Saracens show Diamond's hard edge

Bath 6 - Saracens 13
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The Independent Online

Say what you like about Saracens but since Steve Diamond took over as head coach they have been converted from a soft London touch into something far more resilient. This was their first win here since the great Australian Tim Horan was running their midfield. It may not have been pretty but it was nonetheless deserved and might prove invaluable.

In foul conditions a solitary try in first-half injury time, scored by Richard Haughton and created by Thomas Castaignède, was the match winner. "Wake up Bath!" was a familiar cry heard over the progress of what indeed was an extraordinarily soporific performance by the home side, who now face a difficult run in the Premiership after meeting Leinster next week in the Heineken Cup.

Bath can usually be relied upon to raise the spirits at The Rec but they seemed to be in a collective stupor until they lifted themselves for a grandstand finish, when they laid siege to the Saracens line and might have escaped with a draw.

However, in the seventh minute of injury-time Matt Perry, who had been largely redundant, lost the ball as he dived for the line. Spilling possession on a dreadful afternoon had become a Bath speciality and they did not appear to be a side particularly well equipped for wet weather rugby.

Saracens, on the other hand, adapted far better to the conditions and were worthy winners, not because they scored the only try but for the excellent work of their forwards.

Their back row of Taine Randell, Ben Skirving (an admirable replacement for Alex Sanderson) and David Seymour was a much more effective unit than Andy Beattie, Zak Fea'unati and James Scaysbrook. Diamond has instilled the courage and commitment that has been noticeably lacking this season.

For all their handling errors and wayward kicking - Chris Malone was the prime culprit in this department - Bath ran into a superbly organised and aggressive defence. From the moment the hooker Lee Mears had his gumshield rearranged in the second minute, Saracens gave notice that they were not here to sing "Auld Lang Syne".

At the end of a dismal first half, the players looked relieved at receiving the signal to return to the changing rooms, running with a rare enthusiasm towards the clubhouse. The poor spectators, many of whom had to endure the contest without mod cons like a covered stand, had no such option. Thousands of them had bought plastic white disposable raincoats, which made The Rec look as if it was staging a convention for the Ku Klux Klan. Bath's supporters deserved better.

They did not expect things to deteriorate in quite the way they did after Olly Barkley, questionably playing at centre instead of at stand-off, kicked an early penalty. Well judged into a strong wind and from a difficult angle, it was his 21st successful kick in a row. The paucity of Bath's play thereafter was such that Barkley did not get another kick until the 74th minute. The exception to their lack of ambition came towards the end of the first half when they managed to mount a series of attacks which ended with Perry, as he was tackled just short of the line, popping the ball to a Saracen.

Aside from Perry failing to ground the ball at the death and a break by Barkley in the first half which ended with Haughton's tackle, Bath were not really in it. What little rugby there was came from Saracens and in the 23rd minute they drew level when the stand-off Glen Jackson, who generally kicked a lot better out of hand than Malone, landed a penalty.

The decisive score arrived in the 41st minute. The impressive Fijian lock Simon Raiwalui drove powerfully in midfield and when the ball was recycled to the right Castaignède handed off Frikkie Welsh. It was about the first thing Welsh had been required to do and he was clearly taken by surprise. When Castaignède ran out of room inside the Bath 22, he lobbed an inside pass which, via a Bath hand, landed in the grateful arms of Haughton, who sprinted over at the posts. Jackson's conversion gave Saracens a seven-point lead at half time.

This was extended when Jackson kicked a second penalty and Saracens threatened to add another try. But, just yards from the line, Bath were able to relieve the pressure with the aid of a penalty awarded by the referee, Roy Maybank, which attracted ironic cheers. When Maybank issued a lengthy lecture to Fea'unati and Kyran Bracken he again attracted the wrath of the crowd. Bracken had frequently engaged in conversation with Maybank, a practice which endeared neither to the huddled masses.

As Bath attempted to salvage something near the end, the match resorted to uncontested scrums and somehow it seemed wholly appropriate.

Bath: M Perry; F Welsh (J Maddock, 68) A Crockett, O Barkley, B Daniel; C Malone, N Walshe (A Williams, 74); D Barnes, L Mears (D Ward, 45) M Stevens (D Bell, 61) S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Fea'unati, J Scaysbrook (M Lipman, 61).

Saracens: M Bartholomeusz; R Haughton, T Castaignède (K Sorrell, 74), D Harris, T Vaikona; G Jackson, K Bracken; K Yates (B Russell, 79), M Cairns, B Broster (N Lloyd, 35), I Fullarton, S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 66), B Skirving, T Randell (capt), D Seymour.

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).

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