Rugby Union / Pilkington Cup Quarter-Finals: Callard relieves strain

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The Independent Online
Saracens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Bath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23

THE Southgate mudflat was not the place to revive tired limbs and restore lost appetites. Bath, showing signs of strain in their recent league matches, were giants ripe for killing in the cup. Saracens, the would-be slayers, had two things in their favour, home advantage and a level playing field. Level in the sense that, soaking wet and oozing slime, the pitch was the great leveller.

At their peak, Bath would simply have ground the opposition down by their formidable forward strength. But Bath are finding opponents increasingly reluctant to dance to their tune these days and it was not until late in the game that they scored the decisive try against a spirited and resourceful Saracens side. It may be that with the sun on their backs and on firmer pitches in the closing weeks of the season, Bath will re-emerge in their full glory, but for now victory is more important than the manner of it.

Nevertheless there are ominous signs of weakness. They were given a roasting in the line-out yesterday, especially at the front where Nigel Redman in front of two of England's selectors could not shake himself free from Mark Langley's unwelcome presence.

In the loose, too, Saracens' hyperactive back row managed to disrupt Bath's flow. Twice in the first half they broke down the left with Richard Hill leading the charge. The first was ended by Tony Swift's magnificent covering tackle, the second by a Bath infringement, but Andy Tunningley, twice successful with penalty kicks, missed a fine opportunity to add to Bath's burden.

In this area at least Bath were superior. Jon Callard, concealing the ever-deepening cracks in his play as a full-back, kicked three penalties and converted both Bath's tries, scored by Phil de Granville in the first half and Adedayo Adebayo midway through the second. Neither, though, was a thing of great beauty, de Glanville breaking through Saracens' frail midfield defence after a ruck and Adebayo going over following a scrum in midfield. It was one of the few occasions when Bath got their handling and passing to work in harmony and it was one of their last attacking opportunities.

For the remainder of the game, either because they relaxed their efforts or because Saracens renewed theirs, Bath were engaged in a frantic rearguard action which was interrupted at regular intervals by the comings and goings on the Saracens bench. The principal character in all this was Barry Crawley, who, in the course of the match, came on as a temporary replacement no fewer than four times. He merited, and very nearly received, a standing ovation when he returned to the bench for the final time. But for Saracens, despite a performance of character and courage, there will be no more ovations in the Cup this season.

Saracens: Penalties Tunningley 2. Bath: Tries De Glanville, Adebayo; Conversions Callard 2; Penalties Callard 3.

Saracens: A Tunningley; M Kemp, J Buckton, S Ravenscroft, P Butler; A Lee, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, M Burrow (B Crawley, 4-11); Crawley, 70-73), J Green (Crawley, 39-40), R Hill, A Diprose (Crawley, 66-68).

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, I Saunders; D Hilton, G Dawe (T Beddow, 4-14), V Ubogu, N Redman, A Reed, J Hall (capt), A Robinson, S Ojomoh.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

(Photograph omitted)