Rugby Union: Case for reviving old club rivalries: Bath and Cardiff stir memories at the Recreation Ground of the great Anglo-Welsh confrontations of the pre-league era

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AS A vision of what might have been, indeed what might yet be, yesterday's mudbath at the Recreation Ground was powerfully persuasive. If virtual second strings can play rugby like this, just imagine what the real Bath and Cardiff could do.

In which case meaningful Anglo- Welsh fixtures - in this day and age that means some form of proper competition - cannot come quickly enough. And what that needs is an abandonment of the present parochialism and someone, anyone, with the vision to get on with it.

As it happens, the whole idea of making this fixture in Christmas week was to make it as meaningful as possible. But for the subsequent intrusions of last night's Welsh trial at Llanelli and the divisional match at Twickenham on Monday, there would have been every incentive for both clubs to field their very best. It may not have been league rugby but the Rec was as packed as it used to be when Bath and Cardiff had a series of epic encounters here in the Eighties.

Bath had cancelled their Boxing Day game with Clifton to protect their pitch and had already cancelled tomorrow's against Richmond with forthcoming league and cup fixtures against Bristol in mind. These unwelcome visitors being understandably miffed, you have to wonder why the matches were arranged in the first place.

Yesterday's suffered in prospect from the non-appearance of 11 Cardiff players with the Wales squad and seven of the eight from Bath about to represent the South-West as well as all the others who were simply not available. But in actuality the rugby was as bright and sparkling as if the sun had been shining and all the first-choice luminaries present.

Bath were the stronger for three- quarters of the game, building a substantial lead through the tries of Mark Woodman, Dave Hilton, Darren Crompton and Woodman again but ultimately being reduced to extended anxious defence as Cardiff ended up running the mud- caked ball from all parts.

The splendid Andy Moore had scored an earlier try and was the principal instigator of the late rally which culminated too soon when Steven John scored the second Cardiff try with 16 long minutes remaining. Another was still needed but Bath's defence, superbly marshalled by Mike Catt, stood as firm as is possible in a quagmire.

Catt was the outstanding member of the Bath side. No surprise there, since he was one of the first- team few who turned out - and did so despite being among those playing London at Twickenham. If the England selectors want to take a utility back to South Africa in May, here is their man.

Catt and the rest will probably soon be joined by Jon Sleightholme, the England Under- 21 wing from Wakefield who played for the Barbarians at Leicester on Tuesday. Sleightholme has been offered a scholarship place at Bath University and, if rugby has anything to do with it (it presumably has everything to do with it), he will be at home at the Rec as of next season.

Bath: Tries Woodman 2, Hilton, Crompton; Conversions Catt 2. Cardiff: Tries Moore, S John; Conversions C John 2; Penalties C John 2.

Bath: H Long; M Woodman, A Webber, E Rayner, M Lloyd; M Catt, R Hill (capt); D Hilton, C Atkins, D Crompton, M Haag, C Yandell (M Matthews, 54), N Maslen, E Peters, G Adams.

Cardiff: S Davies; A Hurford, C Laity, M Price, S John; C John, A Moore (capt), A Lewis (C Johnson, 30), H Bevan, K Matthews, J Wakeford, S Roy, C Mills, P Ager, M Bennett.

Referee: A Savage (Telford).

SOUTH-WEST (v London, 3 Jan, Twickenham): J Callard (Bath); S Holford (Gloucester), N Beal (Northampton), M Catt, A Lumsden (both Bath); P Hull (Bristol), R Hill (Bath) or K Bracken (Bristol); C Clark, G Dawe (capt; both Bath), D Hinkins (Bristol), R West (Gloucester), A Blackmore (Bristol), D Eves (Bristol), D Sims (Gloucester), S Ojomoh (Bath).

Wales' crisis, page 31

(Photograph omitted)