Bath still alive and kicking

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The Independent Online

Lining up at the scaffold are the aristocratic necks of some very big English clubs, as the Heineken Cup reaches the point of no return. Northampton the holders, have already met their maker, Saracens are waiting on death row and Wasps are being measured for a casket.

Lining up at the scaffold are the aristocratic necks of some very big English clubs, as the Heineken Cup reaches the point of no return. Northampton the holders, have already met their maker, Saracens are waiting on death row and Wasps are being measured for a casket.

Bath, having suffered defeats to Newport and Munster, were simply desperate for a lifeline and they found one at the Recreation Ground last night.

The West Country club, European champions in 1998, won the return match against the Irish inter-provincial champions by six penalties to a try. It was not pretty, but it was never meant to be. Beaten 31-9 in Limerick last weekend, Bath could have kissed their hopes goodbye had they forfeited another two points.

Matt Perry and Jon Preston kicked their goals whereas Ronan O'Gara had a match to forget, the sort of match, in fact, which contributed to Munster's defeat in the final at Twickenham last season. The stand-off, who is usually a points-scoring machine - he had amassed 49 in the Cup this season - missed three penalties and a conversion and this did nothing for his overall performance.

Munster, who had been one of only two clubs out of 24 in the competition with unbeaten records, can still qualify, but whether they will do so with a home quarter-final (nobody in their right mind wants to travel to their fortress at Thomond Park) is another matter.

It had been the sort of day when every other rubbish bin was occupied by a broken umbrella. Conditions were decidedly tricky but even that could not account for the extraordinary lack of quality in a first half which should also have been consigned to the bin.

Mike Catt, who has been a missing link during Bath's indifferent form this season, put up a high ball which was almost inch perfect. It enabled Mike Tindall to disturb the Munster full-back Dominic Crotty and, when the Irish forwards were penalised for off-side, Perry kicked the easy goal.

In the fourth minute, Chris Horsman, who was having a wrestling match with Peter Clohessy, was adjudged to have collapsed a scrum and O'Gara pushed the kick to the right of the posts. It was not his night. Two minutes later, presented with an easier opportunity after Bath were penalised in front of their posts, he missed again.

Perry increased Bath's lead with a second penalty before Munster suffered a double blow. First O'Gara failed with a third kick at goal and then the Irish lost their captain, Michael Galwey, who was forced to limp off with a knee injury. This did nothing to improve what had already been an unreliable Munster line-out.

However, they came close to scoring when Crotty's kick ahead was seized upon by his forwards who drove over the Bath line but were denied a try for off-side.

Just before half-time Preston, who came on for Gareth Cooper, immediately banged over a penalty to give Bath a 9-0 lead at half-time.

When Munster won a penalty immediately after the restart they were faced with the choice of entrusting O'Gara with the kick at goal or to go for touch. Given the state of their line-out, it was a risky strategy but they chose the latter and were rewarded when, from the ensuing line-out, the flanker David Wallace ran around the short side and beat three defenders for a try which reduced Bath's lead to just four points.

Bath responded in typical fashion and were grateful when Preston kicked another penalty in the 48th minute. They were gifted another three points five minutes later when Crotty, fielding a kick ahead and under no pressure, carelessly knocked on. From the scrum, the Irish were again penalised and again Preston made no mistake with a simple kick to open up a 10-point lead.

Catt, who had kicked almost every ball he had received, suddenly illuminated the Rec with an incisive midfield break before feeding the right-wing Kevin Maggs, who had cut inside. However, the move was frustrated by a deliberate knock on from Clohessy and the Irish prop received a yellow card.

From the penalty Preston kicked his fourth goal. He went on to fail with another attempt to spoil his 100 per cent record before Munster mounted a grandstand finish, twice releasing Anthony Horgan on the left. On both occasions Horgan was denied a try by a matter of inches and credit has to be given to the stretched Bath defenders.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, P de Glanville, M Tindall, K Maggs; M Catt, G Cooper (J Preston, 38); S Emms, M Regan, C Horsman (J Mallett, 63), M Haag, S Borthwick, A Gardiner (G Thomas, 40), D Lyle, B Clarke (capt).

Munster: D Crotty; J Kelly (K Keane, 73), M Mullins, J Holland, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; P Clohessy, F Sheehan, J Hayes, M Galwey (capt, M O'Driscoll, 26), JLangford, A Quinlan, A Foley, D Wallace.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).

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