Callard kicks life into Bath

Bath 19 Gloucester 10
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The Independent Online
RICHARD HILL has pulled many rabbits out of the hat since he left Bath to become director of rugby at Gloucester, but he has not yet produced any genuine ferrets. Gloucester gave the favourites a good run around in the second half, leaving them worryingly dependent on the penalties that Jonathan Callard had kicked to buttress their lead. But although Gloucester kept harrying Bath, they did not have sharp enough teeth to wound them fatally.

Nor, it has to be said, were they quite fit enough to keep up the pressure on a Bath side which looked rather as though they had been through a little too much rugby this season. This could be the first time that Bath reach the final without coming away with the Cup.

This was a great West Country occasion. Bath and Gloucester have much the same affection for each other as Cardiff and Swansea, Liverpool and Manchester, and Edinburgh and Glasgow. Gloucester would dearly have liked to be playing this tie in the close-packed fervour of Kingsholm, where no opponent's motives are pure and no referee has ever been born in wedlock. But they brought their own atmosphere with them, and since the home crowd at the Rec is not totally dispassionate, the growling roar that greeted the sides would have done justice to the Coliseum. And not the one in St Martin's Lane.

The early stages, as might be expected, brought work for the physios and points for the kickers. The worst clash, of heads, was between the two Gloucester props, Tony Windo and Andy Deacon, and the most improbable disagreement came when Callard was penalised for grappling with the Gloucester second-row Dave Sims. But Callard's reinstatement as full-back, with Mike Catt a reluctant stand-off for the indisposed Richard Butland, paid for itself when he kicked a sure-footed penalty on either side of Martyn Kimber's drop goal for Gloucester. Callard added another two before the interval when Bath, for all the increasing involvement of their backs, led 12-3, all from the boot.

The second half was another game. Bath got a penalty out of the kick- off, mis-tapped it along the ground, and from these unpromising beginnings Adedayo Adebayo barged through Sims and on down the left touchline for a try in the corner. Callard, who could do no wrong - this is not a moral judgement - converted from the widest angle, and it looked as though Gloucester were about to be swamped.

But only for a minute. Immediately Gloucester worked their way back upfield, and again from a tapped penalty, but closer to the line, their scrum-half, Scott Benton, burrowed his way over. Mark Mapletoft converted to restore the situation. For a spell it was Gloucester who forced the pace, and if Mapletoft had brought off his next two penalty attempts, and Kimber his second drop at goal, they would have had Bath in real trouble.

As it was, Bath kept Gloucester out in a state of barely controlled nervousness, anxious to improve their position without taking the elementary precautions to clear their line. Gloucester, though, did not have the armoury to take advantage of Bath's near-paralysis, or the confidence to persist with kicks at goal. So the last period of play passed almost by default.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, S Ojomoh, B Clarke.

Gloucester: M Mapletoft; M Peters, D Caskie, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Kimber, S Benton (B Fenley, 55); T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), P Glanville, I Smith, C Raymond.

Referee: E Morrison (Somerset).