Stephenson shows up on day of disappearing defences

Bath 35 Glasgow 31
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The Independent Online

A Sunday afternoon spent gorging in the Recreation Ground sweet shop was always likely to leave someone in a bilious state, and while the visitors from Scotland felt sick to the pits of their stomachs at the final whistle – this result pretty much ended their interest in the Heineken Cup – there was a certain queasiness amongst the Bath contingent, too. Glasgow won the try-count by the odd score in nine and had they been just a little more accurate on the goal-kicking front, they would have upset the West Country applecart by winning the game into the bargain.

It was a strange affair to be sure: lots of inventive, free-flowing rugby from two sides blessed with a reasonable understanding of how good things might be achieved under the Experimental Law Variations, balanced against some defensive work of the Wendy house variety. Michael Stephenson, the Bath wing, managed a score-draw with himself, claiming a couple of tries in the right corner after the interval while helping his direct opponent, the ultra-rapid Thom Evans, grab two-thirds of an impressive hat-trick.

One of the more accomplished sides in England right now, Bath were too loose by half. Perhaps they thought they had Glasgow's number when the visitors lost both senior half-backs, Dan Parks and Mark McMillan, to injury and were forced to play a rookie outside-half in the 20-year-old shape of Ruaridh Jackson. If so, they thought wrong. Jackson settled in with some pinpoint kicking – his restarts were excellent, his up-and-unders bang on the money – before weaving some complex webs in midfield with Andrew Henderson, the international centre, and Max Evans, brother of Thom and no mean performer himself.

Indeed, Jackson finished with a flourish by galloping free for an interception try in the final minute of normal time, which brought Glasgow back to within four points, and then sprinting clear a second time, covering 70 metres before being hunted down by Nick Abendanon, the covering Bath full-back. Had Hefin O'Hare, hammering upfield in support of his stand-off, not slipped at the crucial moment, the cat really would have been amongst the pigeons.

Steve Meehan, the Bath coach, was not best pleased with his side's profligacy, and rightly so. The Australian has his team performing all sorts of tricks with ball in hand: the day Butch James, the World Cup-winning playmaker from South Africa, throws a straightforward pass to his inside centre, rather than a high-speed cut-out to a wide runner or a behind-the-back flip to a forward taking a tight line off his shoulder, hell will freeze over. But if they defend like this in the serious matches looming on the horizon, they will have to score points in torrents just to bag themselves a draw.

Thom Evans' first try, five minutes in, was the direct result of a chip from his brother that was permitted to bobble around in the Bath 22 for ever and a day. The wing then ran between Stephenson and James for his second and added a third when Stephenson made a pig's ear of a routine defensive tidy-up close to his own line. As Evans is quite quick enough to leave his print on a match without being spoon-fed tries at regular intervals, Meehan must have been spitting tacks. (Not that the game needed the Scot to congratulate his opponent's worst error by patting him on the back. Had he pulled a stunt like that in Gareth Chilcott's day, he would have spent the evening counting his teeth).

While Glasgow looked dangerous throughout the opening half, Bath struggled for rhythm and direction. They missed Joe Maddock, their injured wing, more badly than they would be willing to admit, and they missed the common-sense approach of the centre Alex Crockett almost as much. Danny Grewcock was also absent yesterday, which did not help their cause one bit. There were times when the home supporters were crying out for some cauliflower-faced ruffian to stick the ball under his armpit and take the route-one approach. Instead, they watched the side nurse Glasgow through to the interval.

Andy Beattie's close-range finish on 35 minutes had at least given them a foothold, and after the break, they were more direct. Pressure rugby earned Stephenson his tries in the third quarter and when Shaun Berne capitalised on Matt Banahan's destructive run to score four minutes past the hour, Bath were 35-19 ahead and coasting.

Glasgow deserved better, though, and their late flurry was appropriately productive. Bath could yet win this group, as they have Toulouse at home next month, but the Frenchmen are quite capable of scoring five tries without conceding four – or, indeed, any. Meehan understands this better than most, having coached across the Channel in a previous life, and will make adjustments accordingly.

Bath: Tries Stephenson 2, Beattie, Berne; Conversions James 3; Penalties James 3. Glasgow: Tries T Evans 3, O'Hare, Jackson; Conversions: Gregor 2, Jackson.

Bath: N Abendanon; M Stephenson (A Higgins 60), T Cheeseman (S Berne H-T), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, M Banahan; A James, M Claassens (S Bemand 70); D Flatman, P Dixon (L Mears 56), M Stevens (A Jarvis 77), S Hooper, P Short (J Harrison 56), A Beattie (Browne 71-72), M Lipman (capt), D Browne (J Fa'amatuainu 56).

Glasgow: B Stortoni; L Fa'atau (J M Nunez Piossek 77), M Evans, A Henderson, T Evans (H O'Hare 70); R Jackson, C Gregor (S Pinder 61); K Tkachuk (Kalman 74), D Hall (E Milligan 67), E Kalman (M Low H-T), T Barker, A Kellock (capt, D Turner 63), K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie (R Vernon 67).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

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