Rugby Union: Catt claws back Bath respect

Bath 16 Newcastle 11
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The Independent Online
YOU KNOW Bath are in trouble when they are forced to borrow a Wasps scrum-half. Andy Gomarsall was not used yesterday when the West Country club looked more like their old selves. Any victory in the Premiership is a cause for celebration nowadays at the Recreation Ground but this was particularly sweet.

Since moving into the Premiership, Newcastle have been Bath's nemesis, winning their last four encounters, including last week's narrow victory in the Tetley's Bitter Cup.

Yesterday Mike Catt scored all Bath's points - a try, a conversion and three penalties - before he was replaced nine minutes from the end of a torrid, at times violent, affair between the European Cup winners and reigning league champions. No love lost here.

Not only are Bath out of the cup, which used to regularly adorn their trophy cabinet, but they are languishing in mid-table following seven defeats. But rumours of terminal decline were dispelled by a performance of character, courage and sheer bloody-mindedness. Newcastle may not be the potent force of last season (nor for that matter is Rob Andrew), but they are still a valuable scalp. Newcastle, and Andrew in particular, had a hugely frustrating afternoon against a side whose tackle count was phenomenal.

Bath led 13-0 at half-time and Catt's cream was Andrew's fur-ball. Catt, who had been hurt by Jimmy Cartmell's tackle in the first minute, scored an opportunist try 10 minutes later when Andrew, with plenty of time, didn't seem to be sure whether to kick long or chip.

When he chose to do the latter Catt charged it down, caught the kind rebound and ran unopposed to the line from 40 yards. The England stand- off, who landed a useful conversion and added a penalty in the 18th minute, might have had another but for an indiscretion by the No 8, Dan Lyle.

From in front of the Newcastle posts, referee Ed Morrison had already blown for a penalty to Bath as Lyle barged Ross Beattie, Beattie barged Lyle who in turn collided with Morrison. Shaken and stirred, the referee reversed the award.

If that was unfortunate for Bath, they had a lucky break just before the interval when Va'aiga Tuigamala embarked on a powerful run infield from the left wing. Though he was held, Newcastle recycled the ball until Beattie found daylight and the line. The only problem was that in scoring, he lost possession. It was a decisive miss.

Prior to that, Catt had kicked a second penalty after Garath Archer approached a ruck like a rampant bull. Newcastle were rewarded for their pressure as Jim Naylor, after being held on the line, broke through the heart of the defence to go over near the post. Jonny Wilkinson missed the conversion.

Catt and Wilkinson exchanged penalties in the 54th and 57th minutes to make the score 16-8 before the forwards engaged in a series of running fights. Mark Regan and Ross Nesdale were both warned, as was Archer after Newcastle lost their throw-in at a line-out. It was the signal for all hell to break loose with both sets of forwards involved in a heavyweight argument.

When Wilkinson landed a second penalty after 66 minutes to reduce the deficit to five points, Bath were looking vulnerable. But inspired by the American Lyle, they tackled as if their lives depended on it.

After Catt had missed a penalty from almost in front of the posts, he limped off following a heavy tackle. Newcastle continued to win plenty of possession but their frustration at being unable to breach the Bath defence was too much for the flanker Steve O'Neill who said a few choice words to referee Morrison and spent the rest of the match on the touch- line with a white card.

With the departure of Tony Swift as chairman, Andrew Brownsword, the greetings card magnate and Bath valentine, took over his programme notes. "Much has been said and written about the club's performance over the last couple of months," he told the faithful. "No one can be more unhappy about our recent losses than myself. I am very passionate about Bath rugby. When I invested in the club I declared my intention of helping to continue the success for the long term. I am totally focused on finding ways in which we can turn the situation around."

Yesterday was a good start.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt (I. Evans, 71), S Hatley; D Hilton, M Regan (A. Long, 72), V Ubogu, M Haag, S Borthwick, R Earnshaw, D Lyle, R Webster (capt).

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor (T. Underwood, 71), M Shaw, R Andrew (capt), V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong; I Peel (S. Best, 40), R Nesdale, G Graham, D Weir, G Archer, R Arnold (P. Walton, 40), R Beattie, J Cartmell (S. O'Neill, 64).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).