Sod's law. Delon Armitage and Shontayne Hape returned to the Aviva Premiership from what is jokingly referred to as "England duty" at the World Cup, and their contribution was decisive. Not, alas, for their own side.
Armitage, the London Irish full-back who got into trouble in New Zealand over a high hit on Scotland's Chris Paterson, went head hunting again yesterday. Tom Biggs, the Bath left wing, finding precious space in which to run, attempted to wrong-foot Armitage. Instead he was flattened by an arm around the neck. Biggs was nursed back to health, although not sufficiently to reappear after the interval. Armitage received a yellow card and Bath, who couldn't be bothered to kick at goal when they received a penalty, went through the phases before their fly-half, Sam Vesty, with spare attackers to his right, found himself in an irresistible position from which to score.
It was the only score of the first half and as the match progressed it looked as if Bath would pay the penalty for not having an accomplished goalkicker. That situation should be remedied in time for the Heineken Cup, following the arrival of the New Zealander Stephen Donald. Donald, who kicked the All Blacks' winning penalty in the final against France last week, after being called up late in the tournament, has been given dispensation by Bath to "celebrate a bit".
After Vesty had fallen short with a penalty from the Irish 10-yard line in the ninth minute, Bath concentrated on scoring tries. The Irish, on the other hand, relied on their marksman, the wing Tom Homer, who appeared to have kicked them into a winning lead with four penalties out of four. Enter Hape, whose Premiership debut for the Irish against his old club was resoundingly anonymous – until the 77th minute.
The referee, David Rose, penalised the England centre for handling in a ruck and from 30 yards out and in front of the posts, Vesty kicked the winning penalty. It was happy hour for Bath but there was despair for the crowd, who gave referee Rose the bird.
Toby Booth, the Exiles' head coach, was spitting blood."Hape made a tackle and then got to his feet," he said. "I'm at a loss... referees need to be accurate and consistent. These key decisions are vital."
Brad Davis, Booth's opposite number, said: "The breakdowns are a lucky dip. They need to look at why it's such a mess. Sometimes we got the benefit of the doubt, sometimes it went to the Irish."
After Homer had put Irish 6-5 in front, the Bath scrum-half Michael Claassens turned defence into attack by charging down a clearance from Darren Allinson. The upshot was a try for the lock Dave Attwood, although it appeared that Allinson had found redemption by shoving him into touch at the corner flag. It was touch and go and there was a long delay before the television match official decided that Goliath had indeed beaten Darren.
Bath went from being 10-6 in front to 12-10 behind as Homer's boot homed in, but then the hand of Hape intervened and Rose's fickle finger of fate was pointing at the Irish.
London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, J Joseph (S Shingler, 18), S Hape, T Homer; D Bowden (capt), D Allinson; M Lahiff (A Corbisiero, 54), D Paice (J Buckland, 57), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 57), N Kennedy, B Evans (J Sandford, 62), D Danaher (J Sinclair, 62), R Thorpe, J Gibson.
Bath N Abendanon; O Woodburn, M Carraro, M Banahan, T Biggs (J Cuthbert, 40); S Vesty, M Claassens; N Catt (C Beech, 60), L Mears (Batty, 76), A Perenise (D Wilson, 54), S Hooper (capt), D Attwood (R Caldwell, 76), B Skirving, S Taylor, G Mercer.
Referee D Rose (Warwickshire)
Pens: Homer 4
Tries: Vesty, Attwood