Falcons miss Jonny as Butch boots Bath home

Bath 36 Newcastle 25
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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson could be back in action in a matter of days, according to Newcastle's director of rugby, Steve Bates. The England fly-half has been out of action since dislocating a knee at Gloucester in September, but after his side's Premiership defeat at Bath, Bates said: "If things go well this week we will start by naming him on the bench for the match against Leicester on Friday."

They certainly could do with someone like Butch James, who controlled the game with a near- flawless performance, using guile, nous and the canniest of boots to dictate events at crucial times.

However, Newcastle gave Bath plenty of problems, and if there is a sudden surge of coronary artery bypass surgery in Bath over the next few weeks it will have everything to do with the way the city's rugby team are performing.

After losing at the death to Saracens last week they had a wobble or two yesterday before finally coming through strongly. Part of that had to do with the return after two months of their captain, Michael Lipman, following a head injury. "I thought, with Lippy back on the field, that we would be OK," said the head coach, Steve Meehan, and so it proved. There was more purpose in the loose and around the fringes.

Once again the crowd was treated to a fine display by the Bath hooker Rob Hawkins, who played a key role in his team's first try, bursting through a crowd of players, then executing a wicked hand-off before stepping on the gas and racing clear. Having drawn what was left of the Newcastle defence, the Taunton-born Hawkins delivered a perfect pass to Joe Maddock, who dotted the ball down under the posts.

That try came late in the half, long after Newcastle's, a well-worked affair which saw the right-winger Tim Visser on the right end of the move. Tom May, turning out at fly-half, landed the conversion, although he missed two first-half penalties.

The try nosed Newcastle ahead, but their propensity to fall foul of the referee, Andrew Small, merely allowed James to kick Bath back into the game and ultimately to victory.

The South African fly-half had five penalties and the conversion of Maddock's try to his name by the time they trooped in at the interval, but May finally got on the scoresheet early in the second half, rounding off a brief period of pressure with the first of his two successful penalties.

The Falcons stayed in Bath faces for a while, long enough for the openside Brent Wilson to score a try, although he owed a lot to his fellow Kiwi Daniel Browne, who appeared to have tackled him only to release his prey almost instantly. Wilson charged over unopposed and May converted.

Bath countered with two tries of their own. First Andy Beattie got over from close range following a scrum and then, with James having been sent to the sin-bin for a shoulder charge, they struck again with a second for Maddock, his 13th of the season, when he snapped up an interception.

The Falcons fluttered again, though, when the chartered accountant Andrew Fenby scored his second try in three games, but a snap audit of the scoreline showed that neither side had been able to collect a bonus point.

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock (M Stephenson, 80), A Crockett, S Berne (T Cheeseman, 79), M Ban-ahan; B James, S Bemand (M Baxter, 80); D Flatman (A Jarvis, 79), R Hawkins (M Lilley, 80), D Bell, J Harrison (J Faamatuainu, 79), S Hooper, A Beattie, M Lipman (capt; J Scaysbrook, 79), D Browne.

Newcastle: A Tait; T Visser (S Jones, 73), J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, A Fenby; T May, M Young (H Charlton, 73); J Golding (M Ward, 66), R Vickers (M Thompson, 67), C Hayman, T Swinson, G Parling (M Sorenson, 66), P Dowson (capt), B Wilson, A Balding (R Winter, 57).

Referee: A Small (Bedfordshire).