Denney leaves big dents all over wounded Bath

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The Independent Online

Ten months ago, Andy Robinson gave one of the more memorable press conferences in the short history of professional rugby union; memorable because it lasted approximately 15 seconds and precisely 11 words from start to finish. "Today, I am embarrassed to be coach of Bath Rugby Club," he said before stomping out of Loftus Road to launch an inquest into why his charges had gone down 35-0 with barely a murmur of protest. He was not exactly jubilant at the end of yesterday's match, either, but at least there was no hint of embarrassment.

Ten months ago, Andy Robinson gave one of the more memorable press conferences in the short history of professional rugby union; memorable because it lasted approximately 15 seconds and precisely 11 words from start to finish. "Today, I am embarrassed to be coach of Bath Rugby Club," he said before stomping out of Loftus Road to launch an inquest into why his charges had gone down 35-0 with barely a murmur of protest. He was not exactly jubilant at the end of yesterday's match, either, but at least there was no hint of embarrassment.

Bath and Wasps put 28 English-qualified players on to the Shepherd's Bush Subbuteo pitch and duly produced a minor classic that made a mockery of the political argy-bargy that continues to scar the game. Only 6,000 supporters braved a raw winter's afternoon to sample the riches on offer, proving once again that off-field uncertainty equals big holes on the terraces. But Premiership standards are undoubtedly on the rise. Another few weeks of this and the big contenders will be looking at five-figure gates once again.

If there was a downside to yesterday's contest, it was the sight of Phil de Glanville, the increasingly injury-prone Bath captain, being carried on a stretcher into an ambulance and carted off to Hounslow Hospital with a suspected fractured jaw. To make matters worse from the England centre's point of view, the injury occurred during the build-up to Wasps' second try, expertly finished in the right corner by Fraser Waters after striking contributions from Joe Worsley and Lawrence Dallaglio. Robinson could not offer a precise diagnosis of De Glanville's condition, but he has written him out of Friday's big Heineken Cup encounter at Swansea.

Bath may also have to brave the wilds of St Helen's without their most experienced loose forward, for Ben Clarke popped a rib shortly before the interval. But the casualties, high profile though they undoubtedly were, did not swing the argument one way or the other. Wasps won, deservedly, because they performed quite brilliantly in the opening half-hour, rocking the visitors with their dynamic, high-octane brand of contact rugby.

They were 17-3 up by the end of the first quarter, a period in which both Waters and the outstanding Mark Denney asked more questions of the Bath midfield than Mike Catt, Mike Tindall and De Glanville were able to answer. Denney, who claimed the first try with a stiletto-sharp dart between Catt and De Glanville, has always been considered an exciting, if wayward, talent and his performance yesterday rewarded those who have handled him with such patience and understanding.

"He's a lot closer to making the most of his ability than he has ever been," said Nigel Melville, the Wasps coach. "He's a bright, intelligent footballer and he is also extremely ambitious. What's happened over the last year is that he has become stronger and fitter."

That much was obvious three minutes into the second half. Bath had worked their way back into the contest with a blind-side try from Angus Gardiner bang on the interval whistle, but Denney's muscular romp into the Bath 22 opened the door for Alex King to drop a goal and give the Londoners a 10-point advantage. Denney also made a big statement in injury time, when he buried Iain Balshaw with a wrap-up tackle as the Bath wing attempted to launch one final attack from his own line.

Yet Bath could, perhaps should, have stolen at least a share of the spoils. Jon Preston's marksmanship took the West Countrymen to within four points of Wasps, and the visitors then took the lead for the first time on 66 minutes when Mike Tindall, England's next outside centre, split the Wasps defence in two and sent Kevin Maggs stampeding into the left corner with a round-the-corner pass right out of the Simon Halliday handbook. However, Preston hit the post with his wide-angled conversion attempt, and the two-point shortfall enabled King to settle it with a second drop goal five minutes from time.

Wasps: Tries Denney, Waters; Conversions Logan 2; Penalty Logan; Drop goals King 2. Bath: Tries Gardiner, Maggs; Conversion Preston; Penalties Preston 3.

Wasps: J Ufton; J Lewsey, F Waters, M Denney, K Logan; A King, B Shelbourne; D Molloy, T Leota, W Green, A Reed, S Shaw, L Dallaglio (capt), Joe Worsley, P Scrivener.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, M Tindall, P De Glanville (capt, S Berne, 20), K Maggs; M Catt, J Preston; V Ubogu, M Regan, C Horsman (J Mallett, 73), B Sturnham, S Borthwick, B Clarke (M Haag, 39), A Gardiner (G Thomas, 65), D Lyle.

Referee: R Goodliffe (Yorkshire).

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