Rugby Union: West must face up to the worst

West Hartlepool 20 Bath 50
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BATH CAN spend another week luxuriating on top of the Premiership after Harlequins unexpected defeat of Saracens, unless Leicester win at London Irish tomorrow by more than 13 points. Even more predictable, is that unless West Hartlepool beat Saracens by a bucketful at Victoria Park on the same evening, they will remain bottom. After a quite dreadful display when tackling looked to be optional in the third quarter against the leaders - when they conceded 21 points in the first 10 minutes after the restart - it would be no surprise to find West in a similar position come the end of the season.

The realisation that yet another campaign in the top division will end in failure has already dawned on Mike Brewer, West's director of rugby. "It isn't the fault of the guys," acknowledges the former All Black, "but we just don't have enough of them who are up to Premiership One rugby."

The replacements due may well prove too late to save West, who are in desperate need of some additional bulk and power to shore up a creaking pack. The return of second row Mark Giacheri and the influential No 8, Ivan Morgan, will help. But unless the defence is shored up, West are without hope.

The first arrival is Tim Lough, the Australia Under-21 winger, who is eligible for the game against Saracens. Lough missed Saturday's match: he was lucky. The Hartlepudlians in a sparse crowd of 1,747 were not so fortunate.

And yet, at half-time it looked as if West were capable of making a game of it. But the optimism vanished in the vapour trails left by Mike Catt and Jeremy Guscott, who slashed repeatedly through the West midfield, to accumulate a telling 21 points. Bath had raced into a 15-0 lead thanks to tries by Iain Balshaw and Steve Hatley; the second converted by Catt, who also kicked a penalty. West answered these scores with two penalties by Steve Vile, who converted a penalty try awarded when Ben Sturnham impeded Richard Stone, as the West scrum-half was taking a tapped penalty.

From then on, it was no contest. Once Catt and Guscott had concluded their double act, Russell Earnshaw - once a favourite at West - and Hatley crossed for tries, Brewer was shaking his head at the unfairness of it all, before Emmet Farrell got a consolation try for West.

West Hartlepool: Tries Farrell, Penalty try. Conversions Vile 2; Penalties Vile 2. Bath: Tries Guscott 2,, Hatley 2, Earnshaw, Balshaw, Catt. Conversions Catt 6; Penalty Catt.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; J Benson (H Bishop, 45), P Tanginoa, J Connolly, S John; S Vile, R Stone; S Sparks (B Cullinane, 68), A Peacock, P Beal, P Farner (capt), B Fuller, J Ponton, D Hyde, M Brewer

Bath: I Balshaw; I Evans J Guscott, P de Glanville

K Maggs; M Catt, S Hatley; D Hilton, A Long (M Regan, 63), V Ubogu ( K Yates, 63), N Redman, M Haag, N Thomas,R Webster (capt),B Sturnham (R Earnshaw, 57).

Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).