Bath 17 London Irish 21: Rec falls to fighting Irish

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The Independent Online

This was an ugly match in every sense. What rugby there was was not pretty to watch and there were some dark, off-the-ball moments which did little for the reputation of the game.

It could be argued that the most exciting thing to happen was when a hot-air balloon floated overhead during the interval. Otherwise, all there was to arouse any emotion was a mass brawl after what appeared to be a spear tackle on Bath's No 8, Isaac Feau'nati.

It seemed to be the London Irish hooker, David Paice, who did the deed. The crowd howled for him to be sent off. While the officials pondered what to do, and to whom, the Bath players decided to take the law into their own hands, and fists. It took the referee, Roy Maybank, some time to take the heat out of the situation. The upshot was yellow cards for Paice and his team-mate, prop and captain Neal Hatley, and a 10-minute sojourn in the sin-bin for the Bath lock Peter Short. There was still the odd flare-up after that as the penalty-ridden game stuttered on.

The highlight of the first half came late on, when the Bath scrum-half, Nick Walshe, dummied and broke from a ruck and then found Feau'nati, who had come thundering up on the left wing to take a perfectly timed pass and score.

Bath stretched their lead after the break when Chris Malone landed his fourth penalty, but by the time Irish's replacement hooker, Robbie Russell, was driven over from a line-out Maybank had shown yellow cards to Bath's David Barnes and the Exiles' Bob Casey. The penalty count was approaching the ionosphere, with Barry Everitt countering Malone.

Despite the frequent interruptions from the referee's whistle, the teams managed to string some constructive play together, and when Bath allowed Irish to steal their line-out ball 15 metres out the Exiles worked it left until their Argentina No 8 Juan Leguizamon squeezed over to give his team the lead for the first time in the match.

Everitt missed the conversion and Bath hit back furiously, but in vain. The Irish defenders would not be moved. They remained solid in the face of everyone and everything Bath could throw at them, including David Ward, the replacement hooker, whose break with only seconds remaining was quickly stifled.

Bath: N Abendanon (T Cheeseman, 59); M Stephenson, S Berne, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, D Bory (J Maddock, 54); C Malone, N Walshe; D Barnes, R Hawkins (D Ward, 80), D Flatman, P Short, R Fidler (J Faamatuainu, 62), A Beattie (capt), J Scaysbrook (C Goodman, 74), I Feau'nati (L Ovens, 65-74).

London Irish: D Armitage; D Shabbo (R Skuse, 24-33), S Mapusua, R Flutey, S Tagicakibau; B Everitt, P Hodgson (R Rees, 80); N Hatley (capt; Skuse, 79), D Paice, T Leaíaetoa (Skuse, 63-79), K Roche, J Hudson (B Casey, 66), A McCullen (R Russell, 24-33), O Magne (D Danaher, 48), P Murphy (J Leguizamon, 66).

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).