Callard completes Bath escape

Bath 19 Gloucester 19

THE great escapologists of English rugby managed to perform their most thrilling feat yet at the Recreation Ground yesterday. Bath were apparently all trussed up with nowhere to go but defeat, when they conjured their habitual final flourish to slide off the hook and snatch a draw.

With the game virtually over, they were apparently well-beaten by a rampant, fearless Gloucester side, but the league leaders found that final reserve of strength that they have drawn on frequently this season. The full-back Jon Callard jinked and darted through the space he created to cross and then convert his own try to tie the scores. He also heaved a huge sigh of relief that the defeat that had stared Bath in the face had been eluded.

For much of the game, Bath were knocked back by the tenacious Gloucester forwards, with Mike Teague in the vanguard, looking as keen and as strong as he ever has. He foraged masterfully, continually stealing the loose ball. In front of him, the second rows Dave Sims and Richard West more than held their own - West very nearly scored a try as he loped free over 25 yards from a line-out.

And the Gloucester tactics were basic but right: win loose ball and then move it swiftly to the wings, often missing out a centre. That was exactly how the Gloucester try was fashioned. They first tried turning a series of scrums on the Bath line into pushovers - rarely a shrewd tactic at the Recreation Ground. When that failed they sped the ball out leftwards to the wing Paul Holford, who jinked through the well-made space, atoning in the process for his earlier greed in holding on to the ball when he had a man outside him in acres of space.

With a conversion and a penalty to the centre Lee Osborne and a couple of neat, longish drop goals to the outside-half Martin Kimber, against three penalties from Callard, but no sniff of a try, Gloucester had built themselves a stout platform for victory.

Even when Bath came out for the second half - like mad dogs keen to tear apart a hare, Gloucester did not flinch. Bath sent wave after wave of block-busting, entirely predictable assaults in the well-tried form of the No 8 Ben Clarke and the prop Victor Ubogu battering forward.

It got them nowhere because it is a game that Gloucester know by heart. Rather it was the moment of individual inspiration from Callard that snatched the draw. And apart from his try and conversion, he kicked the four penalties that had kept Bath in sight. He was also a rock in defence, fielding a barrage of high kicks faultlessly and continually scrambling the ball into touch, often with Gloucester fingers inches from it. And, of course, there was the Bath pack, Clarke at his massive best and the second row's Martin Haag and Nigel Redman battling tirelessly. If there was a gap, it was the absence of John Hall, the kind of man to pull things together when they are in danger of falling apart.

The other gap was tactical. Virtually every side in the land now know the Bath style. Bath can usually find an extra gear when they need it. Of late, though, it is a resource they are having to rely on more, and one which occasionally fails them.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville (capt), M Catt, A Adebayo; R Butland (S Johnson, 29), I Sanders; C Clark, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, B Clarke, S Ojomoh.

Gloucester: T Smith; P Holford, D Caskie, L Osborne, S Morris; M Kimber, B Fenley; A Powles, J Hawker, A Deacon (capt), D Sims, R West, P Glanville, M Teague, I Smith.

Referee: N Cousins (London).

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