Bath made it something of an Australian double yesterday. In the wake of the Wallabies' World Cup semi-final triumph over the All Blacks, the one-time KO kings rewarded their Aussie coaching team of John Connolly and Brian Smith with victory over Northampton, whose coach is the New Zealander Wayne Smith.
It was not a classic, maybe, but it was keenly fought, and Bath were reduced to 14 men for a quarter of the match after having two men shown yellow cards. Saints, the last side to win here, in March, were in the game for more than an hour, getting into great positions and creating chances enough to steal it, but then Bath turned it on and ran away with it.
The first half in particular was a stop-start affair and, judging by the irritating number of times the whistle sounded - generally when something interesting was boiling up for one team or the other - there might well be a case for issuing referees with a silent version, the sort used by dog owners. At least then the players would be allowed to carry on, and the referee would have satisfied himself by sounding off, soundlessly.
Bath were the chief transgressors, although both sides had a man in the sin-bin before the first half was out, but by then Bath had scored an all-important first try when Wylie Human, their right- winger, latched on to a Nick Beal pass intended for Bruce Reihana. The Blue Bulls flier tore up the middle unmolested for 45 metres and presented Olly Barkley with a simple conversion.
Saints, for whom Shane Drahm had landed a couple of penalties, came out firing after the interval. Reihana kicked ahead and Martyn Wood fell on the ball on the line, only for it to squirt out cruelly. Reihana, following up, had the simplest of touchdowns. Two minutes later Bath cancelled it out. They won a line-out and the ball flew out flat and fast to Barkley, who popped up a pass for the centre Robbie Kydd. The 21-year-old Australian muscled his way through a couple of attempted tackles to dive over.
Simon Danielli, back from World Cup duty with Scotland, went into the sin-bin, but Saints failed to take advantage of the extra man and shortly after Danielli's return the disappointingly modest crowd of 5,723 saw Zak Feaunati, James Scaysbrook and finally Danielli himself cross in rapid succession to complete the rout. Bath, who last won the Cup in 1996, are through to the quarter-finals for the first time in five years.
Bath: M Perry (P Sampson, 71); W Human, R Kydd, A Higgins, J Williams (S Danielli, 29); O Barkley, M Wood (H Martens, 71); D Flatman, J Humphreys (capt, L Mears, 62), D Bell (M Stevens, 62), S Borthwick, R Fidler, A Beattie, I Feaunati (S Gray, 71), M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 68).
Northampton: N Beal; J Brooks, C Hyndman, J Leslie (co-capt), B Reihana; S Drahm (J Sleightholme, 71), J Howard (B Jones, 76); R Morris (B Sturgess, 49-71), D Richmond (M Miles, 68), C Budgen (B Sturgess, 3-6), M Lord (G Seely, 59), R Hunter (J Phillips, 62), M Connors, A Blowers (co-capt), D Fox.
Referee: A Rowden (Reading).