Higgins punches hole in Dragons' defensive core

Bath 13 Dragons 9
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The Independent Online

Marathon runners know all about hitting "the wall", a physical state brought on at around the 18-20-mile mark by dehydration, coupled with salt and sugar loss.

Yesterday Bath experienced a similar thing, except "the wall" that the Premiership side ran into was a far more substantial, physical presence in the shape of Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Twice in the match Dragons were reduced to 14 men for persistent offences at the breakdown, but on neither occasion did the wall collapse. They frustrated Bath at every turn. Blindside flanker Joe Bearman, a Cornishman, was immense, as was the veteran Wales international Colin Charvis. But the whole side was outstanding.

Bath had come into this match having scored 16 tries in all competitions, one of the better attacking records in England, but Dragons were far from daunted. They threw everything into the task of containing a team that was bent on attacking from the outset.

But no matter what Bath tried, or from where they tried it, they found an amber-shirted hero putting his body on the line. The tackle of the match came late in the first half when Bath's Samoan No 8 Jonny Faamatuainu was put clear through after a great run by Matt Banahan.

The Dragons full-back Phil Dollman, a centre by trade, covered an immense amount of ground and hit the Polynesian pillar with a monster tackle, the ball was spilled and all Alex Crockett, up in support, could do was hack the ball into touch.

The Dragons coach, Paul Turner, said afterwards: "That was the best defensive performance since I have been here, which is about three years."

Short of breathing fire, Dragons could not have done much more – except score a try themselves – but they only had a solitary sniff of a chance and fluffed that late in the game.

They had all but neutralised the English side, just three points separated them, when finally the ramparts were breached by the Bath replacement left wing Andrew Higgins.

Bath should have run in a couple more. Territorially they were by far the superior side, but, as Steve Meehan, their director of rugby explained: "We let Dragons off the hook once or twice. We were not mentally as sharp as we should have been. As a result we made one or two uncharacteristic errors. It was a difficult day. We played some good rugby, but turned over possession far too often."

The Bath front row of Lee Mears, Matt Stevens and David Flatman caused plenty of problems in the loose, although there were times when perhaps it would have been better had a ball-running, rather ball-carrying, specialist been on hand to cut through on those rare occasions that Dragons found themselves stretched.

In the end the boot of Butch James, the Bath fly-half, earned the West Country club their first win in this season's Heineken Cup campaign with two penalties and the conversion of Higgins's try, which owed as much to the player's determination and strength as it did to his instinct for the try-line.

Bath: Try Higgins; Conversion James; Penalties James 2. Newport-Gwent Dragons: Penalties Arlidge, Connor 2.

Bath: N Abendanon, J Maddock, A Crockett (S Hape, 80), S Berne, M Banahan (A Higgins, 66), B James, M Claassens (S Bemand, 40+4), D Flatman (D Barnes, 51), L Mears (P Dixon, 66), M Stevens, J Harrison (J Scaysbrook, 66), P Short, S Hooper, M Lipman [capt], J Fa'amatuainu.

Newport Gwent Dragons: P Dollman, G Wyatt, R Sidey (A Smith, 74), M Stcherbina, R Fussell, J Arlidge (S Connor, 74), W Evans (R Lewis, 80), A Black, T Willis [capt], R Thomas, A Jones (A Hall, 74), L Charteris, J Bearman, C Charvis, L Evans (G Webb, 74).

Referee: C Damasco (Italy).