Iain Balshaw's timing is rarely less than perfect – when applied to his incursions into the Bath backline that is – but yesterday it was immaculate.
With doubts being aired about the soundness of Jason Robinson at full-back for England, Balshaw, wearing the No 15 shirt for Bath for only the second time this season, produced the kind of performance that will leave Clive Woodward smiling all the way up the Six Nations tournament and beyond.
For 64 minutes Balshaw's electric play galvanised a resurgent Bath as they overcame a spirited Bridgend and surged into a third-round Parker Pen Cup tie against the French side Montauban.
Balshaw had already marked his return to action after summer operations to correct ankle and shoulder problems in the opening leg last week, scoring a try in Wales, but Bath lost that match by a couple of points.
Balshaw went one better yesterday. His two brilliantly taken first-half tries, coupled with numerous threatening runs and a solid performance in defence and under the high ball were enough to convince at least the delirious Bath public that one of England's most potent attacking weapons from full-back is up and running. The flyer's relaunch could also brighten up what was looking like becoming a grim season for the West Country club.
His first try followed a blindside break by Gareth Cooper. Ollie Barkley, whose boot added 18 points, took it on briefly before Balshaw scorched up and powered over. His second try underlined the natural gas Balshaw has been blessed with. Alex Crockett stuck out his boot when Bridgend spilled the ball. Balshaw gave the defence a 15-metre start, overhauled them, hacked on and then gathered the ball in comfort for his second touchdown. After 64 minutes Balshaw was withdrawn – not for any apparent injury – by when his job had been done.
There were times after that when Bath, who were without five key figures through injury (Mike Catt, Dan Lyle, Mike Tindall and Matt Perry), or suspension (Danny Grewcock), lost concentration. They were also careless enough to lose a man, Adam Vander, to the sin bin, although how anyone could pick that up was remarkable given the woeful floodlights – there is more illumination in a 14th century manuscript. There were a few too many flare-ups in the forwards, and neither side displayed great discipline but in the end Bridgend would have to accept that they were outplayed.
Bath: I Balshaw (C Malone, 64); S Danielli, K Maggs, A Crockett (A Williams, 78), T Voyce; O Barkley, G Cooper (R Blake, 80); D Barnes, J Humphreys (capt; A Long, 45-52, 69), J Mallett (A Galasso, 65), S Borthwick, A Beattie, G Thomas, N Thomas, A Vander (J Scaysbrook, 80).
Bridgend: M James; R Mustoe, G Thomas (capt), S Taumalolo (J Funnell, 21), A Havili; C Warlow (A Carter, 13), S Martens (H Harries, 79); C Loader, G Williams, C Horsman (P Booth, 55), D Jones, A Moore (M Molitika 45-56), N Budgett (B Phillips 73-79; S Van Rensburg 80), R Bryan (M Molitika, 79), C Harris.
Referee: J Dumé (France).
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