Bath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
PERHAPS it was the long journey from one corner of the English rugby world to the other; perhaps it was the warm spring sun, but Bath snoozed their way to a victory that won them league points but few plaudits.
At the end of an ill-tempered match between the two sides from each end of the First Division, Bath remained arithmetically on top and Newcastle Gosforth found themselves arithmetically certain of relegation.
But it was an unspectacular affair. A firm pitch and fine weather might have been made for flowing rugby but turned instead into an atmosphere better suited to boxing.
It was clear that Newcastle Gosforth would go down fighting - literally fighting for some of the game. From the moment the two No 8s, Gosforth's Richard Arnold and Bath's Steve Ojomoh, traded snarls and punches, the mood was set. At one stage, all but a handful of backs were wrestling in the middle of the park oblivious to the ball-game apparently going on at the other end of the pitch.
Gosforth, as the club's old supporters still insist on calling them, played to their limits, relying on hard tackling and grit. Whatever superior skill Bath may have had was snuffed out in the early stages. So effective was this bristling approach that Newcastle took the lead when the flanker Martin Corry found himself with space and the line beckoning.
But determination can only go so far. Bath's natural superiority increasingly told as they imposed an effective but unglamorous pattern of rucks, mauls and forward charges. The manner of the four Bath tries speaks volumes: two from the second-row Martin Haag, one when the centre Mike Catt battered his way over and the fourth when the scrum-half Ian Sanders scrambled over from short range.
Bath's struggle to find their feet ended when a classic Stuart Barnes switch of direction gave Haag the easy task of opening their score. They did not get the hatful of points they felt they needed as a cushion against Leicester as the league comes to its climax. The two sides meet on 9 April in a match which will no doubt decide who takes the title. On yesterday's unsatisfactory evidence, an early bet on the Midlanders might be a sound investment.
Newcastle Gosforth: Try Corry. Bath: Tries Haag 2; Sanders; Catt; Conversions Callard 3; Penalty Callard.
Newcastle Gosforth: D Bennett; D Casado, I Chandler, M Tetlow, R Wilkinson; D Johnson (capt), S Douglas; M Fraser, A Hetherington, P Vanzandfleit, F Mitchell, R Metcalf (G Clarke, 47), M Corry, R Hoole, R Arnold.
Bath: J Callard; T Swift, E Rayner, M Catt, A Adebayo (M Olsen, 34); S Barnes, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe (C Atkin, 70), J Mallett, N Redman, M Haag, A Robinson, J Hall (capt), S Ojomoh.
Referee: D Chapman (Yorkshire).