Inch-perfect Davis kicks Bath into the play-offs

Bath 33 Saracens 18
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The Independent Online

Bath fended off the surprisingly physical challenge of Saracens to secure the fourth Premiership play-off spot – and yet another meeting with Leicester on Saturday week.

It will be the fifth fixture between the sides this season, only four weeks after the Tigers' last-gasp victory in the Heineken Cup. Three of the four matches have gone to Leicester but in none of the games has the winning margin been more than five points.

That's presumably why Bath head coach Steve Meehan did not seem particularly fazed that his side failed to claim a bonus point with a fourth try, which would have meant a trip to Harlequins – the Stoop being arguably a more intimidating arena these days than the Walkers Stadium. A bigger worry for Meehan may be a hamstring injury to captain Michael Lipman.

The sense of déjà vu will be overpowering though – except for Ryan Davis. It's all very new to the Bath No 10 who is only 23 but has already lost virtually three years of his career to knee reconstructions. Ironically, it has been a similar injury to South African playmaker Butch James that has finally opened the door.

Davis, who had only a nervous 40 minutes at Newcastle under his belt, said: "Once I started to pick up the pace and intensity it was OK. Last week I was not at my best so I tried to redeem myself. Today has been a bit of a kid's dream really – three ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] operations in three years had knocked my confidence a bit. I feel very sorry for Butch though."

After Saracens stunned the Rec with a Chris Wyles try after 25 seconds, the diminutive Davis punished their repeated transgressions with four penalties and also converted tries by Andrew Higgins, Peter Short and Matt Banahan in a perfect goalkicking display.

Saracens' defeat rounded off a disappointing week for England captain Steve Borthwick. Ignored by the Lions selectors, the former Bath skipper had the air of a wounded animal and his Saracens team-mates seemed to share their captain's sense of grievance.

Nick Abendanon bore the brunt of their attentions; a head-high tackle from Cencus Johnston, taken out in the air by Borthwick and generally roughed up. Loosehead Tom Mercey was in the sinbin as early as the 12th minute for punching, and no sooner had he returned than lock Hugh Vyvyan went for a professional foul.

Andy Saull became the third Saracen to see yellow after a late trip-tackle on Abendanon and Bath immediately took advantage when Short scored from a clever offload by Duncan Bell.

Scorers: Bath: Tries Higgins, Short, Banahan. Conversions Davis 3. Penalties Davis 4. Saracens: Tries Wyles, Cato. Conversion Jackson. Penalties Jackson 2.

Bath: N Abendanon, A Higgins (M Stephenson, 74), T Cheeseman (S Berne, 76), S Hape, M Banahan; R Davis, M Claasens; D Flatman (P Ion, 63), L Mears (J Fa'amatuainu, 70), D Bell (R Hawkins, 63), J Harrison, P Short, A Beattie, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 12), S Hooper.

Saracens: A Goode; C Wyles, A Powell (R Haughton, 69), A Farrell, N Cato; G Jackson, N de Kock (J Marshall, 52); T Mercey, A Walker (M Cairns, 61), C Johnston, S Borthwick, H Vyvyan (T Ryder, 57), C Jack (D Barrell, 41), A Saull, B Skirving.

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).