Even if Bath stay up... of all the beginnings to all the sentences ever penned about this daft old game, this one takes the biscuit. But it has to be written, all the same. Even if Bath stay up, the 80 minutes of acute trauma they suffered duirng yesterday's Premiership cellar scrap at Vicarage Road will haunt them deep into next season and, maybe, for many seasons to come. Confronted by a coachless Saracens side incapable of placing one foot in front of the other since the turn of the year, they hoisted the white flag so high that it could be seen from the banks of the Avon.
Yes, this is Bath we are talking about – the Bath, the most successful club side in the history of the game in these islands, a team good enough to have been crowned European champions as recently as 1998. Nowadays, it seems, it is all they can do to win their own scrum ball, let alone a title. With six games left, four of them against clubs with legitimate Heineken Cup ambitions for next term, they are a point off the bottom and fighting relegation every bit as seriously as Leeds and Harlequins. Make no mistake: the drop is a distinct possibility.
"We will not put in another performance like that," promised Michael Foley, the World Cup-winning Wallaby hooker who replaced Jon Callard at the head of the West Country back-room team a fortnight ago. "My players will not leave the field with their heads so low again this season." Quite how he could be so sure, given the physical fragility of the Bath forwards and the mental frailties of a back division starved of quality possession for so long that they can barely remember what the gain-line looks like, is anyone's guess.
The story of the game is simply told: Abdel Benazzi, slower than he once was but still possessed of the warrior spirit, set the tone in the opening half-hour by driving straight into whatever passes for the heart of the Bath pack these days. David Flatman, whose commanding display at prop must have re-established him as England's loose head in waiting, was never more than an inch from the Frenchman's shoulder, and their iron contributions allowed Richard Hill the freedom of the park. From Bath's perspective, it was difficult to imagine anything worse than the most complete loose forward of his generation stampeding around without a care in the world.
When Hill and his fellow back-rower, Kris Chesney, gave Tim Horan a sight of the posts 16 minutes into a one-way second half, the Australian popped over a drop goal to stretch the Saracens lead to 12-6. It was the signal for the Bath capitulation. Five minutes later, Flatman wrecked the visiting scrum and Hill made big ground to gift a try to Kyran Bracken. Chesney then smashed through Iain Balshaw for a second following some high-ball acrobatics from the accomplished young full-back Adryan Winnan, and the coup de grâce was applied by Gerald Arasa, who slipped over entirely unmolested after some muscular work from Tom Shanklin down the left.
Saracens could have used a fourth try – with the foot of the table as congested as it is, a bonus point might yet make all the difference – but if Horan and Benazzi can stay fit for the duration and the Hill-Bracken axis continues to operate this smoothly, they may escape the worst of the torment about to be unleashed at the wrong end of the table. Matt Williams, the successful coach of the Irish province Leinster, is expected to agree terms over the next few days, and that will lighten the mood still further.
For Bath, the mood could not be darker. Like Saracens, they are seeking a top-notch tactician to take them onwards and upwards. Unlike Saracens, they are also looking for a pack of forwards.
Saracens: Tries Bracken, Chesney, Arasa; Conversions Sorrell 3; Penalties Sorrell 3; Drop goal Horan. Bath: Try Tindall; Penalties Barkley 2.
Saracens: A Winnan; G Arasa, T Shanklin, K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; T Horan, K Bracken (capt; N Walshe, 73); D Flatman, R Russell (M Cairns, 67), P Durant (L Harbut, 67), A Benazzi (K Roche, 60), S Murray, K Chesney, A Roques, R Hill (B Cole, 71).
Bath: I Balshaw; S Danielli, M Tindall, A Crockett, T Voyce (R Thirlby, 23); O Barkley, K Dalzell; D Barnes, M Regan (L Mears, 58), J Mallett (S Emms, 48), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (M Gabey, 78), N Thomas (J Scaysbrook, 58), G Thomas, D Lyle (capt).
Referee: R Goodliffe (Yorkshire).Reuse content