Bath 17 Worcester 11: Fidler plays up as Berne tries to roam

Lock stands out in dogfight with winless Warriors
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The Independent Online

Expectations really are a curse. Two weeks ago the loyal Bath crowd enjoyed a thrilling spectacle as their backs ran rings around one of the club's greatest enemies, Leicester. And so yesterday's arrival of Worcester had thousands queuing for a glimpse of a slaughter.

Why not? The Warriors were loitering near the bottom of the table with a solitary point from three matches while Bath had scored plenty of points in every game, albeit not always enough to win.

Against a dreary, narrow yet effectively disruptive Warriors side, however, the necessity of the home victory was secured with hardly a moment to savour. A lot of that was due to the visitors' cussed stubbornness. Worcester are not pretty to watch, but they defend stoutly and very rarely allow an opposition quick ball.

This tactic does attract the attention of the whistle-blowers, though, and Chris Horsman and Pat Sanderson received yellow cards in each half. But on neither occasion did a lacklustre Bath take full advantage.

For the large crowd, at least the second half improved on an awful first 40 minutes. Two penalties apiece was the sum total of that period and, thankfully, a half-time rollicking sharpened things up enough for Bath to inject some measure of pace and invention.

As did a necessary replacement. Olly Barkley had taken a blow to the leg inside the first 10 minutes and he spent the rest of the half hobbling, staying near the flanks and generally suggesting via body language that he would rather be anywhere than on the pitch. One weak missed penalty from near halfway demonstrated the problem as he struggled to apply any power.

Once confidence goes and the mind moves from aggression in play to protection of the body, errors are made. The most heinous was a small kick to touch from a penalty that he managed to boot over the goal-line, and his removal at the interval was a blessed relief for himself and his team. Bath's acting head coach, Steve Meehan, should have acted earlier. But removing a key player is sometimes tough to do.

Eight minutes into the second half a score arrived amid the knock-ons, as Bath ran and stretched the Worcester defence. Held up in the left corner, they drove a series of mauls close to the line before the scrum-half Nick Walshe managed to burrow under and through the mass of bodies to touch down.

The fly-half Shaun Berne, aided by an inside centre, Ryan Davis, who wanted the ball, started to control the game and ensured territorial supremacy via good kicking. In the 65th minute he broke from deep and set up a great chance beneath the Worcester posts. It looked like the killer score but Worcester again prevented a rapid delivery of the ball and left Berne and Bath no option but a drop goal.

It increased the gap to 11 points, a lead that was never threatened, although in the final moments a missed kick to touch was run back by the replacement hooker Aleki Lutui for a try that gave Worcester a losing bonus point. It might prove crucial come next May, but not unless they can add a victory or two to their season.

For Bath this should really be considered a bonus point missed. Too often they over-complicated and players dropped balls they were not expecting to receive, so much so that their outstanding player was the gnarled, mean old lock Rob Fidler. Aggressive and sharp in the tight and in the loose, he pounced on so many unprotected balls that he must have thought he was a flanker for the day.

Fidler a flanker? Indeed it was an odd game.

Bath: N Abendanon; M Stephenson, J Maddock (T Cheeseman, 76), O Barkley (R Davis, 41), D Bory; S Berne, N Walshe; D Flatman, L Mears (R Hawkins, 70), D Bell (D Barnes, 59), R Fidler, D Grewcock, P Short (J Faamatuainu, 70), I Fea'unati (capt), C Goodman.

Worcester: L Best (T Delport, 76); A Havili, D Rasmussen, T Lombard, M Garvey; S Drahm (S Whatling, 41), R Powell (M Powell, 79); D Morris (T Taumoepeau, 58), C Fortey (A Lutui, 41), C Horsman (Morris, 70), C Gillies, T Collier (R Blaze, 50), P Sanderson (capt), D Hickey (K Horstmann, 63), T Harding.

Referee: A Rowden (Kent).