Rugby Union: Guscott's brilliance shines through political muddle

London Irish 31 Bath 56
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The Independent Online
London Irish 31 Bath 56

London Irish have always been renowned for conducting their most essential business off the pitch rather than on it - "hurry up with that final whistle, ref, the bars are open" - and they were at it again on Saturday, reducing a feast of fierce and energetic rugby to a mere sideshow, writes Chris Hewett. True, the latest distraction concerns something rather more substantial than a pint of the black stuff, but with one win from five games the Exiles could have done without it.

That record now reads one from six because Bath, freed from diversions of their own making, went back to basics and re-established their customary authority in a nine-try romp of striking pace and quality. Jeremy Guscott produced such a peerless performance in midfield that the Irish would have struggled to hold him whatever the circumstances. Given that they were labouring under the burden of yet another outbreak of rugby politics, they were in the worst possible shape to deal with the most potent natural talent in the British game.

Guscott's passing was so precise and his running so elusive that the Exiles were never sure which way to turn. But then, confusion was the order of the day thanks to a major falling out between club and country over player availability for this weekend's opening round of the European Cup. The Irish national selectors stirred the pot by hinting that they might ignore players who opted out of provincial duties, but that smacked of brinkmanship. Ireland are not so blessed with talent that they can afford to make scapegoats of Conor O'Shea, Gabriel Fulcher and Jeremy Davidson.

It takes more than an in-form trio to stop the champions when they are on their game, however. With Richard Webster in heavy-duty mood in the back row, Bath doused the early Irish fire and then scored 17 points in six minutes midway through the first half. Adedayo Adebayo struck twice from basic Irish errors and added a third after the break to underline his vibrant challenge for a first England cap.

London Irish: Tries O'Shea (2), Briers, Walsh; Conversions Humphreys (4); Penalty Humphreys. Bath: Tries Adebayo (3), Robinson (2), Callard, Webster, Guscott, Redman; Conversions Callard (4); Penalty Callard.

London Irish: C O'Shea; N Woods, R Henderson, P Flood, J Bishop; D Humphreys, N Briers; J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam, L Mooney, G Fulcher, J Davidson, A Dougan, B Walsh, K Dawson (R Yeabsley, 68).

Bath: J Callard; J Robinson, P De Glanville (M Perry, 45), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (C Harrison, 10); K Yates, G Adams, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, R Webster, S Ojomoh, N Thomas.

Referee: I Rammage (Scotland).