Finau finish lets Bath off the hook

Bath 31 Glasgow 26
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The Independent Online

The impression left by Scottish teams in the Heineken Cup has been about as lasting as snow at a barbecue. Despite the luxury of virtually being guaranteed a place in the competition without having to move heaven and earth they have usually disappeared from the pool stages with indecent haste.

A familiar fate awaits Glasgow after three successive defeats, but a measure of their improvement is that they could easily have upset Bath here yesterday and should fancy their chances in the return leg north of the border next weekend.

The Scots ultimately lost by a goal, three tries and three penalties to two goals and four penalties, both sides picking up a bonus point. Glasgow, however, had so much of the run of the play that they could have taken the high road. The impression is that they never really, deep down, believed that they could record a notable victory here.

It did not help matters that, with everything to play for in the second half, they took off their captain Graeme Beveridge and compounded the bemusement by replacing their Test stand-off Dan Parks. All in all Bath, who are now set for qualification to the knock-out stages, were far more streetwise. They have tasted ultimate success in the Heineken whereas their opponents have never made it to the bar. In the end it showed.

The first half was a mini classic, producing five tries and 46 points. In the opening minutes Nick Walshe had to produce a try-saving tackle on Graeme Morrison and then the spotlight switched from Walshe to Frikkie Welsh.

Lee Mears burst from a maul and a decisive move to the left featuring Chris Malone, Tom Cheeseman and Matt Perry was enough to work Welsh over for a cracking try, even though there was a hint of a forward pass.

After Parks responded with a penalty, Bath suffered a double blow. In a move sparked by Parks with a chip and catch followed by swift hands from Beveridge, Andy Henderson thundered through the midfield. Perry was the last line of defence and the full-back got his angle wrong, crumpling in a heap on collision, leaving Henderson to touch down.

For the second time this season - and in almost identical circumstances - Perry had to be revived before leaving the field supported beneath each arm by a medic. If Perry found a four leaf clover it would turn out to be poison ivy. The consolation for Bath is that his departure after only 15 minutes meant an extended appearance for Michael Stephenson, another player who has not exactly been blessed with the Midas touch.

Stephenson used to be a racy member of Newcastle's back line until he broke a leg and he is only just coming back to full pace and fitness after a long lay-off. The good news is that he scored his first try for the West Country club, finishing in style a lovely little half-break by Olly Barkley which suggests that these two could form a prosperous partnership. That score arrived in the 22nd minute, by which point Bath were in arrears.

Scotland are not spoilt for choice for stand-offs and during their defeat to the All Blacks Parks was replaced, but you can see why his form for Glasgow gets him the vote of the Test selectors. In the 20th minute, after an excellent passage of play, he crossed near the posts, converting his own try for a 17-8 lead.

Barkley, meanwhile, was leading a charmed life, although it is still a mystery as to why he does not call the shots from stand-off. His penalty from the halfway line in the 27th minute looked for all the world as if it was going to fall short but the ball clipped the top of the crossbar and staggered over.

Parks replied with one of his own but then Glasgow played into Bath's hands. They kept losing the initiative by making a mess of the re-starts, and that wasn't all. They had ample time to deal with a Barkley touchfinder which looked as if the last thing it was going to do was find touch. The ball took a 90 degree turn and went out of play an inch from the corner flag. Inevitably Glasgow lost the line-out after their jumper was shoved and Michael Lipman burrowed over for a try. Bath were 23-20 in front, although a Parks penalty levelled it on the stroke of half time.

Rory Lamont threw a try away by taking his eye off the ball before Peter Short was sent to the sin bin for taking a man out off the ball. Perhaps Short, in for the rested Danny Grewcock, thought he had to uphold the England lock's habit of picking up a card or two. Could Glasgow capitalise? Put it this way, they had a scrum in front of the Bath posts and lost it to seven men. Finally, Salesi Finau scored Bath's fourth try, which brought them a bonus point and a handsome lead at the top of Pool Five.

Bath: M Perry (M Stephenson, 15); S Finau, T Cheeseman (A Higgins, 75), O Barkley, F Welsh; C Malone, N Walshe (A Williams, 75); M Stevens, L Mears, D Bell (D Barnes, 58), S Borthwick (capt), P Short (R Fidler, 65), A Beattie, G Delve, M Lipman.

Glasgow Warriors: G Staniforth; H O'Hare, G Morrison, A Henderson, R Lamont; D Parks (C Gregor, 71), G Beveridge (capt; S Pinder, 48); E Murray, S Lawson (F Thomson, 57), K Tkachuk (L Harrison, 40), T Barker, C Hamilton (D Turner, 57), S Swindall (G Hayter, 62), J Beattie, J Barclay.

Referee: C Berdos (France).