Rugby Union: Bath limp towards the line

By Geoffrey Nicholson at Central Park
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Orrell 11 Bath 44 Bath's last-but-one game in pursuit of the league title. And, with ugly rumours spreading that they were over the crown of the hill and staring into the sunset, they had both to beat Orrell and improve their points tally. This they did, and it was probably enough to do the trick. But it was not the performance of a side bursting with fresh talent and confidence.

This was Orrell's second, and perhaps last, game at Wigan's Central Park. The number of supporters boycotting the ground showed in yesterday's attendance of only 2,650, and the Orrell committee has now decided to invest in improvements at their old home at Edge Hall Road.

This was not the only sign of current difficulties involving the two codes, though in this case the participants, Bath and Wigan, have made common cause. On Friday they heard from the Rugby Football Union that Twickenham Station will be closed for engineering works when they meet there on 25 May, and that the attendance will be capped at 37,500. Danny Sacco, the Bath committee man coordinating these arrangements for his club, said he felt disbelief at this late announcement. At a press conference he announced that Bath and Wigan are demanding a meeting with the RFU and the Police early next week to try to get the ceiling lifted. Twickenham had been chosen only for its 75,000 capacity, and already 30,000 tickets have been sold.

Meanwhile Bath had more immediate matters of concern and although they built up a substantial score the first half was little but a muscular grind in which they gradually imposed themselves on Orrell.

Simon Mason and Jon Callard exchanged penalties almost as if they were touching gloves before the sides began business. And in Bath's case this was to use their pack to roll Orrell back into their 22. By persistence and with help from Orrell's defensive mistakes, they worked their lock forward Martin Haag over for two tries, and another, again from close quarters came from scrum-half Andy Nicol. Callard converted twice and added a penalty. Even though Austin Healey, the Orrell scrum-half, contributed the pick of the place kicks, a penalty from 50 metres and near the touchline, Bath led 25-6 at half-time.

After the interval, when you expected Bath to open up, they relaxed only so far as to put their captain Phil de Glanville over for a try after an intricate but impromptu passing movement, and make openings for Jon Sleightholme, who through speed and one lucky bounce scored twice on the wing within seven minutes. Ian Wynn got one try back for Orrell.

If Sale can play as well at Bath next Saturday as they did to win last season's final league game at the Rec, the championship could still go to the last blast of the whistle.

Orrell: S Mason (S Taberner, 30); I Wynn, P Johnson (capt), L Tuigamala, G Smith; A Peacock, A Healey; P Winstanley, R Rawlinson, M Scott (A Moffatt, 72), C Cusani, P O'Neill, J Huxley, P Manley (P Anglesea, 63), T Woods.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), A Adebayo, A Lumsden; M Catt, A Nicol; K Yates, G Dawe, J Mallett, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, E Peters, S Ojomoh.

Referee: C White (Cheltenham)