Barkley covers cracks as trying game eludes Bath

Bath 15 Bristol 9
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The Independent Online

Bath may be the paupers of the Premiership when it comes to tries, but while they continue to pick up points the hard way, the bailiffs waving relegation notices will be kept from the door. Olly Barkley banked five penalty goals to snuff out Bristolian hopes of a first win here in 20 years, and though Bath have not crossed the goal-line at the Rec in their last three matches, neither have they lost at home in the Premiership since September.

This tryless run on their own patch must be some sort of record for Bath, or indeed any other Premiership team. Since Gavin Thomas scored away to Wasps on 2 Decem-ber, Bath have endured 270 barren minutes, but when their backs play as laterally as they did yesterday, it is no surprise.

Without the muscle of the injured captain, Dan Lyle, at No 8, the loose forwards rarely breach the gainline, leaving Mike Catt at outside-half bereft of the ball he needs to launch the likes of Iain Balshaw and Tom Voyce out wide. Confidence is a precious currency, and Bath, by some distance the Premiership's lowest scorers this season, are a devalued bunch at the moment.

Bristol had their director of rugby, Dean Ryan, back on the touchline after a recent ban, and Garath Archer returned in the second row following a three-match suspension for a sending-off. One joined the other after 32 minutes of a dire first half, when Archer was sin-binned for handling in a ruck. It looked a harsh call against a man whose stock has plunged since winning the Six Nations' Championship with England last year, although Bristol had previously been warned for a similar offence by referee Dave Pearson.

Bath failed to score during Archer's 10-minute absence, so had to make do with a 9-3 half-time lead with nary a sniff of a try to either side. Barkley traded three kicks from four attempts to a penalty by Contepomi when Bristol drove hard and straight from a line-out, and Steve Borthwick pulled down the maul.

All eyes were on Archer when he rejoined the fray, yet a mist as red as his jersey was never far away. After Conte-pomi kicked a second penalty, a scrum broke up with Archer and Bath's David Barnes trading blows. A ticking-off from Pearson was deemed sufficient, and certainly the last thing Archer needed was an early bath at Bath after suffering one for punching against Gloucester last month.

The dust-ups did not end there, but Archer stayed on to the end, unlike Danny Grewcock and Julian White, England team-mates and former Saracens club-mates, who saw yellow for fighting towards the end.

Ryan, no shrinking violet in his playing days, defended Archer by citing provocation. "I'm not worried about his discipline," Ryan said. "I don't expect anybody to take a smack in the mouth and be happy about it."

In between the boxing, a game of rugby rarely threatened to break out. Bath had sacrificed Kevin Maggs to the bench to include Barkley for his goal-kicking, and the young England cap earned his corn with penalties after 62 and 69 minutes after Contepomi had tied things up at 9-9.

A final penalty count of 19 to each side neatly summed up a fractious, fractured match in which winning, for Bath at least, was the only virtue.

Bath: I Balshaw; R Thirlby, O Barkley, M Tindall, T Voyce; M Catt (capt), A Williams; D Barnes, A Long, J Mallett (S Emms, 69), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, G Thomas, N Thomas, M Gabey.

Bristol: M Carrington; D Rees (S Drahm, 80), A Higgins (L Nabaro, 75), J Little (capt), P Christophers; F Contepomi, A Pichot; P Johnstone, N McCarthy, J White, G Archer, A Brown, C Short (D Crompton, 80), B Sturnham, A Vander.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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