Falcons downed but live to fight another day
Bath 42 Newcastle 12
Sunday 08 May 2011
Bath did all they could to secure an improbable Aviva Premiership play-off spot by scoring four tries before half-time but eventually had to settle for fifth place and Heineken Cup qualification. It was some agonising minutes after the final whistle that Newcastle players were able to leap into the air in joy and no little relief when they learned that defeat for Leeds meant the Falcons had escaped relegation on points difference. A huge roar had gone around the Recreation Ground as word came through that fourth-placed Northampton were trailing Leeds by 24-3. But that old warhorse, Danny Grewcock, was finally able to hang up his boots when Leeds' effort at Northampton petered out and Bath's season was at an end.
Grewcock had taken the field for his last game on the Rec to a deafening ovation and then as ever buckled down to winning line-outs, scrummaging, tackling and carrying.
Newcastle made a purposeful start until lock Andrew van der Heijden knocked on to hand Bath the initiative. They needed no second invitation as Nick Abendanon burst through dangerously and the former Bath player James Hudson killed the ruck, presenting Butch James with a 40-metre penalty to open the scoring.
If Bath were in difficulties it was at the scrummage where third-choice tighthead Mark Lilley was suffering with a neck problem and eventually had to be replaced by another Academy prop, Kane Palma-Newport.
By this time Sam Vesty had scored Bath's first try on 11 minutes, crossing unopposed after the visitors' defence had been stretched beyond breaking point.
At least three more chances went begging as a result of interceptions or forward passes before another veteran second row Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe crashed over after more good work by Vesty.
James missed the conversion but had no trouble finding the target when Tom Biggs sliced through on the right on the half-hour and Matt Carraro strolled over from the ruck to stretch Bath's lead to 22-0. The four-try bonus point came seconds before the break as Newcastle again ran out of defenders and Michael Claassens sent Matt Banahan through to score. James' conversion meant Bath led 29-0. Alex Tait raised Falcons' spirits with an opportunist score immediately after half-time but Jimmy Gopperth missed the conversion while James added another penalty at the other end to put Bath 32-5 ahead.
As Bath brought on their club captain, Luke Watson, for his last game before returning to South Africa, the visitors scored a try through the right wing Luke Fielden, courtesy of an inch-perfect cross kick by Jeremy Manning.
Manning, who had moved to fly-half when Gopperth was taken off, added the conversion. Bath, having secured the five points, had lost much of their impetus but were disappointed when the scrambling Lee Mears had a try disallowed for not releasing when tackled.
James added another penalty on 66 minutes rather than kick for touch but, with a rash of replacements, the game was meandering to a close.
Among those taken off was James, another to bring down the curtain down on his career at Bath. On 76 minutes, however, replacement wing Jacques Boussuge sped away and touched down under the posts. Vesty added the conversion, sparking a late flurry of activity by Bath with Grewcock earning the biggest cheers every time he touched the ball.
Bath Vesty; Biggs, Carraro, Banahan (Boussuge, 68),Abendanon; James (Williams, 68), Claassens (McMillan, 68); Flatman (Catt, 61), Mears (Dixon, 61), Lilley (Palma-Newport, 20), Fernandez Lobbe, Grewcock, Skirving (Watson, 52), Moody (Mercer, 68), Taylor.
Newcastle Manning; Fielden, Tu'ipulotu, Fitzpatrick (Eves, 70), A Tait; Gopperth (Bobo, 47), Young (Pilgrim 61); Golding (Shiels, 55), Thompson (Vickers, 47), Murray (Brookes, 55),Hudson, Van der Heijden (Swinson, 55), M Wilson, Gray, Hogg (Welch, 47).
Referee Wayne Barnes (RFU).
Tries: Vesty, Fernandez Lobbe, Carraro, Banahan, Boussuge
Cons: James 3, Vesty
Pens: James 3
Tries: Tait, Fielden
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