Voyce to rescue for Bath

Bath 17 Edinburgh 10
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The Independent Online

Among the dredges in the Zurich Premiership, Bath are at least realising their goal of earning some beer money in the Heineken Cup. Yesterday they recorded their fourth successive victory in the competition and barring a disaster will win Pool Three to earn a home quarter-final tie.

This, though, came very close to being, in the context of events at the Recreation Ground, an unmitigated disaster. A week ago Bath emerged from Edinburgh with two points, winning handsomely by 37-6. On that occasion their back row ran the show and the Scots seemed reconciled to their fate – an early exit from the competition. Yesterday they duly made that exit but there were no apologies.

Neither of the two Scottish so-called "super districts" have ever progressed to the knockout stages but there is no price to be paid for such failure. As the sole representatives north of the border, Edinburgh and Glasgow gain automatic entry to the Heineken Cup each season.

However, Edinburgh, with only a single point to their name, turned the form book on its head. Perhaps Bath, subconsciously at least, thought it was a forgone conclusion but in the event Edinburgh were extremely unfortunate not to achieve what would have been a notable victory in the west country.

Admittedly, Bath were poor to the point of destitution but Edinburgh have to be given credit for a display of great character. Their tackling was courageous and unstinting and this time their back row of Andrew and Graham Dall and Matt Taylor were outstanding.

As the rise and fall of Iain Balshaw continues apace, it took a characteristic break from Mike Catt late in the second half to enable Bath finally to maintain their 100 per cent record in the cup this season.

Balshaw used to run like a hare but here the young three-quarter who has been discarded by England for next Saturday's match against Australia at Twickenham, looked like a rabbit caught in the glare of the floodlights.

His calamitous error in the first half allowed Edinburgh to take a lead which was wrested from Edinburgh only when Catt created Bath's sole try 10 minutes from time.

Bath made more mistakes in the first half then they probably did in the entire season of 1998 when they lifted the Heineken Cup. You name the offence and they committed it.

Their captain, Dan Lyle, set an early example. After Matt Perry had taken a pass which cried out for an interception – Edinburgh duly went for it and missed – Lyle was put in the clear, but 15 yards from the line managed to knock on. That was almost constructive compared to what followed.

After both sides had missed kicks at goal, Duncan Hodge was successful with a penalty in the 14th minute, Perry in the 16th. The Bath full-back added another nine minutes later after Craig Smith caught the unfortunate Balshaw with a high tackle. For some reason the referee Joel Dumé penalised and warned the hooker, Steve Scott. Perry's penalty attempt rebounded off a post.

Bath paid the penalty for a performance of mind-boggling ineptitude when Hodge, from a promising position in the 33rd minute, put in a chip to the left corner. As chips go it was over-cooked but Edinburgh's good fortune was that the defender was Balshaw.

Last season Balshaw would probably have picked up and scorched down the other end. Yesterday, with time and space he half-slipped and simultaneously fumbled, leaving the Edinburgh centre Kevin Utterson with the simple task of tapping the ball over the line with his foot before falling on it.

It was the first try Bath had conceded in Europe this season. They may never give away a softer one. Hodge's conversion gave Edinburgh a 10-6 lead, which they should have increased before half-time when Calvin Howarth cut inside instead of exploiting support on his right and was grounded by Perry.

It was an impossibility for the second half to be as poor as the first, but it was a close-run thing. After Hodge had failed with a penalty attempt, Perry kicked Bath into the lead with penalties in the 47th and 61st minutes.

At that point Richard Metcalfe was unlucky to receive a yellow card after attempting to win possession with the ball on the ground and it was while they were down to 14 men that the Edinburgh defence was breached. In midfield Catt managed to elude the excellent Taylor and was able to send Tom Voyce on an unimpeded run to the line. The wing maintained his record of having scored in every Heineken match this season but none was as timely as this.

Edinburgh could still have snatched it but first Kevin Utterson was downed just short of the line and then Steve Borthwick's illegal challenge denied Taylor, earning the England lock a yellow card. Edinburgh also made a mess of a huge overlap on the left.

They could have been dancing in Princes Street last night; instead nearly 8,000 west countrymen let out a roar of relief at the end.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, O Barkley, T Voyce; M Catt, A Williams; D Barnes, M Regan (A Long, 80), S Emms (A Hopcraft, 52), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, G Thomas, D Lyle (capt), M Gabey (A Beattie, 58).

Edinburgh: C Howarth; C Murray (D Lee, 18), M Di Rollo, K Utterson, C Sharman; D Hodge, G Burns (capt); A Jacobsen, S Scott, C Smith, N Hines, R Metcalfe, A Dall, G Dall, M Taylor.

Referee: J Dumé (France).

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