Bath illuminated by Ashton sparkle

Bath 28 Wasps 16
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The Independent Online

It is still possible, although admittedly highly unlikely, for Bath to win the Heineken Cup while almost simultaneously finding themselves up the Avon with only a tiger shark for company. A successful campaign in Europe - the good news is that they qualified for the quarter-finals, the bad is that they are away to Leicester - coincided with a worrying run in the Guinness Premiership. Yesterday, however, you had to wonder how Bath were deep in relegation territory and Wasps were at the other end of the table.

Bath, who had won only three out of 12 Premiership matches, took Wasps to the cleaners. Their forwards played with a spirit and sense of purpose that their opponents could not begin to match and it comes to something when you find yourself outplayed by Chris Malone.

The Bath stand-off is not the most gifted individual in the game and his pace is more tortoise than hare but here he and his partner Nick Walshe played Alex King and Matt Dawson off the Rec. Their task, of course, was made somewhat easier by the irresistible form of the Bath pack, who were not so much hungry as carnivorous.

Bath desperately wanted the points and they got them. Tries here this season have been rarer than a rubber duck in the city's Roman baths but Bath managed three yesterday and they were tremendous value for a victory by two goals, a try and three penalties to a goal and three penalties. "Under Brian Ashton we're improving incrementally," said Steve Borthwick, the Bath captain, referring to the return to the Rec of the iconic coach.

In the subplot, the form and welfare of players involved in the Six Nations which starts next week, Lawrence Dallaglio started at No 6 - a bit of acclimatisation for the engagement with Wales? - but the experiment had to be abandoned in the first half when John Hart, who had been switched to No 8, was laid out.

The former England captain moved to the middle of the back row and Joe Worsley swapped to blindside to accommodate the Ireland No 7 Johnny O'Connor. It didn't really matter where Dallaglio played. He, like everybody else, was overshadowed by a barnstorming performance from Andy Beattie, whose England career has never got beyond the A team.

Bath also had to reshuffle their back row when they lost Michael Lipman after 10 minutes. Enter Gareth Delve, the 23-year-old Welsh No 8, who proceeded to give Beattie excellent support, although he missed the Wasps try-scorer Ayoola Erinle.

Meanwhile, the odds on Dawson starting the match against the Welsh at Twickenham lengthened after he had an indifferent first half, during which his frustration at Wasps' stuttering display frequently came to the surface. When Hart was injured the referee David Rose took the opportunity to warn both scrum-halves to keep their tempers in check.

The tempo was set from the fifth minute when Dawson failed to clean up what should have been tidy possession for Wasps and Malone slipped a delightful little pass to David Bory, who made the initial breach in midfield. Half a dozen phases later and the prop Duncan Bell was storming through the remnants of the Wasps defence.

The champions could barely put together six phases and they had nobody to match the power and passion of Beattie and Lee Mears, not to mention the resilience and staying power of the French wing Bory, who caused problems and made ground whenever he had the ball.

Wasps had a couple of gilt-edged chances to get back into it but Worsley made a hash of the first and then Stuart Abbott's sidestepping break came to nought, Alex Crockett receiving a yellow card for killing the ball. Even with a seven-man pack Bath managed to wheel the Wasps scrum and reverse the put in and while Crockett was in the sin-bin the West Country club outscored their opponents 3-0, Malone landing a penalty.

The referee, David Rose, was very keen on the yellow cards and when Andy Higgins did a Crockett to disappear for 10 minutes, King kicked the penalty to make it 10-6 at half-time. Bath's second try was another cracker, started by Bory, given impetus by a marvellous dummy from Borthwick and finished by Eliota Fuimaono, a Samoan centre who was making his debut.

Ten minutes later came try number three, courtesy of a series of magnificent drives led by Beattie and Mears, and this time it was Malone who cleverly exploited the chaos in the Wasps defence to jink over from close range when everybody was expecting him to offload. Wasps narrowed the gap to nine points with a brilliant counter-attack from their 22 when Erinle ran about 75 metres, beating Delve on the outside, for a stunning try.

The signal for a comeback? No chance. Bath went at it with even more venom. "Brian Ashton is a very creative force," Shaun Edwards, the Wasps coach, said. "The Bath fans are in for a treat over the coming months."

Bath: J Maddock; A Higgins, A Crockett (M Stephenson, 57), E Fuimaono, D Bory; C Malone, N Walshe; M Stevens, L Mears, D Bell (D Flatman, 66), S Borthwick(capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman (G Delve, 10).

Wasps: J Lewsey; P Sackey, A Erinle (F Waters, 72), S Abbott, T Voyce; A King (J Staunton, 78), M Dawson (E Reddan, 52); A McKenzie (J Va'a, 43), R Ibañez, T Payne, S Shaw (R Birkett, 54), G Skivington, L Dallaglio (capt), J Hart (J O'Connor, 36), J Worsley.

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).