Bath vs Wasps match report: Try-scorer Sam Burgess drops hint to selectors as Bath close gap at the top

Bath 39 Wasps 26

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There is nothing wrong with Sam Burgess’s timing. In ten days’ time, Stuart Lancaster will announce his first senior England squads of the year and Burgess, the convert from rugby league on whom so much rash speculation has been spent, made yesterday his most significant contribution to his new code.

Maybe the speculation is not so rash. This was only his second Premiership start and it included a try and several assists, not to mention some stonewall tackling of which Ben Jacobs was the most obvious victim. It helped move Bath to within a point of Northampton at the head of the Aviva Premiership and cast off the gloom of defeat the previous week at Leicester.

“Any time we brought intensity to the game, we controlled it,” Mike Ford, Bath’s head coach, said, though several players were struggling with cramp by the end, when Wasps staged the mini-revival that earned them a try bonus. “We banked the experience of that game at Leicester and we’re still evolving.”

As is Burgess, whose immediate future seems to be the midfield even if, in the long term, he moves to the back row. In the opening moments he made the break which might have led to a try, he scored the first try of the second half from a delightfully delayed pass by George Ford, and generally he looked far more comfortable than in any of his previous appearances.

“I’m happy with the way things are going, this game wasn’t as slow as last week – I touched the ball once in the first half at Leicester – so it suited me and the whole team,” Burgess said.

“The expectation, well, I’m used to that coming from rugby league in Australia, and that first try gets the monkey off the back.”

Yet the bonus point keeps Wasps among the top four, even if the bubble which surrounded them during December burst. They were second best in almost every area but possessed the character to score two tries in the final 10 minutes, throwing the ball around with abandon in the knowledge that the result was not in doubt.

“We struggled to get any penetration and to contain Bath when they had the ball,” David Young, their director of rugby, said.

Yet all their tries were worthy efforts, well constructed and rounded off with a magnificent solo effort from Alex Lozowski, the replacement fly-half who dummied a way through from 50 metres.

It was nip and tuck for half an hour, Francois Louw finishing off a maul from a close-range lineout by Bath before Jacobs featured twice in the Wasps response that led to a try for their Samoan centre, Alapati Leiua. But the precision of Ford, as so often this season, steered Bath into a healthy half-time lead: he added two penalties and, when Anthony Watson attacked from turnover ball from his own 22, Ford delivered the pass which set Semesa Rokoduguni free on halfway.

The wing nearly did not make it, suffering a groin strain as he neared the line, but he struggled over through Josh Bassett’s tackle and when Burgess crossed just after the interval, the result was assured.

Even when Nathan Hughes emerged from a ruck to score Wasps’ second try, Bath provided the perfect counter amid a flurry of turnovers and penalties. They released Matt Banahan on the short side of a driving maul for their bonus-point try and worked Ollie Devoto over in the opposite corner after a series of close-range charges.

At 39-12, Wasps were staring at the harshest of scorelines but their young men came to the rescue, creating a long-range try for Jacobs before Lozowski’s show-and-go.

Bath: A Watson (O Devoto 13-21, 48; P Stringer 71); S Rokoduguni (O Woodburn 34), J Joseph, S Burgess, M Banahan; G Ford, C Cook; N Auterac (P James 54), R Batty (R Webber 54), H Thomas (D Wilson 54), S Hooper (capt, D Day 59), D Attwood, M Garvey, F Louw (C Fearns 52), L Houston.

Tries: Louw, Rokoduguni, Burgess, Banahan, Devoto

Cons: Ford 4

Pens: Ford 2

Wasps: R Miller; C Wade (E Daly 47), A Leiua, B Jacobs, J Bassett; A Goode (A Lozowski 63), J Simpson (C Davies 63); M Mullan (S McIntyre 60), C Festuccia (E Shervington 50), L Cittadini (P Swainston 60), B Davies, K Myall (J Gaskell 60), S Jones (A Johnson 2-7, 12), J Haskell (capt), N Hughes.

Tries: Leiua, Hughes, Jacobs, Lozowski

Cons: Goode, Lozowski 2 

Att: 13,349

Referee: A Small (RFU)