Hooper try edges out fiery Dragons

Dragons 12 Bath 15
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Bath have set up a thunderous finale to Pool Five of the Heineken Cup after squeezing to victory against Newport-Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.

The River Severn may separate these two teams, but in rugby terms you cannot get much more than a fag paper between Dragons and Bath. Their first encounter in this pool saw just four points separating them. Yesterday's margin was even tighter, but yet again it was Bath who emerged as the winners.

Dragons lived up to their name, with a fiery approach and some ferocious defence. Their hits were wondrous to behold. They could finish as well, with Wayne Evans, their impressive scrum-half, scoring one of their two tries, both in the second half, and combining well throughout with the cool fly-half James Arlidge.

Against any other team Dragons would have emerged with victory. But Bath always had an edge and they had fly-half Butch James, who tormented Dragons with his tactical kicking. But the West Country side knew they had been in a match. The Bath lock, Stuart Hooper, scorer of the winning try, admitted afterwards: "That was a really tough game, but now it makes next week's match against Toulouse at the Recreation Ground awesome."

Bath were not so bad themselves, especially since they were reduced to 13 men either side of half time through a couple of sin binnings, yet still managed to stay in contention.

The shock defeat of Toulouse by Glasgow on Saturday means Bath enter next Sunday's match against the French side top of the pool and a win would guarantee them a home quarter-final tie.

"I am sure the guys, and indeed the city of Bath, will be excited at the prospect of us playing Toulouse and will be hoping for a good open match," said director of rugby Steve Meehan.

Hooper, one of Bath's two players to be sin-binned, added: "It is a huge challenge for us and, while we have ambitions in the Heineken Cup, we can't look past Toulouse at the moment."

Bath's discipline did let them down a little, although Hooper's yellow card, for handling at a ruck, looked unjust since the ball had already emerged when he pounced on it, but Daniel Browne's late tackle on scrum-half Evans was crass stupidity on the part of the New Zealander.

But the two Bath tries were gems. The first, scored by Joe Maddock, owed much to a wonderful bit of interplay between hooker Lee Mears and prop Matt Stevens as they took the ball upfield at a bewildering rate of knots before the right winger steamed over.

The second saw Alex Crockett, leading the side after the late withdrawal of virus victim Michael Lipman, feeding Browne, before Hooper rumbled over for the clinching score.

Dragons also lost a player to the sin bin, Luke Charteris being punished for persistent infringement, but on this performance Irish referee George Clancy could have done with a couple of spells in the cooler himself for some of his errors – penalising Bath after the ball had emerged for a ruck, awarding knock-ons to the wrong side and generally blowing too early and too often.

Newport-Gwent Dragons: Tries Fussell, W Evans; Conversion Arlidge.

Bath: Tries Maddock, Hooper; Conversion James; Penalty James.

Newport-Gwent Dragons: J Tovey; G Wyatt, R Gomer-Davies, A Smith, R Fussell (G Maule, 76); J Arlidge, W Evans; A Black, S Jones (T Willis, 56), R Thomas, A Jones, L Charteris (capt), H MacDonald, C Charvis, G Webb (L Evans, 58).

Bath: N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 68); J Maddock, A Crockett (capt), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (S Hape, 6), M Banahan; B James, M Claassens (S Bemand, 68); D Flatman, L Mears (P Dixon, 64), M Stevens (D Bell, 64), J Harrison, S Hooper, A Beattie, J Scaysbrook (J Faamatuainu, 68), D Browne.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland)