Rugby Union: Andrew begins to show his age

Bath 16 Newcastle 11
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The Independent Online
MAYBE IT was just one of those days or maybe the seasons are catching up with Rob Andrew. Nobody can outrun Old Father Time as Andrew painfully discovered to his, and Newcastle's, cost at the Recreation Ground.

There has been much speculation, most of it wild, about the future involvement of the patriarch Sir John Hall but of more immediate concern is the role of Andrew, the club's director of rugby.

Since being recruited from Wasps, Andrew's achievement, in winning promotion and then the Premiership title last season, has been outstanding. This season, however, Newcastle have been unable to string together a decent run and on the evidence of their seventh defeat in the Premiership they can kiss the title goodbye.

On Saturday, Andrew may as well have been at the Blaydon Races. "We didn't play with enough pace," Steve Bates, the Newcastle coach said, without naming any names.

Although Jonny Wilkinson wears the No 10 jersey, Andrew is the de facto stand-off. He plays mother hen to Wilkinson, dominates the pecking order and calls the shots but they nearly all backfired against Bath.

Andrew will be 36 next month and perhaps it is time the 19-year-old Wilkinson was entrusted with a weekend pass. Matt Perry, the England fullback, has been given his head by Bath although having said that there were worrying signs in this match that the 21-year-old has lost a lot of confidence.

Bath, eliminated from the Tetley's Bitter Cup by Newcastle last week, relished the physical contact that the Falcons always provide (the referee Ed Morrison was curiously tolerant of some heavy duty stamping and fighting by both sides) and defended superbly.

Mike Catt, Andrew's opposite number, also dogged it out, scoring all Bath's points, their only try coming in the 11th minute. Andrew's attempted chip - the execution was simply not sharp enough - was charged down by Catt who ran in unopposed from 40 yards.

That was as big a setback to Newcastle as Ross Beattie losing the ball over the Bath line just before half-time but Andrew's misery was compounded by his wretched kicking.

In that department he was also outplayed by Catt, something that would have been unthinkable when Andrew was in his prime. Time was when Andrew could control a game, not only through immaculate kicking but also his ability to score tries or drop goals.

Against Bath's suffocating tackling Newcastle ran out of ideas. Apart from the odd isolated run by Inga Tuigamala or Jim Naylor, there was nothing convincing or confident about their back play and Andrew, as the playmaker, has to take responsibility.

A week is a long time in rugby. Bath conceded a 22-6 lead in the fourth round of the cup at Kingston Park before losing 25-22 to a last-minute penalty by Wilkinson.

After that nightmare Andy Robinson, the Bath coach, said the dressing- room "looked like a morgue".

Robinson, who admitted that Bath's disconcerting run of results had led to a "lack of trust and confidence between the players" (anathema to a club renowned for its brotherhood) was, understandably, in a much better frame of mind on Saturday. "The confidence is coming back," he said. "We were a different side."

Nevertheless, the line between victory and defeat, between a dressing- room that looks like a rave or a morgue, is finer than it has ever been.

Bath: Try Catt; Conversion Catt; Penalties Catt 3. Newcastle: Try Naylor; Penalties Wilkinson 2.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt (I Evans, 71), S Hatley; D Hilton, M Regan (A Long, 72), V Ubogu, M Haag, S Borthwick, R Earnshaw, D Lyle, R Webster (capt).

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor (T Underwood, 71), M Shaw, R Andrew (capt), V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong; I Peel (S Best, h-t), R Nesdale, G Graham, D Weir, G Archer, R Arnold (P Walton, h-t), R Beattie, J Cartmell (S O'Neill, 64).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).