Dead-eyed Preston wins shoot-out of the West

With a built-in enmity not dissimilar to that between the US 7th Cavalry and the native Indian, this West Country, or wild west country border skirmish ended with the fortress known as the Recreation Ground, intact bar the odd arrow from an archer.

Since being excluded from their traditional hunting grounds, the national and European Cup competitions, Bath have circled the wagons and are in a defiant, not to say inspired, mood. This was their fifth successive victory in the Allied Dunbar Premiership and they are ideally placed to exploit any lapse by those ahead of them.

By the end Bristol had been reduced to an indisciplined, ragged army, partly by the flawless goal kicking of Jon Preston and the pace and skill of the Bath raids, and partly by their own lack of organisation.

Whereas Barrie Williams, Bristol's Lions hooker, succeeded more often than not in finding Steve Borthwick rather than his own jumpers, Preston gave an immaculate exhibition of marksmanship. The scrum-half kicked six penalties and converted Bath's three tries for nine out of nine and a personal contribution of 24 points.

The contest was succinctly encapsulated in the final minute when Garath Archer flattened Matt Perry with what looked like a forearm smash. Disconcertingly for Archer, who is about twice the size of the fullback, Perry sprang to his feet and simply laughed.

Despite the fact that the majority of these players are not native to the West Country, they are obviously aware of the traditions of the derby match. Hence a mass brawl between the forwards in the 17th minute which resulted in the referee Brian Campsall, who needed eyes in the back of his head, issuing a warning to both captains. It may have been off the ball but it was on the boil.

An early marker had been laid down by Agustin Pichot in the third minute when the little Argentinean put the boot into John Mallett and Preston landed the penalty. After Campsall had missed a short-arm assault on Ben Clarke by Dean Ryan, Bristol went in front with a penalty and a drop goal from Henry Honiball.

With Spencer Brown, switched from wing to full back in a late change, often running into trouble and putting his side on the back foot, Bath took control. Brown atoned for his understandable lack of nous with a try-saving tackle on Iain Balshaw but the right wing went on to have a field day. Five minutes before the interval, he capitalised on great work by Angus Gardiner and Martin Haag to score at the posts - it gave Bath a useful 19-6 lead at half time - and seven minutes from the end crossed for his second of the match and his 10th league try of the season with a terrific run that left the Bristol defence for dead. In between, Honiball had briefly raised Bristol's hopes with a fine individual try, dummying through Gardiner and the rest of Bath's midfield.

Pichot and Clarke, former team- mates at Richmond, were spoken to by Campsall before Bath quashed the uprising with a beautifully worked try by Kevin Maggs who burst through from a crisp pass from Mike Catt. When Pablo Lemoine fell offside in a desperate attempt to stem a promising attack, it presented Preston with his sixth penalty and at 32-13, Bath were clear.

In an attempt to rectify their line-out fiasco, Bristol replaced Williams with Saul Nelson, after 66 minutes but the latter was almost as one-eyed as the former.

Archer was fortunate not to go into the book after leaving his calling card on Haag, who needed treatment, before Balshaw's blistering try in the 73rd minute completed a red letter day for Bath. No prisoners were taken in this full-blooded affair but it is Bath who are on the warpath and they will collect more scalps before the season is out.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, M Tindall, A Adebayo; M Catt, J Preston; V Ubogu, M Regan (A Long, 74), J Mallett (C Horseman, 74), M Haags, S Borthwick, A Gardiner (G Thomas, 80), D Lyle, B Clarke (capt, B Sturnham, 80).

Bristol: S Brown; D Dewdney, J Mayer, E Simone, S Danielli (G Bowen, 66) H Honiball, A Pichot; P Johnstone (D Crompton, 67), B Williams (S Nelson, 66), P Lemoine, G Archer, D Ryan (capt), S Fenn, C Evans (M Salter, 60), C Short.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire)