Rugby Union: Bath burst bubble

London Irish 35 Bath 49
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The Independent Online
BATH maintained the pressure on the league leaders with a thoroughly professional victory at Sunbury in a match that had more entertainment, and more movement, than Riverdance. At the end of this extravaganza, the European Cup holders, who cannot afford to lose a Premiership match if they are to pull off a unique cup and league double, were indebted to the massive superiority of their scrummage and to a number of careless mistakes by their hosts who, as always, were generous to a fault.

Bath scored seven tries to four to quell the London Irish uprising which had seen them notch up, under the new coach, Dick Best, an unprecedented three Premiership victories. There was high drama to match the high stakes.

A semi-sliced kick from Phil de Glanville in midfield gave Bath a fortuitous lead in the fifth minute. The ball found Ieuan Evans in space and after the wing's run and chip, Jeremy Guscott took a kind bounce to score. The move stemmed from a great drive by the Bath pack who gave early notice of just how formidable they are.

Their strength in the maul, tying up the Irish not altogether legally, led to their second try after 25 minutes - Andy Nicol taking advantage to run 30 yards unopposed. Jonathan Callard's conversion put Bath 18-3 ahead. The veteran full-back had already kicked a penalty after coming on for the concussed Richard Butland, with Matt Perry moving to stand- off.

The Irish got back into it with a well-worked try from a line-out, Nick Harvey feeding Kieron Dawson and the irrepressible Peter Richards went over near the posts. However, Bath established a 30-13 lead by half time. First, the pack threatened to scrummage the Irish into the winners' enclosure at nearby Kempton Park and Eric Peters helped himself to the pushover try. Then De Glanville deflected a high kick from Perry and Evans scored a simple try.

Nonetheless, this was never going to be the simplest of tasks for Bath and the second half almost developed into a contest between the extraordinary Western Samoan Isaac Feaunati and the strength of the Bath scrum. Feaunati, who seems to have the drive of a tank, is virtually unstoppable from close range and he smashed through Russell Earnshaw and De Glanville to score at the posts.

When Bath got a scrum at the other end, almost inevitably they were awarded a penalty try. When the game was kept away from the scrum, the Irish were extremely dangerous. Feaunati bulldozed over for his second try before Nicol played a significant role. His up-and-under was dropped by Niall Woods and Evans was gifted a try. Not long after, the scrum-half helped himself to his second try from, you've guessed it, a scrum near the Irish line.

Even then the Irish were not finished. When Peters late-tackled Richards, the French referee balanced the books by awarding a penalty try. It was the very least the Irish deserved.

London Irish: D Charles; J Bishop, B Venter, M McCall, N Woods; D Humphreys, P Richards; L Mooney, R Kellam (T Redmond, 64), I McLaughlin (J Fitzpatrick, 40), N Harvey (capt), G Fulcher (M O'Kelly, 40), K Spicer (C Bird, 62), I Feaunati, K Dawson.

Bath: M Perry; I Evans, P de Glanville, J Guscott, A Adebayo (I Balshaw, 70); R Butland (J Callard, 14), A Nicol (capt); D Hilton, M Regan, V Ubogu (J Mallett, 69), M Haag, N Redman, R Earnshaw, E Peters, R Bryan.

Referee: P Thomas (France).

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