Bath . . . . .16
THOSE who fancy they have seen chinks in Bath's previously impenetrable armour in recent weeks may be right. It is possible, of course, that the giant is slumbering, taking a breather before the final push to the summit. But for much of this rousing match at Kingsholm, Gloucester exposed enough weaknesses to suggest that Bath's journey to yet another league title may yet be difficult.
The fact that Gloucester are now back as a force in English rugby is good for the game. Bath, however, have the hallmark of champions, winning matches while playing well below their best. They are certainly not exhibiting the panache and fluency of the early season, and yesterday, without Guscott, Clarke and Hill, they looked distinctly mediocre.
Yet to criticise Bath does scant justice to Gloucester. Their line-out has become formidably strong, built around the soaring Richard West. He gave Andy Reed a much rougher ride than he had experienced at Murrayfield against Martin Bayfield. Furthermore the Gloucester forwards are hunting as a pack these days. They drive hard, low and close and behind them Bruce Fenley is a wonderfully combative and agile scrum-half. He has developed a fine understanding with his fly-half, Damian Cummins.
Much less comfortable was the link between the Bath halves, although the power and relentless accuracy of Stuart Barnes's line kicking often came as a mighty relief to his beleaguered forwards.
Yet such is Bath's all-round skill that it is almost impossible for opponents to cover every angle, and two minutes after Cummins had dropped the sweetest of goals from 35 yards, Bath scored a flowing try which owed everything to the vision and reflexes of Mike Catt. His long and beautifully weighted pass freed Tony Swift and with Andy Robinson in support, Steve Ojomoh scored underneath the posts.
Jon Callard converted but it was predestined that he should make the most awful hash of his first penalty attempt. He did put Bath further ahead with a penalty in the final minute of the half but it was not the best of days for England's saviour.
For most of the second half in fact Bath were obliterated by the Gloucester pack. But Tim Smith's penalty was a niggardly return for their exertions.
Callard, with the rest of his game falling apart, did at least keep his nerve for long enough to kick his second penalty but Bath derived little comfort from it. They were unable to protect themselves from Cummins' steady bombardment and there were times when a Gloucester try seemed a certainty. But then, music to their ears, the referee's whistle. Another penalty and Callard was back doing what comes naturally.
Gloucester: Drop goal Cummins; Penalty T Smith. Bath: Try Ojomoh; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 3.
Gloucester: T Smith; P Holford, S Morris (I Morgan, 14 min), B Maslen, M Nicholson; D Cummins, B Fenley; T Windo, J Hawker (D Kearsey, 8 min), A Deacon, S Devereux, R West, P Glanville, D Sims, I Smith (capt).
Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman, A Reed, A Robinson, S Ojomoh, J Hall (capt).
Referee: J Pearson (RFU).
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