Rugby Union: Bath survive the storm

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The Independent Online
Bath 12

Wasps 9

WASPS were magnificent but, alas, they did not win this war. It was total rugby, but the fact was that, incredibly, after 80 minutes of continuous and at times frantic action, there was not so much as a try to show for it.

Jonathan Callard kicked four penalties for Bath; Rob Andrew three for Wasps, and had he been successful with a fourth attempt seven minutes from the end, then Bath would have been denied their proud landmark of 16 consecutive league victories - a club record.

So nothing much changes. Bath, the habitual winners, beat Wasps, the habitual losers-out. But it was a performance of character rather than panache, and despite some wondrous passages of play it was a gloomy reflection on the current state of English rugby. There is something wrong when a side so manifestly playing below their recognised potential can continue to triumph.

Throughout most of the game, Wasps were by far the more enterprising and entertaining side yet for all their huff and bluster they succeeded in reaching Bath's 22 only twice in the first half. Bath, on the other hand, made more impact and inflicted more damage with a couple of lethally swift, incisive raids, one of which would certainly have led to a try had Ed Raynor's pass to Phil de Glanville been anywhere near its target.

Instead they had to rely on the accuracy of Callard, whose striking of the ball was flawless. Not once did he miss, and without him, Bath are currently low on scoring power, which should be a matter of grave concern to them.

Wasps, whose first avowed intent to free a pilgrim, a hunter on the wings or any of their midfield backs is wholly laudable, must first master the basics of handling and passing, neither of which came up to standard yesterday. They were also undone by their own indiscipline, the biggest culprit being Norm Hadley. The style Wasps have chosen to play this season does not appear to be one with which he is familiar or comfortable and there were times yesterday when he appeared to be doing his utmost to remove himself from the action. Having stamped on John Mallett and having received a warning from the referee for his intemperance, Hadley was then spotted punching Nigel Redman on a crossfield amble from a lineout. That should have been the end of big Norm but he survived to dent a few more defenders and deflate a few more egos with some remarkably sprightly charges.

Whatever else may be wrong with Bath this season, their defence remains superbly well organised. Even when Wasps, in their quest for the match-winning score, were forced into futile adventure from deep inside their own half, Bath were called upon to make any number of stupendous tackles. Their back row worked tirelessly but possibly because they spent most of the match in retreat, they looked less effective than Wasps' loose- forward combination.

The same is true behind the scrum where Mike Catt, for all his undoubted promise, has still much to learn about the art of fly-half play.

But they held out, as doubtless they will throughout the season. Wasps, after three successive defeats, will now face the grim struggle for survival but they will not, one hopes, abandon their policy of adventure which, with a little more practice and polish, may yet serve them well.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville, E Raynar, A Adebayo; M Catt, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, J Mallet (C Clark, 55), M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, J Hall (capt), B Clarke.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Hunter, G Childs, A Thompson, S Pilgrim; R Andrew, S Bates; D Molloy, K Dunn, J Probyn (I Dunston, 40-41), M Greenwood, N Hadley, D Ryan (capt), C Wilkins, L Dallaglio.

Referee: E Murray (SRU).