Bath's heavy penalty

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The Independent Online

The Greatest compliment that can be paid to Saracens, the leaders of the Premiership, is that they look like Bath when Bath were invincible at the Recreation Ground. There were two tries each but there the equality ended as Thomas Castaignÿde filled his boots with seven penalties and a conversion.

The Greatest compliment that can be paid to Saracens, the leaders of the Premiership, is that they look like Bath when Bath were invincible at the Recreation Ground. There were two tries each but there the equality ended as Thomas Castaignÿde filled his boots with seven penalties and a conversion.

Whereas there is not a week link in Saracens' corporate team effort, Bath have problems, not least at stand-off where they are desperately missing Mike Catt. Catt may not be the greatest footballer on earth but he can be relied upon to do the right thing.Yesterday Shaun Berne invariably did the wrong thing.

At Northampton last week Bath were wretched and Jon Callard, their coach, promised substantial improvement. "We are aware we haven't reached top gear yet," he said, adding that there would be a more "steely-eyed" approach. At times Bath looked more like their old selves but overall the performance was nowhere near good enough against a side moving out of top gear and into overdrive.

Saracens are not just dangerous at threequarter, their forwards are quite ruthless. Eyes of steel in fact. They work and scavenge as a unit and some of the turnovers they won came straight from the Bath manual. Above all they don't just defend, they defend aggressively and in numbers. It's a formidable package.

"A few tries are what we need today and a performance that will give us confidence to go into Europe next week," Callard said beforehand. "No time is better than the present when you have one of the best sides in Europe in town and one of the best referees to officiate the game."

Whether he was still as complimentary about Ed Morrison last night is another matter. Mr Morrison did not get off to a great start as he invoked a penalty clause which seems to have become flavour of the month, if not the season. In the first minute he penalised Bath, after a well-executed midfield move had released Dan Lyle, for "crossing", otherwise known as obstruction.

A couple of minutes later he stopped Saracens in their tracks for a similar offence. They were both extremely dodgy calls. While threequarters are not allowed to perform well-rehearsed moves designed to confuse defenders, forwards en masse are free to take out players who are not in possession, at rucks and mauls, a blatant case of obstruction if ever there was one. Somebody from on high has decided that crossing is as sinful as a deliberate knock-on, if less obvious.

When Berne was guilty of the latter, Castaignÿde missed a penalty from in front of the posts. It was the only thing he did miss. Bath's decision to drop Jon Preston was partly explained after eight minutes when Gareth Cooper turned on the pace to find himself in space. Castaignÿde did well to stop him but when the ball was recycled left, Lyle launched a one-handed torpedo pass 30 yards to the wing where Adedayo Adebayo picked up to score.

The decision of the No 8 to cut out the middle men was very wise for some of the handling of the Bath backs was lamentable. For example, Bath should have had a second try before Saracens had scored but Cooper delivered such a poor pass that it got what it deserved, a knock-on. Castaignÿde had already landed a penalty when Steve Borthwick was not only penalised for a deliberate knock-on but sent to the sin-bin.

After 20 minutes, Saracens scored a cracker, Dan Luger joining the line from the left wing to capitalise on good work by Ben Johnston to draw Matt Perry and release Darragh O'Mahony on a free run. Castaignÿde added the points and then pulled off another try-saving tackle, this time on Iain Balshaw who should have made more of a favourable bounce.

After David Flatman got a yellow card, Bath hit the front with a penalty from Perry who then, using his pace for almost the only time in the match, sent Adebayo in for try number two following an inside pass. Perry's conversion gave Bath a half time lead of 18-13.

After Castaignÿde and Perry exchanged penalties early in the second half Saracens pulled clear. The Frenchman banged over another penalty to make it 21-19 and then added an outrageous effort from five yards inside his own half. Saracens went for the kill and when Berne had a kick charged down his opposite number Duncan McRae hacked on to the corner where Kevin Sorrell won the race for the touchdown.

Inevitably it was left to Castaignÿde to apply the coup de grâce with two more penalties, one of which was awarded against the home team for crossing. It was the final insult.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, M Tindall (P de Glanville, 71), A Adebayo (R Thirlby, 70); S Berne, G Cooper; D Barnes, M Regan (A Long, 70), J Mallett (C Horsman, 52), M Haag, S Borthwick, G Thomas, D Lyle, B Clarke (capt).

Saracens: T Castaignéde; D O'Mahony, B Johnston (B Sparg, 59), K Sorrell, D Luger; D MacRae, K Bracken (capt); D Flatman, R Russell (M Cairns, 70), P Wallace, D Grewcock, S Murray (B Davison, 76), R Hill, T Diprose, K Chesney.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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