6 years ago
21 February 2009, 2:31pm
Bath surrendered a 17-nil lead at the Recreation Ground to miss out on a chance of leapfrogging the Exiles into third place in the Guinness Premiership.
The league's two highest try-scoring teams shared six touchdowns to leave honours even but it was very much a case of two points dropped in Steve Meehan's eyes although he acknowledged: "When you are in a competition like this and in a season as long as this you'll always have highs and lows. You've just got to realise that you have to play for 80 minutes."
Bath took the field without skipper Michael Lipman, still feeling the effects of the head injury suffered in the Heineken Cup match against Toulouse last month.
"If there's the slightest doubt with that sort of injury, then you don't take the risk. Michael had the good sense at the end of the week's training to recognise that he wasn't right. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he wasn't happy."
London Irish hardly touched the ball for the first half-hour such was Bath's monopoly on territory and possession. The Exiles' defence, the meanest in the Premiership after Sale's, was twice stretched almost to breaking point as Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu broke through and Pieter Dixon crossed in the corner only to be denied by a forward pass from Matt Banahan. Another attack foundered on a slight knock-on - all in the first six minutes.
The breakthrough came in the tenth minute after Butch James had launched an up-and-under which was taken on by the forwards. When the ball was recycled to the left, Banahan sent Stuart Hooper over in the corner. James missed the conversion but continued to test the visitors' young fullback, Tom Homer, with a succession of teasing kicks. On 20 minutes it was Banahan's turn for a touchdown, latching on to a flicked pass from James after David Flatman had surged through almost to the posts. The Exiles' counter-attacking game flickered into life briefly but Bath were dominating in the contact areas, making life uncomfortable for visiting scrum-half Paul Hodgson.
On 27 minutes Bath conjured a third try after Topsy Ojo had made a hash of dealing with a kick from James. The young winger's clearance was scuffed badly and ricocheted around the players in front of him before Alex Crockett tidied up and launched Joe Maddock down the left wing with Banahan on his shoulder. The pair swiftly exchanged passes, allowing the Kiwi full-back, to cross in the left corner. This time James's kick was on target and the scoreboard read 17-nil.
Irish began to rouse themselves, particularly through playmaker Shane Geraghty, but when Homer was caught in possession, James's high kick to Banahan was just nudged forward by the wing with the line beckoning. The second half was a complete turnaround as the visitors played with all the aggression and directness they had lacked in the first half. Head coach Toby Booth later accepted responsibility for the Jekyll and Hyde performance, saying that he had worked hard with the squad in recent weeks on efforts to keep the penalty count down. It had taken the sting out of their game.
Just four minutes into the second half, Bath were hit on the break as former centre Elvis Seveali'i made space for wing Adam Thompstone to sprint down the wing untouched for his side's first points. They almost claimed a second try a couple of minutes later when Seilala Mapasua chipped to the corner for Ojo. Banahan raced back to cover and, fortunately for the home side, the ball was knocked on before Steffon Armitage touched down.
Geraghty made his first successful kick with a 55th minute penalty to make it 17-8 and five minutes later Mapasua cleverly used referee Chris White as a defensive shield and raced away to the line. While Geraghty missed the relatively easy conversion James was quickly offered a chance from 35 metres at the other end and opened up a seven-point lead.
The quickfire scoring continued two minutes later when Ojo put behind him the errors of the first half to wrongfoot the Bath defence and score a spectacular try from 40 metres. Geraghty converted from in front of the posts and although Bath pressed hard for the winning score in the last five minutes, they had to be content with a share of the points.
By Kevin Coughlan
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