Bath title charge hots up

08th Mar 2008, 20:30

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Top of the pile: Alex Crockett celebrates his crucial try

Top of the pile: Alex Crockett celebrates his crucial try

Bath turned the Guinness Premiership into a three-horse race as they overcame Newcastle 22-11 at The Rec on Saturday.


Bath turned the Guinness Premiership into a three-horse race as they overcame Newcastle 22-11 at The Rec on Saturday.

Stand-in skipper Alex Crockett scored Bath's only try as they took advantage of a lunchtime kick-off to temporarily leapfrog Gloucester and Leicester at the top of the table.

Newcastle contested every scrap of possession and were in touch until the hour mark, but Olly Barkley was again the vital steadying influence for Bath with a conversion and four penalties.

As if the loss of Steve Borthwick, Lee Mears, Matt Stevens and Michael Lipman to the England cause was not disruptive enough, Bath had to fill further gaps in the pack caused by serious injuries to David Barr and Andy Beattie.

With David Flatman still a week or two away from a return and no other loose-head props left at the club, it meant a rare switch to the number one shirt for Duncan Bell against former All Black Carl Hayman.

Danny Grewcock was back at lock after last weekend's win at Bristol coincided with the birth of his daughter.

Following last week's postponement against Wasps, Falcons director of rugby John Fletcher restricted himself to one tactical change, bringing in Jon Golding at loose-head, while injuries to Andy Perry and Andy Long meant recalls for Brent Wilson and Matt Thompson at flanker and hooker.

First blood went to Newcastle after Bell conceded a penalty at the first scrum and Tom May kicked a third-minute goal into the wind from nearly 40 metres.

Bath created a couple of openings but failed to make the final pass tell and twice allowed the visitors to win turnover ball in their own 22.

However, when they infringed at a ruck, Barkley landed a fourteenth-minute penalty from 40 metres.

Five minutes later, they were 10-3 up after a neat move direct from a scrum saw Crockett racing 35 metres to the post for a try converted by Barkley.

It was nearly half-time before Newcastle entered the Bath 22, but the home side worked their way confidently out of defence from the lineout. When the visitors threatened again, John Rudd was forced into touch by former Newcastle wing Michael Stephenson.

But it was Bath who scored again, going in 13-3 at the break after Shaun Berne landed a penalty while Barkley received treatment.

Newcastle had themselves been forced to introduce replacement scrum-half James Grindal at number ten after Steve Jones went off with a leg injury.

Soon after the restart, Joe Maddock had a kick charged down by Rudd, but Stevenson outpaced Tom Dillon for the touch in goal.

Maddock then received lengthy treatment after being laid out trying to field a high ball and was replaced by Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu.

Newcastle were rewarded for their tenacity when May kicked his second penalty after 52 minutes, but Mark Sorenson was lucky to escape a yellow card when he flipped Michael Classens judo-style in a tackle.

Barkley punished the dangerous tackle by kicking his third penalty and, as Bath upped the tempo, he added two more penalties to put the game beyond reach, even though Russell Winter claimed a late pushover try for the visitors.

The scorers:

For Bath:
Tries:
Crockett
Con: Barkley
Pen: Barkley 4, Berne

For Newcastle:
Tries: Winter
Pen: May 2

Bath: 15 Joe Maddock, 14 Michael Stephenson, 13 Alex Crockett (c), 12 Shaun Berne, 11 Andrew Higgins, 10 Olly Barkley, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel Browne, 7 Jonny Faamatuainu, 6 Chris Goodman, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Peter Short, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Duncan Bell.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Paulica Ion, 18 Martin Purdy, 19 Zak Feaunati, 20 Mike Baxter, 21 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 22 Tom Cheeseman.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom May, 14 Ollie Phillips, 13 Tom Dillon, 12 Alex Tait, 11 John Rudd, 10 Steve Jones, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Phil Dowson (c), 7 Ben Woods, 6 Brent Wilson, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Matt Thompson, 1 Jon Golding.
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Joe McDonnell, 18 Tim Swinson, 19 Russell Winter, 20 James Grindal, 21 Joe Shaw, 22 Tim Visser.

Referee: Ashley Rowden
Touch judges: Bob Mullis, Roger Baileff
Assessor: Ed Morrison
Television match official: Matt Peters