Bath 19 London Irish 16: Banahan's bulk helps Bath to shine

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The Independent Online

Call it what you will, vision, inspiration, genius, but the England head coach, Brian Ashton, who is not getting credit for anything much these days, deserves a pat on the back for something.

When Ashton was in charge of the emerging youth at England's Academy he studied second row Matt Banahan and saw something in the Jersey-born giant that no one else had seen – a winger.

"Brian said that someone of my size and physique could be moved out on to the wing," said Banahan, who left London Irish (as a lock) shortly after that and headed West to seek his rugby fortune (as a winger) with Bath. "And I love it. You can express yourself more."

At the start of the season the 21-year-old's way of expressing himself was to propel his 6ft 7in, 17st frame over the opposition line at indecently frequent intervals to provide Bath with a handsome tally of tries.

His 10th touchdown effectively settled matters between Bath and London Irish on Saturday.

The score early in the second half could well qualify for try of the season, although it owed as much to the full-back Nick Abendanon's counter-attack at pace and Olly Barkley's ability to sustain the momentum before launching Banahan as it did to the loss of possession by a careless Irish player when they were a metre from scoring a try themselves.

But there is more to Banahan's game than scoring tries, as Brad Davis, Bath's defensive coach, pointed out. "Matt's defence has come on in leaps and bounds. He is an effective hitter and he has an understanding of his organisational responsibilities."

Although Irish opened the scoring through the first of Hickey's three penalties, Bath hit back, first through the boot of Barkley then with their opening try. That too was a neat bit of Barkley footwork, with Bath's other winger, Mike Stephenson, winning the race to the fly-half's clever grubber.

Two more penalties each from Barkley and Hickey set things up for a second half in which Banahan's, and Bath's, defensive qualities were tested to the full.

In the final 25 minutes London Irish corralled Bath pretty much in their own 22. They forced a couple of kickable penalties, but sadly Eoghan Hickey, the Exiles' fly-half, missed the two attempts which might have earned Irish victory.

They did score a try through the replacement fly-half Ross Broadfoot, who added the conversion but, when Peter Short stopped Declan Danaher just off the line in the final seconds, that ended Irish hopes.

Bath: Tries Stephenson, Banahan; Penalties Barkley 3. London Irish: Try Broadfoot; Conversion Broadfoot; Penalties Hickey 3.

Bath: N Abendanon; M Stephenson (T Cheeseman, 58), A Crockett, E Fuimaono-Sapolu (S Berne, 69), M Banahan; O Barkley, M Claassens; D Flatman (D Bell, 51), L Mears (P Dixon, 78), M Stevens, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, J Faamatuainu (P Short, 66), M Lipman, D Browne (C Goodman, 28).

London Irish: T Ojo; T De Vedia (G Tiesi, 24-33), S Mapusua, M Catt (G Tiesi, 80), S Tagicakibau; E Hickey (R Broadfoot, 68), P Hodgson (W Fury, 24-28); C Dermody, D Paice, F Rautenbach (T Lea'aetoa, 64), N Kennedy, R Casey (capt), D Danaher, S Armitage, R Thorpe (P Murphy, 64).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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