Bath 66 Saracens 21: Barkley banks 31 points as brilliant Bath turn on style

Hosts clinch play-off spot but Saracenspay penalty for Heineken Cup exertions
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The Independent Online

Bath booked their place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs, and in the process brought a first league title for 12 years into sight, following a breathless display of running rugby that left Saracens gasping.

Steve Meehan, the head coach, has moulded Bath into an irresistible unit and Saracens, despite fielding seven of the side who were on duty against Munster in their Heineken Cup semi-final defeat last weekend, were simply blown away.

The bonus-point victory Bath required to guarantee a play-off spot was never in doubt as they moved to the top of the table above long-time leaders Gloucester. Bath even played a chunk of the game with 14 men after South Africans Michael Claassens and Butch James were sin-binned, but it made no difference to the overall picture.

Saracens conceded six touchdowns and 45 points during the first half alone as James, Daniel Browne, Olly Barkley, Michael Lipman, Joe Maddock and Matt Banahan, who is the Premiership's top try-scorer this season, all ran riot.

The England flanker Lipman collected his second try after the break, while Gloucester-bound Barkley finished with 31 points – from two tries, nine conversions and a penalty – to give him the highest individual total by any player in a Premiership game this term. Substitute Andrew Higgins added Bath's final try, with Barkley able to reflect on a perfect 10-out-of-10 goalkicking masterclass.

The manner of Bath's win will flash warning signals to title rivals such as Gloucester and Wasps, who meet at Adams Park today. And victory for Bath over Kingsholm hosts Gloucester on Saturday should be enough to secure a home semi-final later this month.

They blasted out of the blocks yesterday and Browne claimed the opener, rounding off a sweeping move started by Maddock's angled run and taken on at speed by Lipman and full-back Nick Abendanon. Barkley converted following an earlier penalty, and then he took centre stage himself by dancing through Saracens' midfield defence for a touchdown.

Lee Mears and centre Alex Crockett then linked brilliantly, allowing Lipman to gallop clear. Another Barkley conversion took the rampant home side 24 points clear. Maddock posted their fourth touchdown after 33 minutes and secured the maximum return with a bonus point.

Maddock's score owed everything to the creativity of flanker Jonny Fa'amatuainu, although the Samoan's poor discipline also surfaced just before the break when he laid into Kevin Yates on the floor. Referee Rob Debney missed the incidentas he was chasing Banahanon a 70-metre sprint to the line for try number six. James' kick-and-chase effort four minutes earlier also undid Saracens.

Claassens was yellow-carded during stoppage time for a technical infringement, but Bath trooped off 45 points clear after delivering an astounding all-action performance.

Saracens briefly stemmed the tide through tries by Powell and Yates, both converted by Glen Jackson, yet Lipman made sure that normal service was resumed by powering over after 58 minutes to post the half-century.

An inevitable raft of substitutions came during the closing quarter before Barkley sprinted over for his second try and Higgins added Bath's ninth touchdown after Kameli Ratuvou pounced.

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, A Crockett(S Berne, 36), O Barkley, M Banahan (A Higgins, 69); B James, M Claassens (N Walshe, 62);D Barnes (D Bell, 26), L Mears, M Stevens, S Borthwick, D Grewcock, J Fa'amatuainu (I Feau'nati, 55), M Lipman, D Browne (P Short, 62).

Saracens: D Scarbrough (R Penney, 75); F Leonelli, K Sorrell, A Powell, K Ratuvou; G Jackson(G Ross, 58), M Rauluni (A Dickens 32); K Yates,F Ongaro (M Cairns, 41), C Johnston (T Mercey, 72), T Ryder, I Fullarton (D Seymour, 41), K Chesney, D Barrell, P Gustard (A Saull, 74).

Referee: R Debney (RFU).

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