Rugby Union: Bath keep up the pace

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The Independent Online
Gloucester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

Bath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

FOR MOST of the time this was less a local derby than a rustic Grand National. Flat- capped, soft going and fallen bodies all over the place. Ultimately, it was Gloucester who fell the second time round, though bravely getting to their feet again to challenge to the finish. It was Bath, unbeaten in their three league outings so far, who won their fourth, by a goal, a try and a penalty to a goal and a penalty. By the end, though, they certainly knew they had been in a race.

What is there left to say about Bath? For once, they have been upstaged by the match between Wasps and Leicester, their only credible rivals - at this point anyway. This left Bath to get on with their championship campaign in the relative obscurity of a full and caustic house at Kingsholm. But though Gloucester were stranded in the bottom half of the table, they were going to give the holders as hard a passage as possible.

Bath made little headway in the first half-hour. After eight minutes Mike Catt kicked them an opening goal, having hit the upright with an earlier attempt, when Gloucester were penalised for, of all things, collapsing the scrum. But the home side lived down this embarrassment with a counter attack led by the pack and developed by the backs, with a cross kick by Tim Smith bringing a line-out in the left corner. This advantage was lost by an infringement. So was another on the other side of the field, and the game settled into a traditional West Country match, the fury of the tussle wiping out most of the skill.

Midway through the half the Bath flanker, Andy Robinson, was kicked on the head by a Gloucester player as he lay outside a ruck, but though Andy Deacon, their captain, was lectured on his team's behaviour, no individual was blamed. Ten minutes later Robinson left the field for repairs, blood running down from his scalp.

Nine minutes into the second half Gloucester received a fair return for their earlier thwarted efforts when Steve Ojomoh was penalised in the line-out and, having twice failed before the interval, Mark Mapletoft landed a penalty to level the score. Now Bath had to raise their game. And although the management has changed and several of the skilled hands have taken their redundancy, the commitment of the workforce remains as strong as ever. Within 11 minutes they had scored two powerful tries - the first by an avenging Robinson, after Martin Haag and Ben Clarke had burst through the Gloucester forwards like missiles, and the second, featuring Robinson and Hagg again, completed by the scrum-half, Ian Sanders.

Yet even when it seemed that Bath, by two blows, had knocked their opponents completely off their game Gloucester staged a last-gasp revival. In the 73rd minute Mapletoft took a quick penalty down the touch line on to which Tim Smith ran to score in the corner. From the widest of angles Mapletoft converted.

Gloucester: M Mapletoft; P Holford, S Morris, B Maslen, T Smith; M Kimber, B Fenley; P Jones, J Hawker, A Deacon (capt), D Sims, R West, P Glanville (P Ashmead, 61), I Smith, C Raymond.

Bath: A Lumsden; T Swift, P de Glanville (capt), E Rayner, J Sleightholme; M Catt, I Sanders; V Ubogu, G Dawe, J Mallett, M Haag, A Reed, A Robinson, S Ojomo, B Clarke.

Referee: E Morrison (RFU).