Rugby Union: Hastings all at sea in Bath

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The Independent Online
Bath 55 Edinburgh 26

Scott Hastings is a "seen it, done it, got the T-shirt" sort of rugby player - a Grand Slam here, a World Cup there, a Lions tour somewhere else - and the chances of his discovering anything new after a decade at the top were not so much slim as non-existent. Then he went to Bath.

"That," he said, after leading Edinburgh in the opening round of the Heineken Cup and conceding seven tries to the English champions, "is something we must aspire to. We all learned a lesson out there and I include myself in that. It was a huge jump in standard for us, a step into the future and if we didn't suspect it before, we now know that there is a world of difference between the best club rugby in England and the game we play at home."

All the more reason, then, for the most-capped player in Scottish history to feel proud of the way his disparate band of underdogs survived their European Championship initiation.

According to Graham Hogg, their coach, Edinburgh's scratch selection will have reaped more experience from the 80 minutes on Saturday than they might have done from two whole seasons of domestic activity. At the break, both he and Hastings feared a thrashing of depressing proportions - 75 points or possibly more - but the way forwards like Bruce Ward and Graham Ellis battened down the hatches and effervescent young backs like Derek Lee and Steven Reed started to run the ball at their elders and betters suggested the Scots will end their campaign in far better shape than they could reasonably have hoped.

Wednesday's home game with Pontypridd will provide the next indicator and Hastings was quick to appeal for meaningful support at Watsonians' 5,000-capacity Myreside Stadium. Bath, who do not have a midweek match, will spend their time calculating how little ball and territorial advantage they can conceivably get away with while continuing to win.

At the moment they are flatly ignoring every rugby orthodoxy under the sun. Their line-out has disappeared without trace and, as a result, they rarely, if ever, kick for position. Their scrummaging is no more than adequate, they are struggling to strike a balance in the back row - Ben Clarke is missed far more than anyone at the Recreation Ground is willing to admit - and Mike Catt veers from the sublime to the ridiculous and back more often than any outside-half in Christendom.

Yet they are scoring between 40 and 50 points a game and wrapping up most of their encounters well before half-time. Any economist looking at the performance of their pack would soon start talking about the law of diminishing returns that Catt and Jeremy Guscott, who has struck a wonderfully rich vein of form, prefer to call it supply and demand. They and their fellow backs can not only exist on scraps, they can cook up a five-star banquet with them.

"You just can't get away with anything against runners of that quality," admitted Hastings, who was hardly alone in having his fingers badly burned by Guscott's brilliance. The best of it was on display early; the game was just 14 minutes old when the Lions centre eased over after the slickest of one-twos with Henry Paul, and within six minutes he was free again, taking possession of a rapid cut-out pass from Catt in full stride before unloading to Jon Callard at precisely the right split-second.

Callard finished the afternoon with 25 points, the remainder coming from a perfect nine from nine with the boot. It is safe to assume that one day Bath will decide to jettison their goal-kicker as well as their lineout. Not just yet, though. They have a tournament to win.

Bath: Tries Guscott 2, Callard, Adebayo, Ojomoh, Ubogu, J Robinson; Conversions Callard 7; Penalties Callard 2. Edinburgh: Tries Lee, Hodge; Conversions Hodge 2; Penalties Hodge 4.

Bath: J Callard; J Robinson, H Paul (M Perry, 61), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, C Harrison; K Yates, G Adams, V Ubogu, N Redman, B Cusack, R Webster (N Thomas, 79), S Ojomoh, A Robinson.

Edinburgh: D Lee; S Lang, S Hastings, C Simmers, S Reed; D Hodge, G Burns; A Watt, G Ellis, B Stewart, P Jennings (C Mather, 40), A Lucking, B Ward, D Clark, G Dall.

Referee: G Simmons, Wales.