Planet Rugby

Frustrated Bath finish with four

19th October 2008 14:48


Peter Short stuck v Dragons

Short-changed: Peter Short can't find a way through the Dragons' defence

Bath got their Heineken Cup win over the Dragons on Sunday, but the bonus point eluded them in their 13-9 victory, with all their attacking endeavour crashing to pieces on some wonderful rock-hard Dragons defence.

With Toulouse having failed to garner a bonus point in Scotland on Friday, it was a perfect opportunity for the West countrymen to ram home an extra bonus point and heap pressure on the French ahead of what must be the decisive head to head at the the Rec in January.

But the Dragons had not read the script. The tackling was faultless in a match in which they had only 30 per cent of the possession and ended up on the thin end of a 16-5 penalty count, not to mention playing a quarter of the match with fourteen men.

Late in the game, they even had a couple of chances to win it, as Bath's XV comprehensively failed to come up with a plan B once the running game had been stifled. A little more depth of thinking will be required when Toulouse do come to town.

In the end, Bath did get their try, after two scrummed penalties under the Dragons' posts, followed by a ball that bounced out to the wing before Andrew Higgins picked up and used his fresh legs to drive over the line.

It gave them a 13-3 lead, but even then the Dragons never stopped fighting, and two Shaun Connor penalties earned them the bonus point, the very least their lion-hearted display deserved.

Right from Butch James' 'blind side' kick-off, Bath were on the attack. Michael Claasens, Nick Abendanon and Matt Stevens all made good inroads, but then the ball was turned over 10m out, and Dragons scrum-half Wayne Evans led a counter-attack.

It was a similar pattern for much of the first half: Bath working themselves into perfect situations, then either coughing up the ball or dropping the ball or running the wrong angle to undo all the good work. Matt Banahan in particular did so much good attacking work, but made so many errors in execution. Not all of them were forced either.

In the opening half hour, Bath won ten unanswered penalties. Two of them were goaled, one of them was missed, one, after 28 minutes, led to a yellow card for an irrepressible Colin Charvis. Banahan made a good break into the Dragons 22, and his forwards tried eight times to muscle their way over before the ball was lost in contact. Abendanon failed miserably to straighten and pass outside with an overlap begging. Jonny Faamatuainu was brilliantly tackled by Richard Fussell when put through by Banahan, and just before the break, he dropped a ball in contact after a clever line-out move. Lee Mears made all manner of bursts, busts and carries, but just could not find an offload.

Bath had all the ball, and swung it from side to side with elegance, but there just was not quite the keenness of cutting edge to their attack. Finally, Peter Short and Faamatuainu ran striaght lines off contact, and then Butch James' inside pass to Banahan ought to have led to a try, but the winger also ignored an overlap, was tackled magnificently by Dollman and was pinged for holding on in the tackle. That was minute 39: The dragons' first penalty. More opportunity Bath could not have asked for.

Both previous peraragraphs have included the phrase 'magnificently tackled', or words to that effect, and that was what the Dragons had to offer. They barely had a sniff of decent possession on attack, two dangerous counter-thrusts petered out for want of support, but boy did the men in orange lay their bodies on the line! Charvis was outstanding, and his flank companion Joe Bearman ended up having made over 20 tackles for the match, a phenomenal display. The back three tidied up the line-breaks, and left no change. Every Dragon forward hit every ruck like it was the first of the game. It was absorbing and utterly admirable. Half-time: 6-0.

The visitors opened the second half with a penalty, and then it was back to the old routine. Banahan chipped and chased well, but the ball slipped off his fingertips. The ball still floated from side to side of the pitch, but the orange wall stood firm.

Bath began to panic. A Dragons clearance into Bath's 22 should have been returned by James, instead Bath's backs opted to run it, and Abendanon ran into Crockett. The Dragons scrummed and drove, and won a penalty. Arlidge sent it to the corner, and Bearman and Willis combined from the line-out to send the latter over the Bath line, only for Michael Lipman to rip it off him as he tried to dot it down.

Back Bath came, winning more penalties and with Lewis Evans off to the bin as the infringements mounted. Eventually, and ironically, just as Lewis returned, Bath won those penalties under the posts, Higgins scored, and the game was finally up for the Dragons.

Still they fought, and Connor's two penalties earned them their dues, as Bath huffed and puffed through the final quarter of an hour.

Man of the match: Joe Bearman. Indomitable.

The scorers:

For Bath:

Try: Higgins

Con: James

Pens: James 2

For the Dragons:

Pens: Arlidge, Connor 2

Yellow card: Charvis (26, Dragons, persistent infringement), Evans (51, Dragons, persistent infringement)

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Joe Maddock, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Shaun Berne, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Jonny Faamatuainu, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Stuart Hooper, 5 Peter Short, 4 Justin Harrison, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears, 1 David Flatman.

Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 David Barnes, 19 James Scaysbrook, 20 Scott Bemand, 21 Shontayne Hape, 22 Andrew Higgins.

Dragons: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Gareth Wyatt, 13 Rory Sidey, 12 Marc Stcherbina, 11 Richard Fussell, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Colin Charvis, 6 Joe Bearman, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Adam Jones, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Tom Willis (c), 1 Adam Black.

Replacements: 16 Steve Jones, 17 Aaron Coundley, 18 Grant Webb, 19 Andrew Hall, 20 Rob Lewis, 21 Shaun Connor, 22 Ashley Smith.

Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

Touch judges: Giulio De Santis (Italy), Stefano Marrama (Italy)

Television match official: Mauro Dordolo (Italy)

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