London Irish 23 Bath 44 match report: George Ford's mastery steers Bath into highly promising territory

 

the madejski stadium

Time had all but run out when Bath scored the bonus-point try that may yet be crucial to their aspirations for a place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs. There remains a decent gap between the top two clubs, Saracens and Northampton, and the next pair, Bath and Leicester (who play today), but the West Countrymen's challenge remains strong.

Their second half turned the game inside out. London Irish, playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season, trailed by only a point at the interval but when Bath picked up the pace, their hosts could not live with it. Throw in the game management of George Ford, never mind the 24 points that came from his boot, and this may become the most formidable Bath side since they won the Heineken Cup in 1998.

Young Ford has never lacked confidence and the contrast between him and Shane Geraghty was stark: Geraghty strains for space and once found it to create a try for Topsy Ojo, but Ford moves people and the ball around the field like a chess grand master.

Since he also brought off 13 tackles in a channel on which opponents have tried to capitalise, Ford's all-round game was immaculate. The Irish, moreover, contributed to their own demise with a player in the sin bin in each half, though the second yellow card, to George Skivington, came too late to affect the game.

Brian Smith, their director of rugby, was critical of his team for a poor response after Bath's second try, which be believed was illegal because of blocking by two other Bath players. It was made by Nick Abendanon and scored by Anthony Watson, the London Irish old boy, but the video official failed to find any obstruction.

The start and finish of the first half encapsulated the difference between these two clubs and their positions in the table. In the opening three minutes the Irish put together a multi-phase movement which made all of five metres; in the last minute, Ford kicked a long touch-finder and his forwards won a penalty from a rolling maul that Ford was able to kick, recovering a lead which Ojo's try had taken from them.

Ford's three first-half penalties, to two by James O'Connor, were interspersed by Ojo's thrust off the side of a ruck and a delightful line to the corner picked by Kyle Eastmond. Ford hammered over two more penalties early in the second half and though Geraghty responded, Watson's try allowed Bath to stretch away and later David Wilson barreled over.

Chris Hala'ufia was driven over from a ruck but Matt Garvey, another who left the Irish last year, finished off his former colleagues with the game's last move.

London Irish J O'Connor; T Ojo, F Mulchrone, E Sheridan, M Yarde (A Fenby, 74); S Geraghty (I Humphreys, 66), D Allinson (E Hoadley, 76); M Parr (sin bin 13-24; J Yapp, 62), D Paice (J Stevens, 66), J Hagan (L Halavatau, 71), G Skivington (capt), N Rouse (C Hala'ufia, 66), K Low (J Sinclair, 51), B Cowan, O Treviranus (Yapp, 17-24).

Bath N Abendanon (H Agulla, 74); S Rokoduguni, O Devoto (G Henson, 67), K Eastmond, A Watson; G Ford, P Stringer (M Young, 67); P James (N Catt, 66), R Batty (T Dunn, 74), D Wilson (J-P Orlandi, 74), S Hooper (captain; D Day, 67)), D Attwood, M Garvey, F Louw (G Mercer, 53), L Houston (Batty, 77).

Referee G Garner (Warwickshire).

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