Mendez inspires Bath second string to welcome win

Bath 36 Western Samoa 17
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The Independent Online
According to the grapevine, the touring Western Samoans have identified their fixture against the English champions as the No 1 priority outside their Test against Ireland. And the Recreation Ground regulars, more pessimistic than usual in the aftermath of Bath's early departure from the European Cup, feared a rare old pasting.

Certainly, Bath's decision to field a shadow side for the sort of international occasion they had coveted for years, fuelled the theory that they considered this weekend's league confrontation with Harlequins to be more pressing. The local cynics suggested the hike in stand seat prices to an astronomical pounds 19 was merely a ruse to ensure that the smallest possible audience would witness the latest reverse in the club's fortunes.

Typically, the West Countrymen found strength in adversity to record a victory as welcome as it was unexpected. They sent just two first-team certainties into the fray against 10 of the Samoans who beat the Irish so convincingly three weeks ago, although it can safely be assumed Federico Mendez will claim a senior front-row spot in about the same time that it takes the selectors to find the pen with which to write his name on the team-sheet.

Whatever the world-class Argentinian hooker adds to a pack, it sure is substantial. The fact he is earning the sort of salary usually reserved for Flash Harrys like Jason Robinson and Henry Paul - around pounds 135,000 for a season and a half's work - underlines his potential impact on a Bath unit seriously short of physical clout and he began earning his money from the first minute of last night's debut appearance.

If Mendez was the pick of the bunch in an unforgiving encounter, Richard Webster was not far behind. The Welshman is one hard nut; quite how he survived an almost ballistic high tackle from George Leaupepe three minutes before the break was anyone's guess. But when he returned to the conflict with his head swathed in bandages, he looked even more ready for an all- in scrap.

Bath did their damage in the early stages, Jon Callard kicking beautifully to punish frequent Samoan indiscipline at the rucks. Kevin Yates claimed a burrowing prop-forward's score in the sixth minute and the referee, David Chapman, awarded a penalty try nine minutes later when Mark Fatialofa banjoed Robinson off the ball. By the break, the home side were 26-3 to the good.

Inevitably, the defensive commitment of a second-string club outfit began to wilt in the second half and Fatialofa, now operating at right-wing rather than full-back because of an injury to Afato So'oalo, ran in two sharp tries following elusive scampering by the gifted Earl Va'a. But Callard, immaculate as ever with the boot, calmed things down with a 74th- minute penalty before taking his personal points tally to 26 with an injury- time try.

Bath: Tries Callard, Penalty, Yates. Conversions Callard 3. Penalties Callard 5. Western Samoa: Tries M Fatialofa 2. Conversions Va'a 2. Penalty Va'a.

Bath: J Callard; J Robinson, C Tyrer, J Pritchard, M Horne; R Butland, C Harrison; K Yates, F Mendez, J Mallett, C Gillies, D Lyle, R Webster, E Peters, A Robinson.

WESTERN SAMOA: M Fatialofa; A So'oalo (V Patu, 37), G Leaupepe, T Fanolua, P Fili; E Va'a (F Tanoa'i, 77), J Filemu; B Reidy, T Leota, A Le'uu (G Ale, 51), P Leavasa (L Tome, 61), M Birtwhistle, S Ta'ala, P Lam, J Paramore.

Referee: D Chapman (Yorkshire).

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