Rugby Union: Bristol's twin towers cannot contain Bath

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The Independent Online
Bath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

Bristol. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

THEY came full of great expectations and departed defeated. So far as Bristol were concerned, it was all horribly familiar. A fortnight earlier, on a league visit, they had denied Bath a try and lost out to three penalties. Now Bath, having missed half a dozen kicks, twice crossed their neighbours' line at the Rec and finished up in today's draw for the Pilkington Cup quarter-finals.

The sheer irony, though, lay in the line-out. A crucial area, here Bristol may have been the dominant force and yet they still trailed in second. 'We're a hair's breadth from getting it right,' Derek Eves, the Bristol captain, said, but one win over Bath in 10 long years is the bald fact of the matter.

Poor Eves. While his locks were rarely shorn of possession, Andy Blackmore and Simon Shaw proving themselves a towering line-out asset, when Andy Reed did eventually lay fingers on the ball Bath were off and running. Stuart Barnes, from 45 yards out, made a stunning break for Phil de Glanville to send in Mike Catt for Saturday's second try.

And tries win matches - at least they do when all else fails, Barnes unable to kick a thing apart from the two conversions, the first after a tap penalty released Steve Ojomoh on a drive to the posts. 'It was quite frustrating at times,' John Hall, Bath's captain, said, 'but our two tries were right out of the top drawer.'

Not half as frustrating as it was for Bristol, who were contained to three penalties from Mark Tainton. 'Their back line is the best in the country,' the New Zealander Brian Hanlon, Bristol's new coaching director, conceded. 'You look at their defence, it's incredible.' With backs like Bath, Bristol would be really dangerous.

'I don't like to criticise other clubs,' Hall said, 'but they showed very little enterprise outside for the amount of ball they won.' And there was plenty of self-criticism, too. 'The only thing we really need to look at is our line-out. Having said that, Bristol have probably one of the best line-outs in the world.' High praise indeed, though Jack Rowell, Bath's coach, settled for 'best in the country'.

Hanlon took up the theme. 'Simon Shaw,' he said, 'will go all the way.' Shaw, only 20, is 6ft 9in and 18 stone and 'an amazing athlete. If you've got four better locks than him in the country I'd be very surprised'. No wonder Bath are reported to have shown an interest in Shaw. But then if they improved in the line-out stakes, how much more dangerous would they be?

Bath: Tries Ojomoh, Catt; Conversions Barnes 2. Bristol: Penalties Tainton 3.

Bath: A Lumsden; T Swift, M Catt, P de Glanville, A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; C Clark, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, A Reed, S Ojomoh, B Clarke, J Hall (capt).

Bristol: P Hull; D John, A Saverimutto, R Knibbs, S Crossland; M Tainton, R Kitchin; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, A Blackmore, R Armstrong, C Barrow, D Eves (capt).

Referee: S Piercy (Asselby, Yorkshire).