Bath stung by injury to Paul

Bath 36 Wasps 40
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The Independent Online
The departure of Henry Paul some seven minutes into the second half with an ankle injury signalled an alarming period for Bath on Saturday. In the space of 16 minutes, Wasps swarmed over the reigning Courage League champions and put 23 points on them.

Paul's injury, likely to sideline the New Zealander for a couple of weeks, left people wondering how Bath will manage after 11 January, when Paul's four-month contract runs out and he has to return to Wigan. The presence of Wigan officials at the fall of Bath has prompted speculation that the West Country club may well be taking the initial steps to securing Paul's services for a little longer. It will cost them. If Iestyn Lewis can carry a price tag of pounds 1.3m then heaven (and perhaps the Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson) knows the value of Paul.

Not even Paul's versatile and abrasive presence could make up for the errors which abounded in Bath's game. Few emerged untouched by the plague of mistakes, and their manager, John Hall, was angered by the high turnover count and fumbled passes which blighted Bath's performance. "You can't give away three very soft tries and spill ball, then expect to win. We tried to over-elaborate all the time. You've got to do the little things, the basics well, then the good things follow."

Hall's contention that Bath "should have beaten that side by 30 points if we had played our normal game" sounds far-fetched considering how well Wasps played. If Va'aiga Tuigamala had a less spectacular debut than Paul, the former All Black wing was certainly effective in defence.

Chris Sheasby, who claims he left Harlequins "for the best of reasons" - a possible allusion to the club's director of coaching, Dick Best - was a revelation to the crowd and a constant threat to the Bath line, which he twice crossed to score. Sheasby was just one member of an effective back-row unit, for which Buster White and Lawrence Dallaglio also produced some fantastic moments.

Then there was the schoolboy sprint champion Paul Sampson. His defensive play needs working on but no one needs to tell him how to run. By the time he had covered 70-odd yards for Wasps' opening try, the majority of the Bath side had barely covered 25m.

Most important of all, the halfback pairing of Andy Gomarsall and Alex King grew in confidence as the match progressed. King was forever probing in loose and set play, and his option-taking was better than sound and at times bordered on the inspirational. He owed that to the time he gained from Gomarsall's slick service, and the scrum-half, himself, was not averse to testing the Bath defences around the fringes.

Canada's outside-half Gareth Rees may have a problem regaining the No 10 shirt from King, but he could well make the full-back berth his own. His kicking from hand was sound, he pulled off a couple of try-saving tackles and he missed only one kick at goal.

Wasps are certainly equipped to challenge for and even win the title. They have the squad numbers to cover for injury and, having beaten the champions at home and put more points on them than anyone else has managed since the Courage League began, have self-belief.

"This was exactly what the game needed," Dallaglio said. "It has thrown the championship wide open. We now believe that we can beat anyone. This is a very different Wasps side from the one that lost to Bath last season down here."

Bath: Tries Robinson, Catt, Nicol, penalty try; Conversions Callard 2; Penalties Callard 4. Wasps: Tries Sampson, Sheasby 2, Mitchell; Conversions Rees 4; Penalties Rees 3; Drop goal King.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, J Guscott (capt), H Paul (A Adebayo, 47), J Robinson; M Catt, A Nicol; D Hilton, G Dawe, J Mallett, N Redman, B Cusack, N Thomas, S Ojomoh, E Peters.

Wasps: G Rees; P Sampson, N Greenstock, V Tuigamala, S Roiser; A King, A Gomarsall; D Molloy, S Mitchell, W Green (M Griffiths, 69), D Cronin, M Greenwood, M White, L Dallaglio (capt, P Scrivener, 33-35), C Sheasby.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Cleveland).