3 years ago
8 May 2010, 10:42am
Bath Rugby emphatically booked their place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs for the third year in a row with yet another commanding bonus point victory to round off the regular season.
Five tries took their tally of touchdowns to 49 the best in the league and two better than Leicester, their semi-final opponents last season.
An 11th league victory in 12 matches since Christmas represents the most extraordinary turnaround in fortunes, yielding 49 points out of a possible 60.
But the statistics tell only part of the story. As Leeds discovered, Michael Claassens' team at times produced dazzling moments of handling and offloading to end any doubt about their right to be contesting the championship.
And the last match of the season was neatly topped and tailed by Joe Maddock, first when he ran out in splendid isolation ahead of the Bath team and then when the little Kiwi winger finished it all off with the final try shortly before the final whistle.
Maddock confirmed afterwards that he would be leaving the club during the summer: "It's not just about me it's a family decision, he said. My time at Bath has come to an end. I'm just not able to say where I'm going at the moment.
"I'm just happy that I equalled Banners' for top try scorer," he laughed, before adding a little more seriously: "It was emotional though last games always are. It's not quite over yet though there's a semi-final and, hopefully, a final."
The right wing was treated to a huge ovation from the packed stands. It was a heartfelt appreciation for a player whose finishing prowess has marked him out as one of the most prolific try-scorers in the club's recent history.
If only the weather had been as warm but there was a bitter north-easterly blowing across the Rec as Butch James kicked off.
The first scoring opportunity came almost immediately as Matt Banahan broke clear with Nick Abendanon on his elbow but the full-back was forced into touch just short of the line. Leeds fly-half Ceiron Thomas then rolled a kick 60 metres to the Bath 22 to force Bath on to the defensive but his side clearly lacked a cutting edge, despite the physical presence of centre Seru Rabeni.
Pieter Dixon was off the bench as early as the 11th minute as Lee Mears left the field with a rib injury and looking far from his usual cheerful self.
After 17 minutes of the teams sizing each other up, the game came to life when Davey Wilson suddenly broke clear on a 20-metre charge into the Leeds 22. As the tighthead was finally brought to ground, Bath moved the ball left and Danny Grewcock appeared to force his way over from a melee on the line. The TV Match Official took several looks at the video before ruling 'no try'.
A minute later, Leeds lost former Bath scrum-half Andy Gomarsall to the sin-bin when he tackled Claassens barely two metres from the penalty mark. After a succession of reset scrums, Bath took advantage of the Gomarsall's absence when Butch James and Olly Barkley combined to free Abendanon going right and he outpaced Richard Welding as Jon Goodridge drifted wide in an attempt to cover Maddock. Barkley converted from the right touchline across the wind.
The TMO was once more called into action in the 25th minute when Claassens was held on the line but again the decision disappointed the Bath ranks. Leeds' effort began to wane from this point as the penalty count began to mount against them and Barkley edged his side into a 10-nil lead on 27 minutes from close range.
When Leeds did get a chance to exert some pressure, a fierce Banahan tackle on temporary replacement Henry Paul forced a turnover on the Bath 22. Barkley broke away but his attempted offload was knocked down by fly-half Thomas.
Gomarsall returned from his spell in the bin but, even with 15 on the pitch, the visitors could not stop Claassens scoring direct from a scrum on 33 minutes, breaking inside Thomas's attempted tackle and then running around behind the posts to leave Barkley with a simple conversion. At 17-nil, the play-offs were already in sight.
A rumble by prop Mike MacDonald raised Leeds hopes but the supporting Rhys Oakley was bundled into touch and as half-time approached, Banahan and Julian Salvi combined to turn Leeds over again.
Apart from Mears, the other significant casualty before the break was referee Martin Fox who appeared to tweak a hamstring and gave way to David Rose.
Four minutes into the second half, Barkley made it 20-nil with a penalty from in front of the posts but Thomas replied almost immediately to give the visitors their only points.
Against the wind and with Bath's scrummage causing them particular problems, Leeds saw little of the ball. Instead, they were kept busy in defence and Shontayne Hape made considerable yardage in midfield.
Barkley hit the post with a fairly straightforward penalty attempt on 57 minutes but when the ball rebounded, Bath kept possession and the centre wriggled free to send Banahan surging down the left. Thomas half-held the big wing but was unable to prevent the score and Barkley again converted from the touchline.
By this time the home team were in full cry and it was just after the hour mark that Abendanon scored a mesmerising try on the other side of the field, dancing down the touchline after being set free by Dixon's perfectly timed pass. Could Barkley convert from the touchline again? Yes, he could and the score mounted to 34-3.
By this time there were plenty of new faces off the bench and Ryan Davis even downed the huge Leeds centre Seru Rabeni with a stunning tackle.
For the third time in the game, the TMO was called into action again and for the third time Bath were denied as Claassens claimed a try.
The score that the crowd had been waiting for came on 74 minutes when Dixon again provided the 'assist' for Maddock to touch down in the corner. For once, the impeccable Barkley just failed with the conversion.
By Kevin Coughlan
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