Rugby Union: Perry the centre of excellence

Bath 23 Pontypridd 10
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The Independent Online
That overworked joke about mountains, mist and rain came to mind at the Recreation Ground yesterday as the pimple which passes for a hill barely rising above the Teacher's Stand was shrouded in mist for the entire match and the rain fell for most of it. In such conditions, Bath adapted more readily than their opponents, who came with the reputation of being by some distance the finest side in Wales and the most attractive one, to book a home tie in the European Cup quarter-finals. Pontypridd's problems were compounded by the loss of their talented full-back Kevin Morgan after half an hour.

Despite the conditions, Bath made every effort to keep the ball moving, which against stouter defences could have been catastrophic. Mike Catt, who was energetically involved from first to last is perhaps too consumed in the action to be able to take the detached view required by the playmaker. On several occasions when the situation cried out for a shrewdly placed kick behind the defence, Catt opted to pass and had it not been for Matt Perry's acceleration and Phil de Glanville's scavenging, Bath might have been embarrassed.

As it was, they escaped and with Jon Callard kicking four penalties, and Dan Lyle scoring a try, it seemed Bath were home, if not quite dry, by half-time.

Perry is a most exciting prospect. He is versatile, too, having played with distinction this season at full-back, but centre appears to be his natural habitat and yesterday even against a fully manned defence he managed to find space with that old fashioned, but still devastating combination of deft footwork and pace off the mark. Adedayo Adebayo was another full of vim and vigour. It was his powerful run which knocked Morgan out of the match and on several occasions he was back in support of his defenders prepared to launch counter-attacks.

Against this Pontypridd found it almost impossible to play the game in Bath's half. Their frustration at their inability to gain any measure of control anywhere on the field during the first half became increasingly apparent. Phil John, the hooker, was shown the yellow card and Neil Jenkins' persistent questioning of the referee's decisions, in particular for the most blatant of off-side offences, was as tiresome as it was unnecessary.

The hole in the ozone layer may have wrought a dramatic change in our weather patterns, but there will always be days like this during a winter season and Pontypridd were ill-equipped for it. Bath, on the other hand, through the tireless work of their pack and aided by Andy Nicol's shrewdly targeted garryowens were better prepared tactically.

Once Callard had kicked his third penalty after 20 minutes Bath moved into a period of dominance, which they relinquished only for a spell in the second half when they must have felt confident of victory.

Their try six minutes from half-time was the result of the increasing pressure they were applying. In attempting to clear his lines Paul John, the Pontypridd scrum-half, miscued his kick horribly. It shot vertically into the air behind the line and Lyle rose highest to claim it. The law of gravity did the rest.

Three minutes later Callard kicked his fourth penalty, which gave Bath a 14-point cushion and the belief, misplaced as it turned out, that the rest would be easy. It wasn't. The rain ceased and, refreshed by a number of substitutes, Pontypridd succeeded in spreading the game to parts of the team which had previously been off-limits as a result of a greasy ball and Bath's tight marking. Their pace behind the scrum began to expose Bath's mobility and asked questions of their stamina. Gareth Wyatt sped over for a lovely try following a sweeping move and Jenkins converted to bring the Welshmen within striking distance.

But Bath roused themselves. Catt dropped a neat goal and with Adebayo again smashing through everything in his path Bath launched a series of attacks from which Callard was able to complete their passage into the quarter-final with his fifth penalty. Pontypridd's fate won't be known however until the results of today's matches but they are no longer masters of their own destiny and must now rely on the efforts of others.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville, M Perry, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (capt, R Pellow 20-22, 74); D Hilton, A Long (M Regan 66), V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, R Earnshaw, D Lyle, R Webster (E Peters 66).

Pontypridd: K Morgan (A Barnard 31); J Lee (M De Naid 74), S Lewis, D James, G Wyatt; N Jenkins (capt), P John; N Eynon, P John (J Lewis 69), M Griffiths (A Metcalfe 33), G Prosser, M Rowley (S Roy 56), M Spiller, M Lloyd, M Williams,

Referee: J Dume (France).