Rugby Union: Guscott shows the class gap

Bath 57 Bedford 19
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The Independent Online
IF BATH can play like this with 14 men it has to be wondered what they would have done with the full complement. Ben Sturnham was sent off for stamping in the sixth minute of a dramatic and pulsating Allied Dunbar Premiership match at the Recreation ground and even die-hard supporters feared for the West Country side.

There are not many rugby teams who can survive with 14 men, let alone pile up a half-century of points after re-establishing control and, more importantly, maintaining it for the rest of the match. That is exactly what Bath did. This is no ordinary side.

Yet Bedford provided creditable opposition. They were in the home side's faces almost immediately and in front not long into a combative and at times thrilling match. And they never gave up. But Bath's seven- man pack gave better than they got; the defence absorbed pretty well everything that Bedford flung at them, and there was Mike Catt's boot (20 points) as well as Jeremy Guscott's continuing imperious form.

Sturnham's departure came before Bath had even scored, referee Ashley Roden's attention having been drawn to the offence by a touch judge. Bedford quickly took advantage and the lead. Sam Howard started and finished a move for his fourth try of the season, converted it and the one scored nine minutes later by former England wing Rory Underwood - the final pass for which Howard also provided.

All Bath had at that stage were two penalties from Catt. It took a piece of opportunism by Steve Hatley, who darted down the blind side, to get Bath into the game.

The first of Guscott's efforts soon followed. Kevin Yates got the ball out to the England centre, who simply purred in from halfway. Their third try was not long coming; Jim Fallon, playing his first game for Bath since leaving them for rugby league in 1992, took Bath close, Matt Perry carried it on, Kevin Yates added his bulk and Richard Webster got the final touch.

The best moment came at the end of the first half when Catt sent out a sizzling pass fully 30 yards to Guscott, who was already flying. He scorched away but was ankle-tapped by Alistair Murdoch 15 yards short of the line. Guscott is so balanced and such a strong runner, though, that he was still able to make the touchdown.

Bath had scored 30 points with 14 men, 24 of them in the space of 16 minutes. After an hour Guscott made way for Phil de Glanville and sported an icepack on his left knee for the remainder of the game. But he had done enough. Second-half tries by Perry, Webster and a marvellous 70-yard one from Iain Balshaw finished it off.

Bath: M Perry; J Fallon, K Maggs, J Guscott (P de Glanville, 60), I Balshaw; M Catt, S Hatley (A Nicol, 60); K Yates, A Long (M Regan, 66), J Mallett (C Horsman, 66), M Haag, B Sturnham, N Thomas (R Earnshaw, 60), E Peters, R Webster (capt; D Jones 74).

Bedford: S Howard; R Underwood, J Ewens, A Murdoch (capt), D O'Mahony; T Yapp (R Ashforth, 74), S Crabb (C Harrison, 63); S Hatley, J Richards, C Boyd (V Hartland, 63), D Zaltzman, S Murray, M Deans (R Winters, 41), J Cockle, J Forster.

Referee: A Rowden (Reading)

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