Rugby Union: Tiredness no bar to Bath efficiency: Champions have a ball in the maul

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BEFORE the new year, Bath put 46 points on Gloucester. Same faces, but they are now wearing a different expression. The reason why the champions are edging towards the league title with a minimum of comfort is simple. According to John Hall, Bath are knackered.

The encounters are getting closer and after a tough engagement at Kingsholm, Hall decided the time was ripe for the voices of the players, or at least his players, to be heard. 'The situation is quite ridiculous,' the Bath captain said. 'There are too many games and the players are just exhausted. The strain is immense and something's got to give. There's a physical and mental strain, a strain on families, employment. . . everything.'

In between playing Scotland and Ireland, England's players were involved in the league and it is Hall's view that England were jaded at Murrayfield. 'The players are not fairly represented,' he said. 'The structure has to be looked at. Perhaps a smaller league.'

Bath, with a host of players involved at some level of international rugby, are more exposed than others. This season, in addition to the league and cup, they have been involved in matches against New Zealand. Then there's the divisional championship, something Hall thinks can be dispensed with.

Ian Smith, the Gloucester captain who played for Scotland against England, feels that the careers of leading players will get shorter. Where he fundamentally disagrees with his opposite number is in the effect of league rugby. 'It will bring the best out of the English players,' Smith said.

Apart from one vintage Bath try early in the first half, a crowd of nearly 9,000 at Kingsholm had to settle for second best. It was, both clubs agreed, a frustrating experience and in this regard the poor old referee got a red card. 'Cheat, cheat, cheat,' the crowd chanted at one point. Taking charge of a derby match at Gloucester is never an easy assignment and if the refereeing at the Scotland-England match raised a number of questions, the performance at Kingsholm of Jim Pearson raised passions.

Of course he did not favour Bath but nor did he do the match any favours with a number of decisions that were simply baffling. A tic-tac man would have been easier to read. The frustration of the players was evident and during the course of the game they made their views known to him. What can be said in Pearson's defence is that he showed bravery under heavy fire.

Battle-scarred or not, Bath are immensely difficult to beat. When they attack they often have nine men outside the line-out but when the going gets tough it is their defence that sustains them. The Gloucester half-backs came under pressure not just from the back row but also from Graham Dawe and Ian Sanders. If Bath are not scoring many tries, the opposition are scoring less. Once Steve Ojomoh had scored at the posts, the onus was on Gloucester to provide something other than the high ball. They failed to do so, although the loss of their hooker John Hawker with a broken leg particularly upset their two-man line-out strategy.

They still won plenty through Richard West, but for all their honest endeavour Gloucester hardly looked like scoring a try. Bath resorted to the rolling maul. 'It was a bit boring,' Hall said, 'but effective in the end. That is what league rugby's all about.'

Gloucester: Drop goal Cummins; Penalty T Smith. Bath: Try Ojomoh; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 3.

Gloucester: T Smith; P Holford, S Morris (I Morgan, 14), B Maslen, M Nicholson; D Cummins, B Fenley; T Windo, J Hawker (D Kearsey, 8), A Deacon, S Devereux, R West, P Glanville, D Sims, I Smith (capt).

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

Referee: J Pearson (Cleveland).