Rugby Union Commentary: Bath bubble and continue to clean up: Wasps' Pilkington Cup journey runs into a dead end at the Recreation Ground while the talk at Imber Court is about money

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The Independent Online
MANY have called at the Recreation Ground for cup or league visits but few have not frozen. Bath, league leaders and champions, are truly the phenomenon of club rugby and not just for being so damn good but for staying so damn good over so many years.

The latter is the hard part, what really sets them apart. Leicester won the cup three times in a row from 1979-81 but that was in an era when a distraction called leagues

remained a figment of the Rugby Football Union's imagination. In Wales, Pontypool dominated for many a long year in the Seventies and Eighties but not even the hegemony of Pooler in their pomp was this complete.

Bath's 24-11 defeat of Wasps in Saturday's vibrant Pilkington Cup tie at the Rec was a definitive statement of what continues to make them special. You think they are vulnerable, what with injuries and the consequent need to bring in newish players, and they stuff your thought right down your throat, if you see what I mean.

Those who wondered at their

capacity to do without Nigel Redman (injury) and Gareth Chilcott (retired), the heart and soul of their tight-forward play, reckoned without the capacity of this great club to change generations in a seamless transition.

Thus Wasps were confronted by Catt, Lloyd, Sanders, Clark and McCoy rather than a more familiar litany of internationals and it made not the slightest difference. It seldom has. No matter the personnel, in all the six years of the league Bath have incurred only two home defeats, though as one was by Wasps (16-15 in 1991) the north London club's visits have tended to cause more anxiety than any.

The other was in the first, fragmented league campaign - by Waterloo of all people, but on a day when Bath were lacking 14 of their first-choice players because of the Divisional Championship and injury. But then Bath even contrived to draw at Coventry that season.

Where are they now? Coventry were relegated a few months later and now languish in the Third

Division. Waterloo subsequently dropped into the Second but, after famously knocking Bath out of the cup last season, theirs is a name that is not mentioned in polite circles in the Georgian city.

That was at Blundellsands. At the Rec, Bath have lost only one cup-tie since 1982 (12-0 to Leicester in 1990), so in more than 11 years they have lost at home all of three times in competitive matches. Yes, Wasps nearly won there on their last visit nine months ago and a few others nearly have, too, but Bath's beauty is that invariably it is they who actually do so.

As they did yet again on Saturday, except that this time Wasps did not nearly win; they were nowhere near. 'You may think you have the right idea of how to stop them but you have to do a lot of things well and we didn't,' Dean Ryan, their captain, grumbled.

Wasps did not do many things - let alone a lot - nearly well enough. Even in Bath's perennial area of vulnerability, the line-out, Wasps' statistical superiority counted for nothing and, despite the occasional productive rolling maul, they did not have Bath's strong ball-carriers and were conclusively outplayed in the loose by the voracious John Hall and Andy Robinson.

But as Ryan perceptively noted, it is the collective rather than the

individual that symbolises Bath. 'They have a great characteristic of playing as a team,' he said. Its best expression came in the number of players contributing to Bath's first try, which had a rugby league quality to it in the way forward after

forward drove into the tackle and recycled the ball until finally (with what in RL would have been the fifth or sixth tackle imminent) it was spread wide by Sanders, Barnes, de Glanville and Callard before finally reaching Mike Catt.

Then Ben Clarke committed the entire Wasps pack with a free-kick charge, leaving the Cornish scrum- half Ian Sanders to saunter across. Though Wasps stayed more or less in contention with Rob Andrew's earlier penalty and drop goal, Stuart Barnes thumbed his nose at his

perpetual rival by dropping his own goal and probability became certainty when Audley Lumsden added Bath's third try.

Victor Ubogu tied in enough tacklers to free the space for Sanders, Barnes and the thrusting Catt, who was writhing on the ground with Chris Wright by the time Lumsden was dotting down. For the most part, however, it was an unexceptionable if tense game, tightly controlled by Brian Campsall and without so much as an eye-gouging allegation.

Wright had replaced Andrew, who had been shaken up by the late tackle by Ubogu which gave him his penalty and ultimately stumbled off five minutes before the Lumsden try after taking a bang on the neck in a tackle. An England stand-off of old, Huw Davies, moved into the current England stand-off's place for 15 minutes and scored Wasps' try, created for him by Ryan and Steve Bates.

It was too late, as it generally is for visitors to the Rec no matter how presumptuous. 'They are

capable of losing, the same as anybody else,' Ryan insisted. 'They are fallible and have been shown to be fallible.' All right, not quite

infallible, but for Ryan to talk like this tells a contrary story: Bath for the cup.

Bath: Tries Catt, Sanders, Lumsden; Conversions Callard 3; Drop goal Barnes. Wasps: Try Davies; Penalty Andrew; Drop goal Andrew.

Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville, M Catt, M Lloyd; S Barnes, I Sanders; C Clark, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, P McCoy, J Hall (capt), B Clarke, A Robinson.

Wasps: P Hopley; M Wedderburn, G Childs, H Davies, S Hunter; R Andrew (C Wright, 64), S Bates; G Holmes (P Delaney, 18-27), K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, S Shortland, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), C Wilkins.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).

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