Welsh brace sinks brave Saracens

Saracens 30 - Bath 37
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The Independent Online

Bath had not won at Franklin's Gardens since 2000 and while they still have to beat Northampton here, at least they have broken that run. But it was close.

Saracens were unable to muster much support for this hastily rearranged fixture, but they gave their loyal followers in the 3,595 crowd a treat, fighting to the bitter end. And it was bitter - the "home" captain Hugh Vyvyan was a picture of anguish when, with his men pressing hard, the referee blew for full-time.

But there is hope for the future, whether here or at Vicarage Road. The two new signings, Saracens' Glen Jackson and Bath's Frikkie Welsh, impressed on debut and both scored tries, Welsh two. Jackson, from Waikato, looks a slippery fly-half and his arrival midway through the second half galvanised his side.

It was a match littered with errors but fiery enough to entertain, with Saracens on the attack even before the kick-off. Nigel Wray, their owner, had a pop at the International Rugby Board and Twickenham in the match programme, accusing both bodies of working independently of clubs in structuring the season.

But Wray feels that the "unreasonable" approach adopted by the game's ruling bodies will eventually cost them. His ire was sparked as much by the fact that Saracens could not stage this fixture today because of a ruling which states that clubs cannot include England internationals in their teams six days before a Test.

That meant Bath could not play on the original date because of the raft of England players on their books. Saturday - and therefore also Friday night - was out as Watford were playing at Vicarage Road. Bath declined the option of a Thursday evening kick-off and also rejected swapping the respective home fixtures.

So there was something of an edge to this confrontation from the kick-off. Bath opened the scoring through Welsh, who went outside Richard Haughton, inside the advancing Robbie Kydd and then around and behind what was left of the defence. Welsh became Bath's third signing from South Africa to score on his debut, after Robbie Fleck and Matt Stevens. But when he was beaten to the ball close to the Bath line a few minutes later it allowed Vyvyan to crash over.

Saracens maintained the pressure and the fly-half Mark Bartholomeusz's 17th-minute cross-kick was pounced on by the full-back Kydd, who ran over unopposed, then converted his try.

Kydd countered a Chris Malone penalty with one of his own. But all the hard work was undone when Andrew Higgins got a boot onto a Bartholomeusz pass. The ball skidded upfield and Higgins gave chase, leaving the Saracens backs in stunned disbelief. The ball obligingly fetched up between the posts and the right wing applied the coup de grâce. That was Higgins' last act as he left the field with a suspected fractured jaw.

Malone converted, added a drop goal then exchanged another penalty with Kydd to end the first-half activity, but the second period began almost like the first with Welsh thundering over for his second try. Mike Tindall earned Bath a bonus point on the hour, but with Jackson darting here, there and ultimately over the Bath line and Moses Rauluni adding a bonus try for Saracens the game teetered every which way to the end.

Saracens: R Kydd; R Haughton (P Bailey, 48), B Johnston, D Harris, T Vaikona; M Batholomeusz (G Jackson, 63), M Rauluni (M Williams, 76); K Yates (N Lloyd, 50), M Cairns (R Ibanez, 63), B Broster, K Chesney (B Skirving, 61), S Raiwalui, T Randell, H Vyvyan (capt), D Seymour (B Russell, 75).

Bath: O Barkley; A Higgins (B Daniel, 32), A Crockett, M Tindall, F Welsh; C Malone, M Wood (N Walshe, 76); D Barnes, J Humphreys (capt; L Mears, 69-80), D Bell, S Borthwick, D Grewcock (R Fidler, 20-26), A Beattie (J Scaysbrook, 29), I Feaunati, M Lipman.

Referee: Sean Davey (Sussex).