Rugby Union: Catling rises above mire

Rugby Union:Gloucester 23 Bath 7; Kingsholm proves a grim graveyard as Bath's decline reaches record levels
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The Independent Online
WE KNEW beforehand that this was never going to be a contest of great beauty between two hard-bitten and at present down-at-heel rivals on a bog of a pitch and in teeming rain, but for the Kingsholm crowd, for whom a ball in the air is worth two in the hand, there is no lovelier or more joyous sight than Bath receiving their comeuppance.

The whiff of vulnerability coming from Bath in recent weeks is now a stench and at a time of the year when reappraisal and renewal are the buzzwords, they will have to give serious consideration to both if they are to enjoy any kind of prosperity in what remains of their season.

No longer do they possess forwards with the physical stature of the past and no longer do they enjoy any kind of control or presence in the key positions behind the scrum. For most of this match yesterday they were overwhelmed by a team who have enjoyed only modest success so far this season and did not have to be any great shakes to inflict a sixth successive league defeat on their hapless opponents.

Gloucester did at least have the energy and commitment up front not only to survive the conditions but to wipe out the Bath pack and on a filthy day they had enough guile and touch to score three tries, two them by their admirable fullback Chris Catling.

If the first owed a great deal to some eccentric refereeing and the slimy conditions, his second was a scorching effort created by Terry Fanolua and Richard Tombs who combined sweetly in the centre before sending Catling over by the posts.

The full-back's first try had been scored in the corner and began deep inside the Gloucester half after a cherry-and-white arm had delved deep into the ruck from a blatantly offside position and, unpunished, had come out with the ball. From there Gloucester drove up field and Mark Mapletoft, the director general so conspicuously absent in the Bath ranks, had kicked shrewdly for the corner. Iain Balshaw was back to cover but the slippery ball eluded him and Catling was over for the try.

As a contest the game was over at half-time but for good measure Catling, lest we should forget his contribution in the first half, exploded into the action within a minute of the second, duping two Bath defenders with an outrageously obvious dummy before putting Fanolua in for the try, thereby returning the favour the centre had done him earlier. Now, facing humiliation, Bath roused themselves at last and, moving the ball through their hands, even managed to look reasonably slick. Adedayo Adebayo sliced through the middle for a try which Jon Callard converted.

It was much too late though to repair the appalling damage of the first- half, in which Bath's forwards had laboured clumsily and unsuccessfully to generate any heat or passion. They are, in truth, a very ordinary side, and when Jeremy Guscott has nothing to feed off the team has nothing to live on. Mike Catt had another wretched day, not only with his kicking from the hand but also with his passing, which, more than once, forced some unseasonal messages from the lips of his colleagues. His failure to harness the wind, which was in Bath's favour in the second half, scuppered what small chance his side had of mounting a revival.

Gloucester had already proved the value of the judiciously placed kick by exposing their opponents' back three on a number of occasions but Catt's inaccuracy allowed Catling and his wings the time and space to mount innumerable counter-attacks.

Gloucester played with direction and purpose, and if Scott Benton can concentrate more on improving his service rather than his beseeching backchat to the referee in future then he and those around him will benefit still further. On the day the Gloucester pack were infinitely superior and no one enjoyed that position more than their No 8, Steve Ojomoh, who played outstandingly against his former team-mates, displaying the value of a forward with sufficient speed and power to break the first tackle.

Where Bath go from here is, however, a different matter. They are in need of a complete overhaul and an injection of fresh ideas. The bubble, pricked on a number of occasions since their stirring victory in the European Cup last season, is now well and truly burst.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, R Greenslade-Jones; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Woodman, N McCarthy, A Deacon (A Powles, 72), R Fidler (capt, R Ward, 68), M Cornwell, E Pearce, S Ojomoh, N Carter,

Bath: J Callard (M Perry, 70); I Balshaw, K Maggs, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, S Hatley (G Cooper, 64); D Hilton (K Yates, 64), M Regan (A Long, 70 min), V Ubogu, S Borthwick (B Sturnham, 10-12), N Redman (B Sturnham, 29), R Webster (capt) (R Earnshaw, 70), D Lyle, E Peters.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).