Solid Bath bank on Barkley's boot

Bath 20 Newcastle 10
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The Independent Online

Bath are looking increasingly like staying at the top of the Zurich Premiership. Their niggardly defence did concede a late try, but they still managed to deny Newcastle a bonus point for finishing a close second.

England calls and injuries had robbed both teams of key personnel, but Bath still boast some serious talent in their squad. That and home advantage meant they seemed to get to grips with the conditions more quickly and effectively than the Falcons.

And there was also the Jonny Wilkinson factor. Even though the England and Newcastle fly-half was more than 100 miles away at Twickenham, his absence threw the spotlight, and the concomitant pressure of expectation, on Newcastle's stand-in goal kicker Dave Walder.

It may be possible for a Mars probe to be manipulated, manoeuvred and landed with pinpoint accuracy from millions of miles away, but back on earth, or more correctly the Recreation Ground mud, sending a rugby ball between the posts proved next to impossible for Walder, who missed all four of his first-half kicks at goal.

Bath, in contrast, had Ollie Barkley and in him held a distinct edge; he missed just one penalty out of five attempts. Other than that there was not a huge amount between the two sides.

Even so, Bath did not look comfortable until after the interval when they began to get things right. It was just not a day for anything flash, no fancy footwork, or smart moves. Each side just had to play it straight and tight.

The defining moment came in the 70th minute, when Steve Borthwick won a line-out on a Bath throw some eight metres out. The home forwards drove hard and accurately for the line and Andy Beattie emerged from the tangle of bodies to be credited with the try. Although Barkley missed the conversion, he had by then cancelled out Walder's solitary success with his fourth penalty.

Newcastle did score a neatly worked try through the flanker Phil Dowson in the last minute of normal time after a prolonged spell of pressure. That score brought them to within seven points of their opponents and looked to have earned them a bonus point. But if any Falcons fan had any doubts that this was not to be their day, they were soon convinced when Garath Archer was penalised in front of the posts for going over the top and Barkley's fifth penalty cruelly denied Newcastle even that consolation.

Bath: M Perry (R Kydd, 80); A Higgins, A Crockett, K Maggs, W Human (S Danielli, 77); O Barkley, H Martens; D Flatman (D Barnes, 75), J Humphreys (capt; L Mears, 57), D Bell, S Borthwick, R Fidler, A Beattie, I Feaunati (S Gray, 75), M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 64)

Newcastle: J Shaw; T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler (capt), M Stephenson; D Walder, J Grindal; I Peel, M Thompson (N Makin, 52), M Ward, S Grimes, M Andrews (G Archer, 52), J Dunbar, W Britz, P Dowson

Referee: A Rowden (Reading).