Rugby Union: Clarke crucial in show of class

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Bath. . . . . . . . .28

London Irish. . . . . 8

PERHAPS the most exciting rugby Bath will see over the weekend will be this afternoon when they sit down for a spot of video watching. Little of yesterday's game will remain to distract them from scrutinising the BBC recording of the Harlequins game a week earlier for evidence of eye-gouging.

Edited highlights already shown on local television apparently reveal little more than the odd flailing arm - hardly enough to settle Harlequins' claim of skulduggery.

Certainly everybody did what they were supposed to do yesterday: Bath bullocked forward and the Irish defended and harried like terriers.

But rough Irish grit was never going to be enough to scuff the fine polish of Bath. Class told as the league champions wore the visiting Exiles down and then unleashed devastating attacks at the first hint of open space.

Ben Clarke was just the man to expose and exploit any weakness. He was crucial to the first two tries that did for the Irish with the game barely up and running. First, he barged upfield for the second-row Martin Haag to continue the rampage. Mike Catt filled the absent Stuart Barnes's boots well to score the try.

Clarke picked up the play 10 minutes later to keep the Bath scoreboard ticking on. He generated a move that went over three-quarters of the field with virtually every home player touching the ball before the winger Mike Lloyd crossed on a wide overlap. Clarke also had his hands in Bath's third try. He made space in the loose before Phil de Glanville galloped over.

That did manage to buck the Irish up. Michael Corcoran carried the ball from his left wing to the other side of the field where space beckoned. He was only brought down by an ankle tap. Paul Collins, like a good flanker and captain, was there to complete the move. But the try was really only the last twitch of a dying side.

To emphasise the point, Bath retaliated swiftly with the unlikely prospect of the England scrum-half Richard Hill - who had come on as a replacement - crossing as a centre.

Bath march on confidently with half the league campaign behind them. The title is not theirs yet - not quite. But it is very firmly in their sights.

Bath: Tries Catt, Lloyd, de Glanville, Hill; Conversion Catt; Penalties Callard 2.

London Irish: Try Collins; Penalty Corcoran.

Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, J Bamsey (R Hill, 65 min), P de Glanville, M Lloyd; M Catt, I Sanders; D Crompton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, P McCoy, G Adams, B Clarke, J Hall (capt).

London Irish: R Hennessey; S Geoghegan, S Burns, J Staples, M Corcoran; O Cobbe, R Saunders; N Donovan, R Kellam, G Halpin, A Higgins, S Domoni, P Collins (capt), R Jenkins, H Lamb.

Referee: S Lander (Lancashire).

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