Rugby Union: Cool Callard keeps Bath afloat

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Bath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Orrel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

THERE is a touch of world- weariness about Bath's play at the moment. Passes are not going to hand, kicks are failing to go the distance or drifting into touch on the full. Concentration is wandering, and even the cool perfectionist Jonathan Callard missed more than he scored with his place-kicks. Which is all very understandable and not all that worrying for Bath while the leaders continue to beat their opponents in the League, however frugally. This win over Orrell by two penalties after each side had scored a goal, satisfyingly completed the double for this season.

It has been a tough five months already, and latterly played out on soft spongy ground which makes it more enervating. And now players with claims to an England place have the worry that yesterday was the eve of selection for the Calcutta Cup next Saturday. This seemed to take the edge off the play and in the end it was too much ridden with errors and with frustrated loss of temper to be really enjoyable.

Although Orrell lost to Bath at home in September, there were no more than three points in it, just as there were through most of the first half of this game after Callard had put Bath ahead with an early penalty.

Orrell had come to the Recreation Ground knowing there was precious little hard evidence to suggest they could win, but also that they had the hardiness and stamina to exploit any weakness that Bath might show. Bath's Pilkington Cup victory over Bristol last week had been another sparingly close affair.

The possibility that Bath's composure might be fraying at the edges became even more excitingly evident in the 43rd minute. Stuart Barnes, forced into a clearance kick only a few yards out from his line, found the ball rebounding from the hands of the 6ft scrum-half Dewi Morris. No one was able to gather it - Tony Swift fluffing the best chance - and Morris followed up to fling himself over for a try. Simon Langford converted, and suddenly Orrell were four points up.

Orrell's problem had always been to match the potential skill and variety of Bath's attack. That had been solved by a typical piece of opportunism from Morris. The commitment of their defence had never been in question, but there was still three-quarters of an hour to go. And to have turned that try into a victory, Orrell had really needed to snatch the lead at a much later stage in the game.

Still, the possibility that Orrell might hold out lingered on into the final quarter. Callard kicked his second penalty nine minutes into the second half, narrowing Bath's deficit to one point. But he surprisingly missed with two other attempts - and later with another two - and Orrell's resistance remained intact until just after midway in the half. Bath began to put together their passes, Philip de Glanville cut through the centre and linked up with Smith to put him across the line. And this time Callard was successful with his kick, leaving Orrell locked into a defensive mode with nowhere to go.

Bath: Try Swift; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 2. Orrell: Try Morris; Conversion Langford.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; C Clark, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, A Reed, A Robinson, J Hall (capt), S Ojomoh.

Orrell: S Langford; J Naylor, I Wynn, M Farr, P Hamer; S Taberner (capt), D Morris; M Hynes, G French, S Southern, C Cusani, C Cooper, P Manley, S Hayter, D Cleary.

Referee: E Morrison (RFU).