Bath make ponderous Leeds pay for mistakes

Leeds 32 Bath 44
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The Independent Online

If Bath can finish the season with the drive, imagination and momentum that blew Leeds apart in a stunning first half yesterday, there are going to be plenty of smiling faces on the banks of the Avon come May. But if they show the sort of complacency which nearly let Leeds escape, when the Yorkshire side were 25 points adrift and sinking fast, tougher times lie ahead. For Leeds the tough time has already begun.

Having a reprieve last term, when the Tykes surprised a lot of sides, there will be some hard questions asked by Phil Davies, their director of rugby, who saw his team struggle to achieve parity at the set piece, with a line-out which bordered on the philanthropic, and some sloppy defensive work which gifted Bath their four tries. Not until David Rees scored the opening Leeds try on 50 minutes did the home side look as if they had any idea of how to counter Bath's authority.

By then the game had gone from them, as Davies acknowledged afterwards. "If we continue to make a mess of our primary possession and give away so many penalties, we're not going to have a very satisfactory or enjoyable season," he said. "The second-half fight-back was a positive, but we were far too ponderous."

Unsurprisingly, the Bath head coach, John Connolly, was considerably more upbeat. "To score four tries and create as many chances as that was very pleasing," he said.

There were four former Bristol players wearing Leeds colours for the first time in a home team which had nine on debut, and three ex-Bristolians in a Bath starting line up in which eight were making their first appearance. With so many changes it was always going to be interesting to see if unfamiliarity was going to be a problem and how quickly the sides gelled. From the outset, Bath appeared more cohesive. Leeds, by contrast - at least until Rees's touchdown - looked like a group of strangers having their first training session together.

As early as the 12th minute it was clear the Leeds' forwards were in for a torrid afternoon. Three times in quick succession the home scrum was fractured by the Bath pack. Where that will be a major area of concern for Davies, the line-out was even worse, and three of Bath's tries stemmed from possession won on Leeds' throw. For the first, Rob Fidler nicked the ball, for Isaac Feaunati, who left Leeds in controversial circumstances at the end of last season, to cross on the left. Four minutes later, Matt Perry went over. Olly Barkley converted both scores to add to an earlier penalty and a dropped goal by Chris Malone. Duncan Hodge's penalty was all Leeds had to show for an abject half, with Bath in the driving seat at 20-3.

After the break, Barkley slotted another penalty before Brendon Daniel touched down and that, apart from a smart try by Alex Crockett and three more Barkley penalties and a conversion, was Bath done. Leeds hauled themselves back from the precipice with tries by Alan Dickens, Colm Rigney and Dan Scarbrough to claim a bonus point. They deserved little else.

Leeds: Tries Rees, Dickens, Rigney, Scarbrough; Conversions Hodge 3; Penalties Hodge 2. Bath: Tries Feaunati, Perry, Daniel, Crockett; Conversions Barkley 3; Penalties Barkley 5; Drop goal Malone.

Leeds: T Walsh (L Botham, 56); D Scarbrough, P Christophers, T Davies, D Rees: D Hodge, C Stuart-Smith (A Dickens, 35); M Shelley (capt, G Powell, 56), R Rawlinson, M Holt, S Morgan, S Hooper, M Salter (J Ponton, 62), D Hyde, C Rigney.

Bath: M Perry (S Gray, 85); L Best (J Williams, 64), A Crockett, O Barkley, B Daniel (R Kydd, 81); C Malone, M Wood (H Martens, 80+1); D Flatman, J Humphreys (capt, L Mears, 51), D Bell (M Stevens, 51), R Fidler, S Borthwick, A Beattie, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 71), I Feaunati.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).