Rugby Union: Guscott's guns blazing

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The Independent Online
London Irish 31

Bath 56

This Is no time to be an Irish rugby man in London. Caught in the crossfire of an unholy rumpus between club and country - as things stand, no exiles will be released for provincial action in next weekend's opening round of the European Cup - the poor bloody infantry of Sunbury found themselves on the wrong end of something equally painful as Bath finally abandoned their candyfloss approach and rediscovered some devil.

The best of the home players did not even have an opportunity to drown their sorrows in sponsors' beer. David Humphreys and company flew to Dublin yesterday evening for an international squad session at which they confidently expected to take all manner of stick from peeved representatives of the Irish Rugby Football Union. Talk about salt in the wound.

According to Duncan Leopold, the London Irish chief executive, the argument over player availability is done and dusted. "We remain totally supportive of the national side and we want to work with the provinces but we believe it would be unfair to provide players for other sides competing in Europe when we are participating ourselves," he said. "We were originally asked to release all but three of our senior squad. Although the number has come down, we are trying to compete in the toughest league in the northern hemisphere and it's us who pay the salaries."

Leopold was none too impressed at suggestions that the Irish selectors might ignore any player opting out of provincial duties. "I sincerely hope that is not the case because it would be a disgrace," he added. He need not have too many fears on that score for if the national greybeards leave Gabriel Fulcher and Jeremy Davidson out of their second row equation, the word "disgrace" would be the euphemism of the season.

Bath will be in no hurry to see either lock again; Fulcher made a real mess of the champions' line-out while Davidson roamed all over the field collecting big hits by the dozen.

Bath, stung by two league defeats in September and some sharp criticism of their ultra- expansive style, went back to first principles. They left Henry Paul at home to earn his pounds 5,000 with the second team, reintroduced the no-nonsense Richard Webster to the back row, told Mike Catt to kick for position early on and concentrated on softening up the opposition instead of playing sevens with them.

Seventeen points in the space of six minutes at the end of the first quarter put the game well beyond the reach of the Irish. Adedayo Adebayo, the most impressive wing in England on this evidence, scored two of the three tries registered in that time, stretching away down the left wing after some wonderful approach work by backs and forwards alike.

Webster, a bull on the blindside flank, also collected a first-half score, as did a rejuvenated Jeremy Guscott, who remains capable of sublime rugby far in advance of any other British centre.

England will need him this season, especially as Phil de Glanville picked up a serious knee injury early in the second half. After his captain's departure, Guscott set up a hat-trick score for Adebayo with an exquisite pass and in a final 10-minute flurry, Bath suggested that a successful defence of their title is not out of the question.

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).