Dreary Bath clean up in the rain

Newcastle 5 Bath 9
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The Independent Football

The Bath forwards were in their element at Kingston Park yesterday, as the weather conspired against Newcastle's free-running style in a dreary game which Bath just deserved to win and which has lifted them to fourth in the Premiership, above Saracens on points difference.

The Bath forwards were in their element at Kingston Park yesterday, as the weather conspired against Newcastle's free-running style in a dreary game which Bath just deserved to win and which has lifted them to fourth in the Premiership, above Saracens on points difference.

While the incessant rain and slippery conditions did not help, Newcastle were guilty of some mindless rugby. However, there was some better news for the Falcons last night with the prospect of their England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson returning to training later this week.

Wilkinson's replacement at No10, Dave Walder, had an unhappy afternoon with the boot, missing a conversion and two penalty attempts.

It took Newcastle just 20 seconds to signal their intentions and issue Bath with the surest possible warning as to how dangerous they can be if given some space. They put together a sweeping move, initiated by Walder and executed at speed by Stephenson, Jamie Noon and Phil Dowson, with an exquisite final pass by Ollie Phillips for Tom May to cross in the right corner. And this straight from the Falcons' kick-off, which the Bath lock Danny Grewcock spilled expensively.

Inevitably there was a price to pay, and the Bath forwards made it clear that they wanted cash on the nail. But it took them another 38 minutes to receive the first instalment, when Chris Malone kicked his first penalty.

In between, we had a classical demonstration of keep-ball, with Grewcock and Steve Borthwick stealing four of Newcastle's line-out throws and the Bath front row exacting a fearful revenge for their early setback. Before the second quarter was reached, Ian Peel had been replaced by Micky Ward, and the Argentinian tight-head Galo Alvarez Quinones marked his first start with a departure at half-time.

After Ward limped off with a groin injury, we were treated to uncontested scrums. It turned out to be Bath's treat, as their head coach, John Connolly, explained.

"After Newcastle lost their props, our driving play in the loose improved," he said.

Not until the final 10 minutes did Newcastle threaten again. But the Bath defensive line held, despite Epi Taione's best efforts to breach it with some typically thunderous charges.

Had they taken some of their earlier chances, Bath would have been further ahead. Steve Booth crossed the home line but was unfortunate not to be awarded a try, having been impeded in chasing Martyn Wood's neat chip. Gareth Delve was another near-scorer after good work by Matt Perry, who looks more like his old self after so many injury problems.

Malone, who erred twice when kicking over the dead-ball line, added a second penalty on 52 minutes and then dropped a goal nine minutes later. It was all too much for the Falcons, who fell to their first home defeat since October.

Newcastle: Try May. Bath: Penalties Malone 2; Drop goal Malone.

Newcastle: M Stephenson (M Tait, 63); T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, O Phillips (M Burke, h-t); D Walder, H Charlton; I Peel (capt; M Ward, 17; M Thompson, 56), A Long, G Alvarez Quinones (D Wilson, h-t), G Parling, S Grimes, M McCarthy, C Harris, P Dowson.

Bath: M Perry; S Booth, A Williams, O Barkley, B Daniel; C Malone, M Wood; (N Walshe, 62) M Stevens, L Mears, D Bell (D Barnes, 59), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, G Delve (G Lewis, 52), J Scaysbrook, I Fea'unati.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).

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