Bath 41, Leeds 10: Banahan's a bonus for watching Ashton

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The Independent Online

Brian Ashton, the newly reappointed England head coach, had one of the best seats in the house from which to witness two Test-quality performances as Bath stormed to the top of the Guinness Premiership.

The gargantuan winger Matt Banahan scored a hat-trick of tries to bring his Premiership tally to six in five appearances and Olly Barkley, at centre, ran the show with clinical purpose. He collected 16 points from a perfect kicking display and Ashton seated in a corporate box while his England forwards coach, John Wells, made do with a seat in the stands will have left the Recreation Ground a happy man indeed.

Leeds's armoury was more popgun than Top Gun when compared with the home side's weaponry up front and in the backs. So the sell-out crowd could have been forgiven for imagining that they were going to witness a horribly one-sided contest after Bath's Springbok fly-half Butch James switched the kick-off from left to right and Banahan won the ball in the air.

The ball was moved first left and then right before the home full-back, Nick Abendanon, put Banahan, all 6ft 7in and 16st of him, over on the right after just 45 seconds. Barkley landed the conversion.

The home support buzzed, but the threatened deluge did not materialise, Bath managing just two Barkley penalties in the next 30 minutes or so. The Leeds forwards dogged it out well and eventually managed to make a methodical advance on Bath's line. Although they failed to force their way through for a try, they did squeeze a penalty out of the home team. Alberto Di Bernardo knocked it over.

If Bath did not begin the second half in quite the whirlwind manner of the first period, there was still a certain breeziness about them. When the hard-working flanker Andy Beattie burst clear from halfway in the fourth minute after the interval he had some eager backs behind him. Barkley swapped passes with Abendanon before sending the Jersey-born Banahan clear for his second try.

There was a brief lull in the gathering storm after that before Bath regathered themselves. After some fine work by the pack, who got to within touching distance of the Leeds line, Barkley held the ball rather than pass it and then swivelled inside to slip a pass to the scrum-half, Michael Claassens, who had a five-metre run to the line.

To Banahan then went the honour of the bonus-point try, which also completed his hat-trick, the scoring pass coming from Alex Crockett.

Bath were unable to keep Leeds tryless, however, as a Joe Maddock kick in the 74th minute was gathered by the left wing Tom Biggs. He became his club's second-highest try-scorer in all competitions, behind the now Saracens full-back Dan Scarbrough, when he touched down his 34th in Leeds colours.

As the game spilled into overtime, a clever grubber kick by Barkley was pounced on by Abendanon for a fifth Bath try.

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