Rugby Union: Resurgent Callard ready for Europe

Bath 45 Newcastle 12
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The Independent Online
JON CALLARD must have thought his European Cup playing days had ended when he scored all Bath's points in their 1998 final win against Brive. Yet the 33-year-old's drift into semi-retirement as assistant coach to Andy Robinson was reversed as the Allied Dunbar Premiership progressed in the shadow of the World Cup.

And yesterday an assured performance which contributed 25 points, allied to a hamstring injury that prevented Matt Perry taking part, raised the prospect of Callard doing European battle once more, against Toulouse on Saturday.

There could be few better places to get reacquainted with club rugby seven days on from the World Cup final than Bath, notwithstanding the impenetrable traffic jams. Bath ran into a few roadblocks themselves early on, and were inconvenienced by a try for Newcastle by Stuart Legg in 57 seconds, but were comfortable winners by the end.

Bath's heaving trophy cabinet over the last 15 years might make them the Manchester United of rugby. So, too, the seemingly endless supply of new kit designs worn at the Rec. Both sides here were plastered in the familiar three stripes, but only Bath had the "go faster" feeling once they had recovered from Legg's score from Inga Tuigamala's midfield burst.

Since Bath pipped Newcastle to European Cup qualification with 12 tries against London Scottish on the final day of last season, the two clubs' fortunes have continued to diverge. This win, in which the outstanding Ben Clarke rampaged to two tries, moved Bath one point clear at the top of Premiership One. Newcastle, meanwhile, must be grateful that Bedford are going through such hard times at the bottom.

In an echo of yesterday's footballing fortunes, Newcastle were badly lacking in Scottish inspiration. Their captain, Gary Armstrong, is out of action with a broken collarbone and despite the presence of four Scotland caps, including the debutant Stewart Grimes in the pack, they were second best in most phases.

Bath's own Anglo-Scottish flavour has faded. Instead, in the backs, there is a flowering of English youth in Mike Tindall, who was called up during the World Cup, and Ian Balshaw. Guided by the older hands of Callard, Phil De Glanville and Mike Catt, these two are eminently watchable, and Toulouse will have to keep a close eye on them.

A highly efficient Bath move off a scrum, ended with Catt's mis-pass putting Balshaw in for their first try after 18 minutes. Callard's missed conversion was his only blemish all afternoon, and three penalties put Bath 14-5 up at half-time.

The third quarter was all Bath, with Clarke - enjoying a new lease of life after the death throes of his previous club, Richmond - having a fine old time of it in the loose. Callard finished off a counter-attack after Peter Walton was turned over in the Bath half, and Clarke helped himself to a try after good work by De Glanville. The latter then suffered a leg injury and was taken for X-rays. If Perry is fit next week he might be required to step in for De Glanville.

Although Tuigamala bundled over for a Newcastle try, tries by Kevin Maggs and Clarke again emphasised the gap between the sides.

Bath: J Callard; I Balshaw, P De Glanville (capt, S Berne 60), M Tindall, K Maggs; M Catt (J Preston, 75), G Cooper; C Boyd, M Regan (A Long, 57), C Horsman, W Waugh, S Borthwick, A Gardiner (G Thomas, 63), B Clarke, B Sturnham

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor (P Baird, 75), M Shaw, V Tuigamala, J Noon; D Walder, H Crane; G Graham, R Nesdale (R Horton, 53), M Hurter, S Grimes, D Weir, H Vyvyan (S O'Neill, 43), R Arnold (capt), P Walton.

Referee: S. Lander.