Rugby Union: Bath on way back

Wasps 25 Bath 25
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The Independent Online
Wasps 25 Bath 25

Great game, shame about the timing. Wasps and Bath, first and third in the Courage League, took the field at Loftus Road yesterday with a laughable tally of two Lions between them. After 80 minutes of thunderous cut and thrust played with a southern hemisphere pace with vision to match, Fran Cotton might be forgiven for wishing he had delayed the naming of his South African tour party for a few more days.

Both Mike Catt and Adedayo Adebayo showed enough in front of close on 11,000 transfixed spectators to suggest that they might have had a contribution to make against a Springbok outfit looking to play this summer's series at 100 miles an hour.

There were big performances from neglected Wasps, too, notably Nick Greenstock in the home midfield, and the sheer verve of the proceedings put some of the leaden displays of Lions-laden Northampton and Newcastle into stark relief.

At least the Lions have struck gold by selecting Guscott, whose hot streak registered another degree or two on the temperature gauge yesterday. A simple, sucker-punch try in the first half might have been nothing to write home about but his languid scoring pass to Adebayo on 52 minutes was an absolute pearl, as was the inch-perfect grubber that allowed his left wing colleague to return the compliment six minutes from the end.

At 25-18 in injury time, the threatened champions appeared to have tightened their fragile hold on the title and, simultaneously, to have ended the Londoners' tilt at glory. But for all the question marks over their set- piece ability, Wasps remain a cussed outfit. One last, prolonged surge created a half-gap for Alex King and the stand-off's try out towards the left corner flag allowed Gareth Rees to square it with the last kick of a compelling struggle.

Quite where the indecisive outcome leaves the championship race will become clear over the next six days. Leicester, the favourites, will not have been too upset at the news but they must still pay an unenviable double trip to the West Country.

This time last season Bath would have kicked themselves mercilessly for allowing Wasps to snatch a share of the spoils at so late a juncture, but the internal turmoil of the last few months has left them thankful for small mercies.

Last Wednesday's defeat at Sale was a final straw in the sense that the champions felt they no longer had anything to gain by investing in a restricted game plan and yesterday the shackles came off for the first time since the autumn.

Catt, sharp enough in mind and body to create gaps for the dangerous runners outside him, slotted over two early penalties and then sold the home side the most effective of dummies from a quick tapped penalty to send Guscott in unchallenged. That score, a minute before the break, gave Bath a two-point advantage and when the visitors' best ball-handling tight forwards, Kevin Wates and Federico Mendez, struck deep into the Wasps' 22, Guscott ushered Adebayo over to open up a nine-point advantage.

Back came Wasps, Rees hitting the target with three penalties between the 58th and 72nd minutes. That, however, merely paved the way for Guscott's second try, a result of cultured footwork that would not have looked out of place in a Brazilian soccer skills session.

It was not enough though. King's late strike denied the West Countrymen their most significant victory since the wheels came off their wagon at Christmas. There is, however, life in the old dog yet.

Wasps: Try King; Conversion Rees; Penalties Rees 5; Drop goal King. Bath: Tries Guscott 2, Adebayo; Conversions Callard, Catt; Penalties Catt 2.

Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, N Greenstock, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, A Gomarsall; D Molloy, S Mitchell (K Dunn 54), W Green, M Greenwood, A Reed, L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby (P Scrivener, 69), M White.

Bath: M Perry (J Callard, 75); J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol; K Yates, F Mendez, J Mallett (D Hilton, 69), G Llanes (S Ojomoh, 69), M Haag, R Webster, D Lyle, N Thomas.

Referee: C White (Gloucester).