Palmer finds the gap to end Leeds' barren run

Leeds 20 Bath 7

Paul Stephens
Saturday 04 January 2003 01:00
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If the Leeds' bubble has not exactly being in danger of bursting during a poor run which has yielded five defeats and a draw from their last six games, their coach, Phil Davies, was going to need more than a cylinder of helium to reflate the Tykes' ambition of gaining a Heineken Cup place next season had they lost to Bath at Headingley last night.

Given that Leeds' first priority was to secure their Premiership status, Europe might seem a little high flown but, after a tremendous start to the campaign, Davies' side had temporarily fallen away.

Leeds might not be playing with the early-season fluency which has marked so many of their victories, but they were far too good for a disappointing Bath side who, though they tackled tenaciously and scrapped for every ball, possessed neither the wit nor the creativity to break down a determined Leeds.

Bath had the chance to draw first blood, but Olly Barkley's penalty sailed wide. Leeds' response was immediate. Diego Albanese slipped his marker and, when Cameron Mather was eventually hauled down, Bath infringed at the tackle for Braam van Straaten to bang over the penalty. When Danny Grewcock compounded the felony, the big South African pushed his penalty wide. Bath could consider themselves fortunate to be let off so lightly.

There was no reprieve for Mike Shelley or John Mallett, who were sin-binned at the end of a mass brawl, though gradually Leeds were gaining the upper hand, even if their growing authority was not reflected on the scoreboard. It perhaps should have been, but another penalty miss by Van Straaten hardly helped Leeds' cause.

The Bath forwards had decided on a route-one approach and a spectacular rolling maul took them 30 metres towards the Leeds line, but often the West Country side were careless in protecting their own ball. So tight were the margins, especially in defence, neither side was able to carve out any clear-cut scoring opportunity. Instead it was about territory and possession, while hoping to capitalise on opponents' mistakes.

Towards the end of the half, Bath left a narrow gap down the narrow side for Mark Regan and Winston Stanley to do enough damage and work Tom Palmer across the line. Van Straaten converted from touch, so Leeds went in with a healthy, though far from impregnable, 13-0 advantage.

With defences remaining on top, the only bright moments in a dour second half were breakaway tries for Dan Hyde – from where Leeds looked unassailable – and a similar score by Gareth Cooper for the visitors. Although they threatened a comeback in the final quarter, Leeds were never in danger of allowing it to be decisive.

Leeds: Tries Palmer, Hyde; Conversions Van Straaten (2); Penalties Van Straaten (2). Bath: Try Cooper; Conversion Barkley.

Leeds: D Scarbrough; W Stanley, T Davies, B van Straaten, D Albanese; G Ross, A Dickens (S Benton, 69); M Shelley (capt), M Regan (R Rawlinson, 79), M Holt, C Murphy, T Palmer, C Mather, D Hyde, I Feaunati (D Wheatley, 19-27).

Bath: M Perry; S Danielli (A Crockett, 69), K Maggs, M Tindall, T Voyce; O Barkley, G Cooper (A Williams, 70); D Barnes, J Humphreys, J Mallett (A Galasso, 69), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt), G Thomas (A Beattie, 55), A Vander (A Galasso, 19-27), N Thomas.

Referee: D Pearson (Ashington).

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