Rugby Union: Geoghegan holds party line

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The Independent Online
Bath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23

Barbarians. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

THERE have been many better birthday parties than this. The celebration of 100 years of rugby at the Recreation Ground fell disappointingly flat, the occasion, rather like the game itself, being neither one thing nor the other. The Barbarians, a motley crew culled from various parts of the rugby world, played neither in the spirit nor the style their traditions demand, which was doubly disappointing for the large crowd.

Bath, perhaps all too conscious of the competitive marathon which stretches out ahead of them, were uncharacteristically careless and sloppy, principally in their defence and in their distribution and handling, where Ben Clarke appears to be as disturbingly fallible this season as he was for so much of last. But by far the worst aspect of Bath's play was their tackling, which was embarrassingly flimsy on occasions: Graham Shiel's first try in the second half, notwithstanding a delicious feint by Paul Hull, was largely the result of abysmal defence.

Indeed, had it not been for a last-ditch scramble by Audley Lumsden in the first half which felled the Barbarian skipper, Rob Wainwright, who had found the waves of Bath's defence parting before him, the Baabaas might have been too far ahead to be caught. That they were eventually overhauled was due to the superior understanding and teamwork of opponents for whom the very idea of defeat in front of their own supporters and on this of all days was unimaginable.

The Barbarians, so often the providers of a sumptuous feast, came closer on this occasion to serving up a dog's dinner, their individual parts spluttering convulsively into life. These episodic cameos enabled Hull to display glimpses of his mesmerising talent and gave the redoubtable Canadian flanker Al Charron the opportunity to block Victor Ubogu's gallops from the line-out.

Long before the end there were almost as many Bath United players wearing the black and white jersey as there were Barbarians, the invitation side having long since run out of their own supply of replacements. This did nothing to enhance the game as a spectacle or to raise the profile of the occasion and a second half which fleetingly came to life with Ubogu's charging try and two well-crafted scores by Simon Geoghegan, the first of which passed through seven pairs of hands in the making.

Geoghegan, with his legs pumping and his infectious enthusiasm, seems certain to establish himself as a favourite with the Bath supporters but unless there is a marked improvement in the quality of the play inside him one wonders how much of the ball he will see. It is one of the truths which has echoed down the years that forwards win matches. It was true when rugby was first played at the Rec a century ago. It was true in the days before Bath's golden period when the club possessed backs of great talent behind a powder pack. And it will be true in the weeks ahead when Bath will need to be very much more assertive up front than they were yesterday.

Their profligacy, particularly in the back row, was penalised even by the modest opposition supplied by the Barbarians. Andre Joubert twice kicked penalties in the first half, the first after Bath had been caught with their hands in the ruck and again for the same infringement when the transgressor this time was Clarke. These were matched by Jon Callard before Sheil put the Barbarians ahead with his first try four minutes into the second half. By the time he had scored his second four minutes from the end it was too late to save the Barbarians but not too late to act as a grave reminder of Bath's defensive vulnerability.

Bath: Tries Geoghegan 2, Ubogu; Penalties Callard 2; Conversion Callard. Barbarians: Tries Sheil 2; Penalties Joubert 2; Conversion Joubert 1.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift (S Geoghegan, 40 min), A Lumsden, P de Glanville, A Adebayo; M Catt, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman, A Reed, J Hall (capt) (E Peters, 74 min), A Robinson, B Clarke.

Barbarians: A Joubert (Natal); D Manley (Pontypridd), G Shiel (Melrose), N Beal (Northampton), M Dods (Gala); P Hull (Bristol), A Gomershall (Wasps); C Lippert (San Diego), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Clohessy (Young Munster), M Poole (Leicester), C Tregaskis (Wellington), A Sharron (Ottawa Irish), N Back (Leicester), R Wainwright (capt, West Hartlepool). Replacements: K Yates (Bath United) for Lippert (40-41 min) 66 min, K Bracken (Bristol) for Manley 55 min, E Rayner (Bath United) for Joubert 66.

Referee: J Wallis (Somerset).

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