Barkley worsens Worcester woes

Worcester 22 Bath 26
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Are Worcester the new kids on the block or the new heads? Bath were so disjointed it's difficult to tell. The Warriors are getting closer, but it's still not close enough, although they picked up another bonus point, giving them two from three games.

Are Worcester the new kids on the block or the new heads? Bath were so disjointed it's difficult to tell. The Warriors are getting closer, but it's still not close enough, although they picked up another bonus point, giving them two from three games.

Trailing by 14 points in the first half, Worcester looked as if they were heading for a hammering, but they came back strongly enough in the second half to give John Connolly, the Bath coach, more exercise on the worry beads. John Brain, his counterpart at Worcester, described his players as being "bitterly disappointed'', and so they should be. They might never get a better chance of turning over the West Country club.

"It's a game we should have won,'' Brain said. "We made too many basic errors at defining moments, but we had a fair bit of possession and had the platform at the line-out to have won. We are not satisfied with one point, we wanted four.

"We've got the ability to make it an interesting season. You get punished if you don't take your opportunities, but we did enough to suggest that we can win matches at this level. With 13 new players we're going to do better at the end of the season than at the beginning.''

It's a fair point, but Worcester, who were in a class of their own in National League One last season, knew how important it was to get off to a good start in the Premiership and three defeats, two of them at Sixways, was not what they had in mind. Yesterday they made the worst possible start when James Brown's long cut-out pass was intercepted by Brendon Daniel, the strongest runner in the Bath team. From a standing start, the wing brushed off Brown's attempted tackle and sprinted 60 yards to the posts.

Enter Ollie Barkley, a player liked by England but out of favour at Bath. At least he was until Chris Malone picked up an injury. Barkley made a rare start yesterday, and for a while he was looking good.

After dropping a goal he created a try for Mike Tindall. It was simplicity personified. Barkley's little grub-kick towards the posts caught everybody by surprise except Tindall, who had time to read a slim novel before gathering to score.

It meant that Bath were 17-3 in front after 22 minutes and it was looking all so predictable. The Worcester line-out, and Tommy Hayes, made it anything but.

Hayes, who has arrived at Sixways via the Cook Islands and Glasgow, kicked four penalties in the first half, the fourth arriving in injury-time when Tindall conceded three points and picked up a yellow card for kicking the ball away as Worcester were mounting their most dangerous series of attacks.

Barkley kicked a penalty early in the second half after a mistake by Darren O'Leary, the stand-off picking himself up after sustaining a shoulder injury, but when Worcester scored a try in the 45th minute the whole complexion of the match changed. The scrum-half Neil Cole had a blindside kick half-charged down and his partner Brown caught it at full speed before sending the Frenchman Thomas Lombard over in the left-hand corner. "Forward pass!'' screamed the Bath coaching team as one.

Hayes's brilliant conversion from the touchline made it 23-19, and if the Worcester scrum had been anything like as effective as their line-out, they would probably have gone on to win. As it was the Worcester front row, missing two first- choice props, were penalised on several occasions for collapsing, allowing Barkley to ease the pressure.

The Bath stand-off kicked a third penalty, although he failed with another attempt 13 minutes from time. Hayes kicked his fifth to reduce the gap to four points once again, but when he had another chance to kick for goal he opted for touch, such was his confidence in his side's line-out. In the dying minutes Worcester had a great chance to take and drive, but when it mattered most Bath managed to nick the line-out. They were mightily relieved.

It had been a wretched week for a club who had been so impressive for most of last season. They had suffered four-try defeats to Northampton and Newcastle and had had their international ticket allocation cut by the Rugby Football Union following an investigation into the black market.

"The tickets were sold in good faith,'' was Bath's defence. On top of all that, Steve Borthwick was cited for his role in a brawl at the end of last weekend's match with Newcastle, and he appears at a disciplinary hearing in Coventry on Tuesday.

No wonder Connolly said this was a game Bath had to win. "Worcester had one of the better line-outs we've faced and they were very competitive,'' Connolly said. "However, it's hard to walk straight into the Premiership.'' Harder than walking straight out again.

Worcester: T Delport; D O'Leary, T Hayes, G Trueman (B Hinshelwood, 24), T Lombard; J Brown (D Roke, 57), N Cole (C Stuart-Smith, 74); T Windo, B Daly (A van Niekerk, 68), L Fortey (S Sparks, 64), T Collier, C Gillies, L Greeff, B MacLeod-Henderson (D Hickey, 55), P Sanderson (capt).

Bath: J Maddock; A Crockett, R Fleck, M Tindall (S Davey, 65), B Daniel; O Barkley, M Wood; D Barnes (M Stevens, 31), J Humphreys (capt; L Mears, 49), D Bell (Barnes, 68), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).