Rugby Union: Bristol's steel is blunted by Bath

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The Independent Online
Bath. . . . .18

Bristol. . . .9

BRISTOL arrived at Bath's citadel with much bravado but left with their ninth defeat in a row after a tense League opener that was hard but not always fast.

Bristol's broadswords, in the form of a back row more constructive than Bath's, and a second row which cleaned up in the line-out through height and erratic throwing in by Graham Dawe, were blunted. Despite being given plenty of possession by the pack, their arrows fell short, with full back Paul Hull, looking unhappy under a number of high kicks, sharp but lonely.

This Bath side is regrouping and continuing a forward surge, adjusting to the new pivotal rhythm of Ian Sanders and Mike Catt at half back in place of Richard Hill and Stuart Barnes, waiting for the return of Jeremy Guscott at centre, and perhaps still wondering what Jack Rowell would have said.

The England manager was back at the Recreation Ground to watch his old charges start the long journey to a fifth consecutive league title and see how some of the England candidates were shaping.

Both he and Les Cusworth have said that everyone will be given a chance - all places are up for grabs. Rowell could not have failed to appreciate how his own influence continues, despite the appointment of Brian Ashton as Bath coach.

When it came down to the wire, Bath could play 80 minutes of league rugby while Bristol were blowing after 65. Bath gave away penalties and free-kicks at the rate of three to Bristol's two, prompting referee Brian Campsall to consider opportunities for awarding a penalty try after five consecutive offsides spoiled a concerted Bristol drive.

Bath know how not to play the laws and stop the opposition, and they were able to turn on their own pressure, first for a penalty try when a pushover was stopped by Kyran Bracken trying to remove the ball.

Their second was made by Tony Swift and Catt down the right wing and finished by Audley Lumsden. Afterwards, captain Jon Hall and forwards coach Gareth Chilcott paid tribute to the variety and improvement of Catt's game.

'In their heart of hearts they always knew it was going to be an uphill struggle,' said Hall. 'At half-time I told the boys we had to step it up and we came back with a good attitude. We just need to tune up the engine and get it purring for the rest of the season.'

Bath: Tries Lumsden; Penalties Callard 2. Bristol: Penalties Tainton 3.

Bath: J Callard; A Swift, A Lumsden, P de Glanville, A Adebayo; M Catt, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Obugu, A Reed, N Redman, A Robinson, B Clarke, J Hall (capt).

Bristol: P Hull; D John, M Denney, D Wring, G Sharpe; M Tainton, K Bracken; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, A Blackmore, R Armstrong, I Patten, D Eves.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).