Planet Rugby

Seven up in Bath for Saracens

31st October 2009 16:12

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Andy Saull celebrating Bath score

The opener: Andy Saull

Saracens made it seven wins from seven in the Guinness Premiership this season after defeating Bath 12-11 at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.

Their winning run represents the best start to a Premiership campaign by any club since Newcastle reeled off 12 straight triumphs on the way to title glory in 1997.

But while Saracens can look down on the rest, Bath remain in freefall.

They have won just once from nine starts in all competitions, leaving them only six points above bottom club Leeds Carnegie, who have a game in hand.

Bath are also staring at an early Heineken Cup exit after two pool defeats on the bounce and head coach Steve Meehan will be feeling acute pressure despite recently signing a new two-year contract.

There was plenty of honest toil from the Bath forwards but little spark in a back division crying out for the return of either Olly Barkley or Butch James.

A late try by captain Michael Claassens, following penalties from Ryan Davis and Jack Cuthbert, meant a tense finish, yet Saracens deserved to take the spoils.

They possessed comfortably the game's most elusive runner in England Saxons wing Noah Cato, whose try just before half-time gave his team a degree of breathing space.

Flanker Andy Saull also crossed for the visitors, rounding off a sweeping early move, and with an aggressive Saracens pack enjoying some raw physical exchanges, Bath could make little headway.

They are already 19 points behind Saracens and Meehan needs to find answers quickly or Bath's campaign is in danger of completely unravelling before Christmas.

Saracens though, march on after claiming only their second Premiership win at the Recreation Ground since 2001.

Bath made a handful of changes following their home defeat against Newcastle,

one enforced at full-back after Nick Abendanon failed a late fitness test.

He was replaced by Cuthbert, with Matt Carraro moving to the wing and Tom Cheeseman partnering Shontayne Hape in midfield.

Saracens were without their England captain Steve Borthwick because of forthcoming autumn Test commitments, so Hugh Vyvyan deputised in the second-row, while flanker Wikus van Heerden took over as skipper.

And with Borthwick watching from the sidelines, Saracens stung Bath through a scintillating fourth-minute try.

Hooker Schalk Brits created the score through a rampaging 40-metre break which saw him smash through weak Bath tackling.

Brits found centre Brad Barritt in support and he delivered the scoring pass to Saull, who touched down unopposed. Jackson's angled conversion made it 7-0.

The home side's cause was not helped when their former Saracens number eight Ben Skirving limped off after 17 minutes, but a Davis penalty then opened the Bath account.

Davis' strike followed a touchline wrestling match involving Saracens scrum-half Neil de Kock and Bath lock Danny Grewcock, although referee Chris White decided it warranted no further action.

Saracens continued to punch holes in the home defence, Cato proving a consistent threat, but there was an element of self-destruction to Bath's first-half finale.

Cheeseman rightly received a yellow card for tackling Saracens full-back Alex Goode off the ball and Saracens pounced.

Solid work by the forwards established a strong attacking platform and Cato wriggled out of Bath prop David Flatman's attempted tackle for a try that made it 12-3 at the break.

A long-range Cuthbert penalty narrowed the deficit yet Jackson continued to keep Saracens' forwards in the right areas through his accomplished tactical kicking.

But his goalkicking was another matter as a drifted penalty chance became his third miss from four attempts during an increasingly-feisty contest.

It was typically attritional Premiership rugby, yet Bath remained in contention entering the final quarter, helped by Cato spilling a pass from Saull when another try looked likely.

Saracens' nerves were not helped by substitute prop Rhys Gill being yellow-carded five minutes from time, and no sooner had he departed than Claassens sniped across for a try.

Davis missed the touchline conversion attempt but Saracens still had to survive nine minutes of injury time, which they successfully managed, despite Bath's best efforts to steal a win.

The scorers:

For Bath:
Tries: Claassens
Pen: Davis, Cuthbert

For Saracens:
Tries: Saull, Cato
Con: Jackson

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Jack Cuthbert, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Michael Stephenson, 10 Ryan Davis, 9 Michael Claassens (c), 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Stuart Hooper, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Peter Short, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 David Barnes, 18 Mark Lilley, 19 Jonny Faamatuainu, 20 Chris Cracknell, 21 Scott Bemand, 22 Nicky Little, 23 Tom Cheeseman.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Andy Saull, 6 Wikus van Heerden (c), 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Hugh Vyvyan, 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Richard Skuse, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Rodd Penney, 23 Michael Tagicakibau.

Referee: Chris White
Assistant referees: Ken Stewart, Alan Biggs
Coach: Ashley Reay
Television match official: Laurie Bryant

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