6 years ago
22 March 2008, 12:00am
With a match as changeable as the weather today, Bath Rugby fought a tight contest with London Irish to see them seal a tense victory that was almost a defeat in the dying seconds, but with two tries and three penalties, Bath managed to clinch the win with a final score of 19 - 16 to Bath.
The opening exchanges were frenetic as Bath took the match to their visitors with a series of penetrating attacks. Knowing that a victory would take them to the top of the Guinness Premiership table once again, the home side's ambition with the ball in hand was impressive, and was it not for mistakes close to the Irish line, the home side could have been out of sight within the opening ten minutes.
After 13 minutes, the Exiles had the opportunity to win the first points of the match through Eoghan Hickey. Kicking into the wind, the young Irishman kept a cool head and moved the visitors into an early lead. It was to be short-lived though as Barkley, continuing his fine form with the boot, slotted over a penalty from the left-hand touch line to take the score to three points a piece.
Determined to make amends for the Quins performance, Bath looked to run the ball at every opportunity and the return to type soon paid dividends as Alex Crockett and Faamatuainu combined to give Michael Stephenson the opportunity to soar across the line at the top left-hand corner. Barkley, the second highest point scorer in Bath history, failed to slot the conversion.
With ten minutes remaining in the first half, Hickey reduced the deficit to just two points with a sweetly struck penalty after the home side were penalised for not rolling away. Bath responded immediately as Matt Sevens bulldozed his way into the Irish 22 forcing the visitors to offend once more. With the wind whistling through the Rec, kicking was always going to be difficult, but Barkley, assisted by tee-steadier Steve Borthwick, pushed the ball between the posts to extend the lead.
Four minutes into injury time, the visitors were reduced to 14 men after Tomas De Vedia was yellow carded as tempers flared. Barkley responded by planting a further three points on the score board for Bath with a skilful penalty kick. The home side were themselves reduced to 14 men as Faamatuainu was also sent to the bin for taking a swipe and Hickey responded with a penalty to take the score up to 14 - 9 at half time.
Irish started the second half with more vigour and purpose than they had in the first and immediately made progress into the Bath 22. However, from what was their most promising attack of the match to date, offence immediately turned to attack as Bath broke out for a sensational try.
Having been presented with the ball in the shadow of his own posts, the electric Nick Abendanon broke out of the danger zone, before Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu unleashed Matt Banahan at pace who made an explosive run from the 22 and rampaged over the white line for a try. With the wind against him, Barkley failed to convert, but Bath remained had extended the lead to 19 - 9.
Banahan, now equal at the top of the Guinness Premiership try scoring chart, looked as though he was going to blast through with a further five points a few moments later, but after a questionable forward pass call from the Touch Judge, Bath were sent back to the halfway line for a scrum.
Bath continued to press, but the visitors, laying with more confidence, hauled themselves back into the game as their back three began to penetrate the Bath defensive line. Topsey Ojo broke free through down the wing and Alex Crockett failed to pull him into touch before he offloaded to Paul Hodgson and it took a superb cover tackle from Abendanon on the scrum half to halt what was a threatening move. Irish though were advancing and after a minor scuffle Hickey had the opportunity to reduce the arrears. The young Irishman missed the penalty attempt and would not trouble the scoreboard for the remainder of the match.
Spurred into life, Ojo once again penetrated for the Exiles as he charged down the left-wing, but this time it was Irish who were to be pulled back for a forward pass in a dangerous situation.
As the momentum of the game continued to ebb, Bath once again attacked deep inside the Irish half as Barkley, Fuimaono-Sapolu and replacement Tom Cheeseman all probed the Irish defence. Lee Mears came close to being driven over the line, but once again the visitors were given a 'get out of jail' free card again as the hooker was hauled down just short of the line.
Irish though came straight back and were denied an excellent attacking position again through some fine Bath defence. It was to be a brief respite. With time running out, Irish attacked once more as Mike Catt, Seilala Mapusa and Ojo took Irish deep inside Bath territory. With Bath's backline defence stretched, Ross Broadfoot, who had only been on the pitch for a few minutes dived over the line for a try. An extra two points were added as Broadfoot successfully converted, taking Irish to within three points of the leaders.
The remaining three minutes were tense, with the ball staying inside Bath's 22. With the home side fully aware that an Irish try would spell their defeat, Barkley repeatedly eased the pressure, but Irish's attacks were relentless and with time up on the clock, they continued to keep the ball alive inside the Bath 22, but Peter Short's try-saving tackle on Declan Danaher inches from the line prevented a match-winning try.
By Kate Oram
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