Half-measures leave Hall frustrated

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The Independent Online

West Hartlepool 15 Bath 20

It is early days, of course, but first impressions, while they can be misleading, may be an indicator of the long term.

Bath may not be quite the champion force of old and West on this performance alone should survive. However, only the foolish would dismiss Bath's chances of regaining their title. The future will look healthier once the new partnership at half-back of Andy Nicol and Mike Catt has gelled.

One unit looking solid and successful already is Jonathan Callard. The full-back's five penalties decided the outcome in favour of Bath who, for the second year running, were almost beaten at Brierton Lane.

The fact that they were not owed much to a domineering first-half effort - Bath led 17-6 at the interval - and West's inability to convert territorial advantage into points once two more penalties by Tim Stimpson and a drop goal by Paul Hodder cut the deficit to two points. In retrospect, West's determination and commitment, which threatened a dethronement, could not overcome Bath's effective defence and resolve to cling to a lead secured by Callard's final penalty.

So Bath were rather fortunate to emerge victorious after a performance eliciting mixed reviews from John Hall, the team manager. "We were excellent in the first half but in the second it was Bath at our worst.

"Kevin Yates had an outstanding game. He's got exceptional pace and is a sound scrummager. He has a great future and I think he'll challenge Jason Leonard for his place in the England team."

A measure of satisfaction then for Hall but only frustration for West's coach, Dave Stubbs: "I'm sick of being the bridesmaid. We lacked the killer instinct."

Stubbs' views on Bath provoke thought: "They seemed to lack a bit of fitness. They tired very badly. Ubogu and Ojomoh walked in the last quarter. That did surprise me. Before the break they did some wonderful stuff. Bath had a cushion and I thought they would come and come but they didn't.

"I think Leicester and Wasps would have and the Bath of old would."

West Hartlepool: Penalties Stimpson 4; Drop goal: Hodder. Bath: Try Sleightholme; Penalties Callard 5.

West Hartlepool: T Stimpson; O Evans, A Elwine, C Lee, S Jones; P Hodder, S Cook; P Lancaster (capt), T Herbert, M Shelley, J Dixon, K Westgarth, B Mitchell, R Wainwright, A Brown.

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

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).