Bath sneak home

Bath 27 Borders 23

Bath's newly appointed assistant coach, Jon Callard, was not understating things last night when he admitted that his new role, replacing England's recent appointee, Clive Woodward, would be "a hell of a challenge".

If the ball had been oil and Bath a supertanker then The Recreation Ground would have been an ecological disaster, there was that much spillage; as it was Bath maintained Scottish Borders 100 per cent record of defeats while preserving their own unblemished Heineken Cup run, but only just.

A generally anaemic performance, in which Bath allowed themselves to be outscored by three tries to two will have given Callard, who becomes player-coach for the remaining 18 months of his present contract, not so much food for thought as indigestion. Although he will be responsible primarily for the backs, as was Woodward, the head coach, Andy Robinson, foresees a more wide-ranging remit, with Callard helping out with the forwards as well.

By the time Callard, standing in as captain in the continued absence of Andy Nicol, had landed the first of his five gently struck penalties - "I have an ingrowing toenail," he explained, "I couldn't hit it any harder" - Borders had already had the temerity to take the lead twice, once with an opportunist try by scrum-half Bryan Redpath, and again when Craig Chalmers, playing at centre and not his accustomed stand-off alongside Tony Stanger, landed the first of his two penalties.

It needed Mike Catt to reassert home rule late in the half. The Bath fly-half flashed like a blade through the defence, was bravely, but only briefly, held up by Stanger before Phil de Glanville and Nigel Redman thundered in to drive the England international over the line; Callard converted.

There were a couple of ugly moments either side of the interval. The Borders prop Steve Ferguson got the yellow card for illegal use of the foot in first half injury time, an infringement which presented Callard with his third penalty. The fourth came after half-time when Borders strayed offside under their posts.

Bath replacement Eric Peters brought the crowd to its feet on the hour with a 50 yard sprint for the line and a fine try, but there were creaks on the Bath right when Borders were twice able to exploit the alarming paucity of cover; first Michael Dods went thundering through, then Stanger; only one was converted by Chalmers, but Borders were suddenly just a point adrift with 10 minutes left.

Tantalising stuff, but ultimately Bath were man enough to weather those desperate moments, Callard's fifth penalty also helped.

Bath: J Callard (capt); J Sleightholme, P de Glanville, M Perry, A Adebayo; M Catt, R Pellow (C Harrison, 40); D Hilton, M Regan (A Long, 23), C Horsman, M Haag, N Redman, R Earnshaw, R Webster (E Peters, 56), S Ojomoh (D Lyle, 56).

Borders: G Aitchison; S Nichol, T Stanger, C Chalmers, M Dods; S Welsh, B Redpath (capt); P Wright, J Hay, S Ferguson, R Brown, I Fullarton, R Kirkpatrick, A Roxburgh, C Hogg.

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