5 years ago
18 January 2009, 2:22pm
Bath go into next Sunday's 'winner takes all' showdown against Toulouse with their noses in front after a close fought victory at Rodney Parade.
They currently top Pool 5 of the Heineken Cup with 19 points from their five games, one ahead of the French aristocrats. At stake next weekend is a prize home quarter-final and potentially the biggest day at the Rec since the visit of Llanelli at the same stage in 2002.
Tries from Joe Maddock and Stuart Hooper eventually saw Bath home against the Dragons but there were plenty of nervous moments as they lost both Hooper and Daniel Browne to the sin-bin either side of the break.
Newport were every bit as competitive as they had been at the Recreation Ground in October and matched the visitors try for try but were again disappointed.
Head coach Steve Meehan said it was no more than they had expected. "It's not an easy place to come and play or to pick up points easily. It was not the prettiest of games but the Dragons are a very spirited side, well coached. We turned over too much ball - but they sent more numbers into the ruck."
Butch James said there had been no question of complacency: "We knew that they would come out and get stuck into our boys. Their big tackles were slowing down our ball. They showed as much guts and heart as they did the first time they played us."
Having already started without skipper Michael Lipman, a late withdrawal due to illness, Bath also lost the services of Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu within seconds of the kick-off because of a back spasm suffered in the warm-up.
Moved to the right wing until he could be substituted, the Samoan was a virtual passenger but Bath made light of the disruption to their back line as Joe Maddock crossed in the corner for the first try on five minutes. The telling break had been made by Lee Mears and carried on by Andy Beattie to set up a ruck deep into the home 22.
As Butch James missed the conversion attempt, Shontayne Hape came on for the stricken Fuimaono-Sapolu.
Stung into a riposte, the Dragons forced Maddock to retrieve a rolling kick close to the Bath line but help was quickly at hand and James cleared. Bath's forwards took up the challenge and worked their way up to the home 22, forcing a 5-metre scrum. It was a promising position but the impetus was lost when referee George Clancy penalised Matt Banahan for not releasing in the tackle.
The dangerous Richard Fussell was shown a glimpse of the line when Abendanon kicked straight into his hands but the left wing was chased down.
Bath recovered their composure and James edged Bath into an 8-nil lead on 27 minutes after the Dragons were caught offside at a ruck 40 metres from the posts. After conceding two penalties in quick succession from the restart, the Dragons lost captain Luke Charteris to the sin-bin; James spurned the penalty chance for a quick tap but Bath missed out on the try.
The game was becoming a 'dog fight' around the breakdown where the Dragons' tactic of committing greater numbers to the contest for the ball was denying Bath the quick ball they thrive on. As half-time approached, Bath frustration was evident as they began to fall foul of referee George Clancy and Stuart Hooper was shown the yellow card for his side's persistent infringement.
An 8-nil interval lead was not an entirely comfortable margin as Bath turned round to face the stiff breeze on a sticky pitch. Their task became even greater after No8 Daniel Browne joined Hooper in the sin bin following a late body check on scrum-half Wayne Evans.
The Dragons wasted no time in cashing in on the two-man advantage. On 45 minutes fly-half James Arlidge chipped over the onrushing defence and Fussell touched down close enough to the posts to make his half-back partner's conversion a formality.
The return of Hooper and then of Browne did little to slow the home side's impetus and the Dragons took the lead on the hour mark. Maddock was hounded down while covering back in his own 22 to collect Jason Tovey's speculative kick on the wind. The ball was recycled - but only to James Scaysbrook who was caught in possession and when the ball went loose behind the goal line, Wayne Evans claimed an unconverted try.
As Bath supporters ranked together in the main stand began to ponder the implications of a losing bonus point, their team rallied to produce a top quality try. Alex Crockett punched a hole in the tiring midfield defence, driving into the home 22 where he found Browne in support. Quick ball from the breakdown found Hooper striding up in support for the try and James made the conversion.
Still both sides were prone to mistakes but Bath survived an Arlidge drop goal attempt and there was further relief as the home side dropped a pass in midfield and were then pinged for not binding at the scrum. For the last three minutes all Bath had to do was keep the ball until the clock ticked over 80 minutes - at which point James nonchalantly tapped the ball into touch.
Newport Gwent Dragons: J Tovey; G Wyatt, R Gomer Davies, A Smith, R Fussell (G Maule 74); J Arlidge, W Evans; A Black, S Jones (T Willis 55), R Thomas, A Jones, L Charteris (capt), H Macdonald, C Charvis (J Ringer 67), G Webb (L Evans 57).
Bath Rugby: N Abendanon (J Cuthbert 66); J Maddock, A Crockett, E Fumiaono-Sapolu (S Hape 6), M Banahan; B James, M Claasens (S Bemand 66); D Flatman, L Mears (P Dixon 62), M Stevens (D Bell 62), J Harrison, S Hooper, A Beattie, J Scaysbrook (J Fa'amatuainu 67), D Browne.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).
By Kevin Coughlan
Other results for this match are not available.
Lineups for this match are not available.