They had Alexandra Burke of X Factor fame singing on the pitch at half-time in the St George's Day (actually the day after) game at a three-quarters-full rugby HQ on Saturday evening. Either side of the interval we had Danny Cipriani of ex-England factor renown, the national cause célèbre – a poster boy in the match programme, clad in Wasps' cross of St George jersey, holding a giant sword. On the England's got talent front, however, it was Olly Barkley who stole the show hands down in front of a 60,208 audience.
There was another contest, of course, and in winning that one with a try bonus point Bath leapfrogged a thoroughly stung Wasps into fourth place in the Guinness Premiership table. Having started the new year second from bottom, the West Countrymen go into the final day of the regulation season, and a home game against Leeds on Saturday week, with a three-point lead over the Londoners in the race for the fourth and final play-off berth. The force would appear to be with Bath, who are on a roll of 10 wins out of 11 in league action since Christmas. A semi-final date at Leicester beckons once again.
Last year, Bath were beaten 24-10 at the Walkers Stadium but they didn't have the 10-12 axis in place on that day that they will at Welford Road – provided they manage to seal the deal and join the Tigers, the Northampton Saints and Saracens in the play-off spots. Last May, Butch James was out with a busted knee and Barkley was completing his year's sabbatical at Gloucester. It is little coincidence that Bath's form has gained serious momentum since the Springbok fly-half and the sometime England inside-centre – who suffered a broken leg in pre-season – began scheming in tandem in February.
On Saturday the Barkley-James harvesting was far too much for Wasps. James sparked the first of Bath's four tries with a break up the left, but Barkley played a pivotal role too, drawing his man before spinning the ball out via full-back Nick Abendanon for Joe Maddock to exploit the overlap that had been created. Then came a brilliant show-and-go and a turbo-charged surge through a half-gap by Barkley, setting up Maddock for his second try – this time in the right corner.
Maddock clinched his hat-trick with the game-breaking score midway through the second half, the Kiwi wing plucking a long, looping pass from Cipriani out of the air before running in a try that took him into double figures for the Premiership season. It was Barkley, though, who shone brightest.
The 28-year-old one-time wonder boy, capped as a teenager by Sir Clive Woodward, took a feed from James for the bonus-point try. He also landed six kicks at goal out of seven and put in some eye-catching defensive work, notably a peach of a try-saving tackle on the flying Tom Varndell. Last capped on the tour to New Zealand back in 2008, on this evidence Barkley can expect to be picking up the threads of his England career on another end-of-season sojourn, this time to Australia.
Not that anyone in the Bath camp was taking anything for granted in the euphoric aftermath of the club's first Twickenham victory since their 1996 Pilkington Cup final win against Leicester. That was the occasion when Neil Back – then the Tigers' feisty openside flanker, now head coach of the Leeds team heading to the Rec the Saturday after next – shoved referee Steve Lander to the ground at the final whistle.
"A lot can happen yet," Steve Meehan, Bath's director of rugby, cautioned. "We've still got the small matter of a game against Leeds, who have been playing well, dogging it out. But for the first time this season we get to play a game knowing that it's in our hands."
Scorers: Wasps Try Jacobs; Conversion Walder; Penalties Cipriani 4. Bath Tries Maddock 3, Barkley; Conversions Barkley 3; Penalties Barkley 3.
Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, D Waldouck, S Kefu (B Jacobs, 65), T Varndell (D Lemi, 49; J Hart, 72); D Cipriani (D Walder, 65), J Simpson; T Payne (S Taulafo, 65), R Webber, B Broster (P Vickery, 42), S Shaw, G Skivington, J Worsley, D Ward-Smith, T Rees (capt; S Betsen, 72).
Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock (J Cuthbert, 79), M Carraro (S Hape, 66), O Barkley, M Banahan; B James, M Claassens (capt; S Bemand, 68); D Barnes (N Catt, 40), L Mears (P Dixon, 65), D Bell (D Wilson, 40), S Hooper, D Grewcock (B Skirving, 79), A Beattie, L Watson, J Salvi.
Referee: W Barnes (London).
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