsh way awards another - win or lose - for three or four tries, another for five or six and another for seven or more.

Bath would have gained a maximum five on three occasions this season, plus a couple of fours. Harlequins would have had two maximums, 17 bonus points to Bath's 20 and Leicester's nine - a disparity that would already have given Bath the title and elevated Quins above the Tigers to second.

There would be a change near the bottom, too. Nothing could have saved West Hartlepool, though their half-dozen bonus points would be five more than either Gloucester or Saracens, who contest today's loser-goes-down relegation decider at Kingsholm. Saracens would be ahead of, and not behind, Gloucester on the Welsh system where tries scored rather than points-difference is the determinant for those who are level.

That Gloucester have any chance of avoiding relegation is one of the minor miracles of this season. "I was soon in despair," said Richard Hill, who became the club's rugby director in October after a distinguished playing career at the other end of the table with Bath. "We were as good as down. But the players have shown the skill and dedication to turn things round. We need one more good game in front of our fantastic crowd."

Bath would testify to the Kingsholm effect after their recent defeat there. But Leicester's subsequent failure to make up sufficient of their points-difference deficit has kept Bath's fate in their own hands and Phil de Glanville can expect to have his on the Courage trophy even though he is not fit to take his regular place at centre.

"This is my first season in charge and every Bath captain since 1984 has brought home a trophy," De Glanville said - with slightly imperfect accuracy, remembering that Richard Hill in 1988 was the last trophyless Bath captain. "The weight of having to be a leader of a silverware-winning team is huge."

Leicester's residual hope of retaining the championship rests mainly on Sale but also on their own efforts against Harlequins at Welford Road. More realistic is the revenge that will be available when they meet Bath in the cup final at Twickenham next Saturday. How odd that, as things stand, both have already announced their withdrawal from next season's league and cup, so I suppose we are at the end of an era.

n Yesterday's meeting of the RFU executive broke up without any apparent progress having been made towards resolving the disagreement with the leading clubs.

HOW THEY STAND

COURAGE CLUBS CHAMPIONSHIP

FIRST DIVISION

P W D L F A Pts

Bath 17 15 0 2 537 238 30

Leicester 17 15 0 2 457 221 28

Harlequins 17 12 0 5 503 295 24

Wasps 17 10 0 7 405 319 20

Sale 17 9 0 8 327 333 18

Orrell 17 7 0 10 297 448 14

Bristol 16 6 0 10 263 380 12

Gloucester 17 5 0 12 258 360 10

Saracens 17 5 0 12 274 434 10

W Hartlepool 16 0 0 16 270 563 0

P W D L Tries BP Pts

Bath 17 15 0 2 63 20 50

Harlequins 17 12 0 5 66 17 41

Leicester 17 15 0 2 40 9 39

Wasps 17 10 0 7 48 15 35

Sale 17 9 0 8 34 8 26

Orrell 17 7 0 10 29 4 18

Bristol 16 6 0 10 19 2 14

Saracens 17 5 0 12 21 1 11

Gloucester 17 5 0 12 19 1 11

W Hartlepool 16 0 0 16 28 6 6

FORM GUIDE: THE LAST FIVE GAMES

BATH

30 Mar Bristol (a) W 43-5

6 Apr Harlequins (h) W 41-15

10 Apr Gloucester (a) L 10-16

13 Apr Saracens (a) W 21-15

20 Apr Orrell (a) W 44-11

Points: 8/10

Today: v Sale (h)

LEICESTER

30 Mar Orrell (a) W 38-10

6 Apr Wasps (h) W 15-12

13 Apr Bristol (a) W 43-29

17 Apr Sale (h) W 32-10

24 Apr Gloucester (h) W 28-6

Points: 10/10

Today: v Harlequins (h)

TOP TWO

BOTTOM FOUR

BRISTOL

17 Feb Sale (a) L 6-15

30 Mar Bath (h) L 5-43

6 Apr Gloucester (a) L 14-18

13 Apr Leicester (h) L 29-43

20 Apr Saracens (h) W 21-7

Points: 2/10

Today: v Orrell (a)

GLOUCESTER

30 Mar Wasps (a) L 10-21

6 Apr Bristol (h) W 18-14

10 Apr Bath (h) W 16-10

13 Apr Harlequins (a) L 19-33

24 Apr Leicester (a) L 28-6

Points: 4/10

Today: v Saracens (h)

SARACENS

17 Feb Harlequins (h) L 6-13

30 Mar W Hartlepool (a) W 41-31

6 Apr Sale (a) L 15-18

13 Apr Bath (h) L 15-21

20 Apr Bristol (a) L 7-21

Points: 2/10

Today: v Gloucester (a)

WEST HARTLEPOOL

23 Mar Harlequins (h) L 21-91

30 Mar Saracens (h) L 31-41

6 Apr Orrell (h) L 22-44

13 Apr Sale (a) L 13-44

20 Apr Wasps (a) L 12-52

Points: 0/10

Today: v Wasps (h)

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