Bath 31 Bristol 16: Ashton's sense of adventure secures safety with style

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The Independent Online

West Country derby matches are rarely one-sided, but despite the intensity of the rivalry between Bristol and Bath this match was affected by the news that Leeds had lost to London Irish. The mantra from professional sportsmen and coaches is that they are always fully committed, but the reality was that Bristol's Premiership survival had been confirmed before the whistle. Bath needed a single point and they earned it, and more, in some style.

They scored three tries in the first half, the third a wonderful length-of-the-field score com-pleted by the No 8 Isaac Fea'unati, and there was an aggressive display by the forwards, who charged upfield like human bulldozers and offloaded deftly to supporting runners like the silkiest of backs. There was also adventure from Olly Barkley in the fly-half role.

Bath's performance gave travel agents in the town the headache of finding extra seats on planes for next Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final against Biarritz in San Sebastian. The supporters who did not bother to journey to Leicester for the quarter-final will surely make more of an effort to go to Spain.

When the ball was passed wide the hares, Joe Maddock, Andy Higgins and David Bory, attacked space. Brian Ashton, Bath's head coach, has long advocated runners hitting gaps rather than tacklers, and when the players succeed it is breathtaking. However, the sprinters can do little without the big men dominating and Danny Grewcock, Andy Beattie, Michael Lipman and Fea'unati carried the ball forward relentlessly. Their reward was not only momentum but also yellow cards for two Bristol forwards.

Desperate to slow the Bath juggernaut down, Bristol resorted to slowing the ball down and in the 25th minute the referee, Dave Pearson, showed a yellow card to Roy Winters. Bath were already 11-6 ahead, Beattie scoring the first try after a beautifully judged cross-field kick by Barkley, but their supremacy was really enforced when Darren Crompton was removed for lying on the wrong side of a ruck.

Down to 13 men, Bristol were stretched as Barkley looked to attack at every opportunity. Maddock scored in the 34th minute after continous phases and then an overthrown line-out on the Bath line went to Barkley, down the left wing, back across to the right wing and finally into the hands of Fea'unati by the posts.

Bristol improved in the second half, David Lemi scoring after collecting his own kick ahead in the 44th minute and but for some magnificent defence by Olly Barkley, tackling Lemi into touch a yard from the line, and Andy Williams squirming his body and legs beneath Mariano Sambucetti, it could have been very close.

Partly this was due to an easing off by Bath and the mass arrival of replacements as players were rested for next week. Grewcock found his own way to safety when he was sent to the sin-bin. It mattered little as both clubs avoided relegation and the only injury was to Bristol's Nathan Budgett, who needed a stretcher in the ninth minute.

Bath: J Maddock; A Higgins, A Crockett, S Finau (M Stephenson, 48), D Bory; O Barkley, N Walshe (A Williams, 56); D Barnes, L Mears (P Dixon, 71), T Filise (D Bell, 67), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Fea'unati (G Delve, 52), M Lipman.

Bristol: V Going; L Robinson (M Denney, 75), R Higgitt, S Cox, D Lemi; J Strange (D Gray, 71), S Perry; D Hilton (M Irish, 71), M Regan (N Clark, 71), D Crompton, N Budgett (R Winters, 9), G Llewellyn (M Sambucetti, 40), M Salter (capt), D Ward-Smith (G Lewis, 65), J El Abd.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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