Wood epitomises collapsing house of cards at Worcester

Bath 37 Worcester 13

Current trends indicate that Worcester are picking up yellow cards, not to mention the occasional red one, faster than they are scoring tries. If this is a recipe for many things – high sporting comedy, primarily – a successful defence of their Premiership status is not among them. Mike Ruddock, the struggling Midlanders' director of rugby, knows this too well. "We're hurting ourselves," he admitted. "I need to go and lick my wounds after another painful afternoon."

Under the circumstances, his reluctance to discuss recruitment for next season – Andy Goode, the sometime England outside-half, has been mentioned in Worcester's connection – was wholly understandable. Still, we know for a fact that the tempestuous Northampton flanker Neil Best has agreed terms. This should really liven things up on the disciplinary front. Best, Chris Fortey and the darkly threatening French prop Olivier Sourgens in the same pack? Crikey. They'll be selling full metal jackets at the turnstiles.

Worcester accumulated two more yellows at the Recreation Ground, with Tom Wood, the first recipient, committing a further offence on his return and getting himself sent off for good measure. The England Saxons back-rower let fly with an elbow during a full and frank discussion with the Bath lock Peter Short and was spotted by a touch judge, who reported Wood with the unbridled glee of a Neighbourhood Watch fanatic armed with his own speed camera. The visitors were 18-13 down at the time. Four minutes later, the scoreline read 32-13.

It would be stretching a point to suggest Worcester might have won had they kept both Wood and their Wallaby full-back Chris Latham on the field for the duration – they were together in the bin when the Bath captain Michael Claassens scored the game-breaking try from close range after a footballing contribution of startling finesse from the prop David Flatman – but they might conceivably have chiselled out a losing bonus point. The way things are going, they will need all the bonuses they can get. Leeds, bottom feeders for so long, are still behind them, but not by much.

Bath, meanwhile, are full of the joys of spring. Their two principal playmakers, Butch James and Olly Barkley, are back in the mix, although James failed to go the distance here, and with the flanker Julian Salvi finally cottoning on to the fact that it is possible to be both brilliant and legal at one and the same time, they have a constant stream of turnover ball at their disposal. When they play with width, they are as dangerous as any side in the country. On Saturday, the dear old Recreation Ground was not nearly wide enough for their purposes.

Salvi, up against the deeply committed Worcester captain, Pat Sanderson, was quite something to behold, especially in the early stages when the contest was at its most balanced. Time and again he snaffled prime possession on the floor, and armed with the best kind of attacking ball, the likes of Nick Abendanon and Joe Maddock looked a million dollars. Unfortunately for the West Countrymen, the Australian has the call of the outback ringing in his ears. Or rather, the call of Canberra, which amounts to the same thing, culturally speaking. The ACT Brumbies are very keen on his services for next year's Super 15, and Salvi is likely to accept their offer.

Breakaway forwards of his calibre do not grow on trees – Steve Meehan, the head coach, knew a thing or two when he lured Salvi to England last summer – and Bath will feel the lack of him. At least they are getting their money's worth now. A Heineken Cup qualification place beckons, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they will slip, ever so quietly, into the Premiership play-offs.

Bath: Tries Maddock 2, Claassens, Banahan, Fa'amatuainu; Conversions Davis 3; Penalties Davis 2. Worcester: Try Walker; Conversion Walker; Penalties Walker 2.

Bath: N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 71); J Maddock, S Hape, R Davis, M Banahan; A James (O Barkley, 48), M Claassens (capt, M Baxter, 78); D Flatman (D Barnes, 66), L Mears (P Dixon, 66), D Bell (D Wilson, 57), S Hooper (S Hobson, 78), P Short, B Skirving (J Fa'amatuainu, 71), J Salvi, L Watson.

Worcester: C Latham; C Pennell, D Rasmussen (A Grove, 71), S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; W Walker (M Jones, 71), J Arr; A Black (M Mullan, 54), A Lutui (C Fortey, 67), T Taumoepeau (O Sourgens, 73), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (G Kitchener, 67), T Wood, P Sanderson (capt), K Horstmann (C Cracknell, 83).

Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).

Wales have recalled the fit-again Sale scrum-half Dwayne Peel to their squad for Friday’s Six Nations game against France at the Millennium Stadium. Mike Phillips may also be considered for a squad call-up after he came off the bench for the Ospreys yesterday – his first game since October.


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