RUGBY as it was played at the Recreation Ground yesterday has become a game of target shooting. Bath won because they had a greater number of bullets, although they were scarcely more accurate in firing them than Wasps.
But on balance it was Wasps who suffered more from the fastidious refereeing of Geraint Davies, who finished up two short of a half-century after awarding 24 penalties and free-kicks to each side.
It was a game with hardly one redeeming feature and it was not the first time that two of the country's most eminent sides have become embroiled in a sour and shabby contest. Last year Fran Clough, the Wasps centre, was sent off and with him went any chance of a Wasps victory.
Once again yesterday they were undone by their own indiscipline, the first of Jon Callard's three penalties coming as a result of Dean Ryan's difference of opinion with the referee. It was not the last time that Wasps made their feelings known to Mr Davies. It was difficult, however, not to feel some sympathy with the players who, like everyone else on the ground, were confused by some of the decisions.
In the circumstances Stuart Barnes's pre-match boast that if England want tries at Twickenham on Saturday, then he is the man to provide them and that he would prove it against Wasps, turned out to be an empty one. The flow of comment between frustrated players and referee was much more in evidence than any fluency of movement.
As is all too depressingly the case nowadays, the ball was swallowed up in mauls and Bath's first try, scored by Callard, came from a grinding maul on the Wasps line. The Wasps try, scored after Damien Hopley had broken free and Simon Hunter had squeezed between Callard and Tony Swift, did at least bring Bath out into the open.
At last they went in search of space, stretching Wasps on both flanks and working the ball free from their forwards with commendable speed and accuracy. They succeeded in denying Wasps the ball and the referee the opportunity to penalise them for long enough to set up a good attacking position inside the Wasps 22. Slick handling put Callard over for his second try.
As Callard also added the conversion, it was, on the face of it, a highly profitable afternoon for the full-back. But, like the match itself, the veneer merely concealed the truth. He had missed with six attempts at goal, the same number as Wasps and the only statistic which accurately reflected the grimness of the contest was the penalty count of 48.
'Swear at him,' pleaded one disgruntled spectator, in the hope that the referee should at least reach the landmark of a half-century. But even that pleasure was denied.
Bath: Tries Callard 2; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 3; Drop Goal Barnes. Wasps: Try Hunter; Penalty P Hopley.
Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, J Mallett, N Redman, A Reed, A Robinson, B Clarke, J Hall (capt).
Wasps: A Maddock; P Hopley, D Hopley, G Childs, S Hunter; H Davies, S Bates; G Holmes, P Delaney, J Probyn, R Kinsey, M Greenwood, F Emeruwa, D Ryan (capt), M White.
Referee: G Davies (Liverpool).