Rugby union: West fall prey to lively Catt

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool 20

Bath 50

PLAYING IN a sparsely-populated football stadium in inhospitable Hartlepool weather failed to dampen Bath's appetite for the title as they proved too strong and clinical for West Hartlepool.

Facing a biting wind on a surface saturated by several hours of torrential rain, the Premiership leaders were 15-0 up after 17 minutes and although West fought back they would have had more chance of staying afloat in the adjacent marina.

Top versus bottom threatened to produce a total mismatch, but West reduced the gap to 15-13 at half-time when Bath capsized into the wind.

The rain stopped shortly before the kick-off but, with Saracens due at Victoria Park on Tuesday, the Hartlepool football club's ground staff will not be relishing the task of returning the pitch to its pristine condition.

Of greater concern to West will be the lack of support. The weather did not help, but a crowd of no more than 1,200 will raise doubts about their ability to fund new signings.

They expect to unveil a new hooker tomorrow and will have the Australian Under-21 winger, Tim Lough, making his debut against Saracens, but the fact that Bath had five internationals on the bench underlined the difference between the squads.

West hardly saw the ball in the first 20 minutes, when Bath's slick close- quarters handling proved very effective into the wind, coupled with the barnstorming runs of Victor Ubogu and Ben Sturnham.

After an early penalty from under the posts by Mike Catt, who totted up a personal tally of 20 points playing in the outside-half role that he still hopes to regain for England, Bath's two first-half tries were the result ofskilful inter-passing down the left.

Phil de Glanville was twice involved before full-back Iain Balshaw raced over then Ubogu made good ground before his fellow prop Dave Hilton sent scrum-half Steve Hatley streaking home from 30 yards out to score the try of the game for a Bath side beaten only once this season, on their previous visit to the North-east when they lost to champions Newcastle.

West came back with two penalties by Steve Vile, one from just inside halfway, and a penalty try awarded when scrum-half Richard Stone was illegally impeded when going for the line from a tap penalty.

Bath scored 21 points in the first ten minutes of the second half, with Catt and Jeremy Guscott both looking extremely sharp. Catt got a try, while Guscott crossed twice and the other second half tries were scored by Hatley and Russell Earnshaw, who replaced Sturnham.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; J Benson (H Bishop), P Tanginoa, J Connolly, S John; S Vile, R Strong; S Sparks (B Cullinane), A Peacock, P Beal, P Farner (capt), W Fuller, J Ponton, M Brewer, D Hyde.

Bath: I Balshaw; I Evans, P de Glanville, J Guscott, K Maggs; M Catt, S Hatley; D Hilton, A Long, V Ubogu (K Yates), M Haag, N Redman, N Thomas, R Webster (capt), B Sturnham (R Earnshaw).

Referee: R Goodliffe (Yorkshire).