Voyce seizes his chance as champions hit their stride

Bath 16 - Wasps 19
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The Independent Online

Wasps are on the move. Perennially accustomed to taking the tortoise's approach to the title race, the champions look to have blown the cobwebs away fairly early this time around, with wins over Leeds, London Irish, Northampton and Newcastle before this latest triumph. To do so with a back division assailed by injuries indicates great strength in depth and a rare unity of purpose among the forwards.

In turn, Lawrence Dallaglio's pack were appreciative of the boost inside the opening 60 seconds of an interception try by the one Test player available to start behind the scrum, England's Tom Voyce. As Bath's full-back Lee Best crabbed across the field Voyce, a former denizen of the Rec, snatched possession and raced the 50 metres to the line. It was not an example of Best living up his squad nickname - "Simply". Think Tina Turner.

Edd Thrower, presumably more of a Dolly Parton man judging by his preference for the double "d" in his name, added the extras for Wasps, who were already public enemy No 1 around these parts for wresting last year's Premiership title from Bath via the play-offs.

Considering the continued absence of two more internationals, Craig Dowd and Simon Shaw, from their front five, Wasps' effort at regularly slamming Bath back on the gain-line - one slam-dunk of Best by Trevor Leota was particularly rousing - was even more notable.

The visitors never lost their early lead, and could afford a couple of long-range penalty misses by Thrower early in the second half while Olly Barkley kicked four out of four from all distances for Bath.

Barkley's use of the punt varied from the excellent to the diffident but where the England hopeful and his colleagues scored a minus mark was in failing to deal convincingly, ball in hand, with Wasps' rush defence. Robbie Fleck in the Bath midfield is prone to petulance - he needlessly got embroiled with Thrower at one point - but in one sense the home side needed more of the South African's hotbloodedness. The measured approach certainly did not work.

It was 10-6 to Wasps at half-time - with Bath missing out on a try when Andy Higgins failed to control Barkley's grubber - after two penalties by Barkley to one from Thrower. Then it was 16-9 early in the final quarter, with a reverse pattern from the kickers. All the way through Wasps suffocated their opponents, and Bath's regular ball-carriers Andy Beattie and Zak Feaunati must have seen Wasps yellow when they closed their eyes last night.

A record crowd at the Rec urged their heroes towards a late comeback, but James Brooks, one of the Wasps stand-ins at stand-off, dropped a goal from a central position with 73 minutes gone for a 10-point gap. Bath battered their way into the opposition 22, the replacement scrum-half Nick Walshe snapped a scoring pass for Chris Malone at the right-hand corner, and Barkley converted superbly.

But Wasps were not to be undone, with Dallaglio perfect in his positioning to snuff out any further danger. These teams will each go into battle with French sides in Europe next week in entirely different frames of mind.

Bath: L Best (C Malone, 74); A Higgins, R Fleck, M Tindall, B Daniel (S Davey, 48); O Barkley, M Wood (N Walshe, 52); D Barnes, J Humphreys (capt; L Mears, 58), D Bell (M Stevens, 33), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 80). Wasps: M van Gisbergen; E Thrower, P Richards, A Erinle (R Hoadley, 74), T Voyce; J Brooks (A King, 79), H Biljon; T Payne, P Greening (T Leota, 61), W Green (A McKenzie, 61), J Hart, R Birkett, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor.

Referee: S Lander (Merseyside).