Bracken takes his revenge on Bath

Bath 6 - Saracens 13
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The Independent Online

It would be an exaggeration to describe this as one of Kyran Bracken's great moments, for Bath were so spectacularly hopeless at the Recreation Ground on Saturday that Saracens did not need to be anything better than average to pocket the points. Yet there was no disguising the scrum-half's satisfaction at the final whistle, the profound level of which had its roots in a career-long relationship between the player and his hosts based on trust and understanding. Bracken never trusted Bath, while Bath never understood Bracken.

In the early 1990s, Bath shifted heaven and earth to recruit the freshly capped youngster from Bristol. When he knocked them back on the perfectly reasonable grounds that apostasy is bad for the soul, they sought the revenge of the spurned at every opportunity, booting the half-back from one end of the West Country to the other whenever he ventured within range.

As a result, Bracken always pumped himself up for an afternoon's thud and blunder on the banks of the Avon. Here, on what was probably his last visit to the Rec, he was motivation made flesh.

And how he performed. Taine Randell, the former All Black captain, may have led Saracens on to the field, but it was Bracken who read the riot act before kick-off, hollering four-lettered instructions in the faces of his colleagues, eyes ablaze and fists clenched. These were not empty words or false gestures. Hardly one of rugby's more celebrated pugilists, he nevertheless picked fights with the half the Bath pack as a means of demonstrating his commitment to the cause.

His judgement on a filthy day was exemplary - when Bath had the wind and rain at their backs in the second half, he repeatedly frustrated them with his tactical kicking - and his tackling bordered on the epic. Bracken has proved himself a model of courageous application on far grander stages than this - Twickenham, Bloemfontein and the Subiaco Oval in Perth, Western Australia come easily to mind - but this was quite something, all the same.

Randell was not far behind him. When Bath cranked up the heat in the final few minutes, he snuffed out two dangerous attacks single-handedly. But the New Zealander's influence was evident far earlier in the contest when he pointed a finger at his young back-row buddy, Ben Skirving, and urged him to stand tall in the stirrups. Suitably inspired by Randell's exhortations, Skirving repeatedly made ground from the base of the scrum to deny Bath their customary forward platform.

Saracens have not lost since Steve Diamond succeeded Rod Kafer as head coach, and are clearly buying into the former Sale hooker's pragmatic approach. Glen Jackson may not be much of a tackler - Glenda Jackson would do a better job in that department - but the new outside-half plays the territory card well enough and keeps his tight five on the front foot. Bath are rarely bettered in the heavyweight department, but they were second best for long periods at the weekend.

Jackson might have conceded a penalty try late in the day - his knock-on, highly beneficial to his own side given the size of the Bath overlap, had more than a whiff of the deliberate about it - and Saracens were certainly helped by an injury to Kevin Yates, which led to uncontested scrums at the last knockings. But their try shortly before the interval, created by Thomas Castaignède and finished by Richard Haughton, was far in advance of anything Bath threatened to achieve in their impotence, so any sense of injustice was minimal.

Bath: Penalties Barkley 2. Saracens: Try Haughton; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 2.

Bath: M Perry; B Daniel, A Crockett, O Barkley, F Welsh (J Maddock, 68); C Malone, N Walshe (A Williams, 75); D Barnes, L Mears (D Ward, 50), M Stevens (D Bell, 61), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Fea'unati, J Scaysbrook (M Lipman, 61).

Saracens: M Bartholomeusz; R Haughton, T Castaignède (K Sorrell, 74), D Harris, T Vaikona; G Jackson, K Bracken; K Yates (B Russell, 79), M Cairns, B Broster (N Lloyd, 35), I Fullarton, S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 65), T Randell (capt), B Skirving, D Seymour.

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).