Spirited Bath lose out by one point

Bath Rugby came closer than anyone this season to ending Saracens' 100 per cent record in the Guinness Premiership but that will be scant consolation.
A losing bonus point keeps them in 11th place behind Gloucester and above Leeds Carnegie, still without a home victory this season.

Head coach Steve Meehan pointed to a couple of missed tackles as the difference between the sides but said: "It was very pleasing to turn around and get an effort like that. The result could have gone either way. The last week has been very tough for us, particularly in view of the way the previous weekend went."

On specific aspects of the performance, he added: "There was an offside line in the second half, which helped! But at the same time our depth in our attack wasn't good enough in the first half and that was mentioned at the half time break. There was then a much better performance there and at least we were coming on to the ball a bit."

Forwards coach Martin Haag had a few words to say on the performance of loosehead David Flatman, the only one of the club's frontline props not to have been summoned into the England squad earlier in the week: "Flats has been playing very well. He started slowly perhaps, which was a hangover from the summer tour but I'm reluctant to say that he played really, really well because they (England) might pinch him as well! But, no, he had a good game and Aaron Jarvis, coming in as a young lad with two tightheads away, did a very good job too."

Preparations had been upset even before kick-off as Nick Abendanon pulled out with a knee injury. In the reshuffle, Jack Cuthbert moved to full-back, Matt Carraro took his place on the wing and Tom Cheeseman came off the bench to fill the vacant outside centre spot.

Saracens were on the scoreboard inside four minutes after lively hooker Schalk Brits ran back a clearance kick from near his own 22, with Bath defenders spreadeagled, and found support from centre Brad Barritt. Flanker Andy Saull ran a good line to cut through what remained of the Bath defence and score under the posts. Glen Jackson added the conversion.

Bath No 8 Ben Skirving's first match against his old club lasted just 15 minutes as he was led off with a leg injury to be replaced by Jonny Faamatuainu.

Although initially under pressure in the scrums, Bath's line-out was working well enough. The trouble was that Saracens' aggressive defence kept the home team on the back foot and Ryan Davis found his only option was to chip through or over the onrushing line.

That eventually paid dividends after 21 minutes when he chased his own kick and forced a penalty under the posts which he successfully converted. A couple of minutes later, the fly-half was presented with a chance from near half-way but his effort just faded to the right.

Saracens' kicking out of hand was rather more effective as Glen Jackson repeatedly found excellent touches on and around the home 22. But like his opposite number, he also failed to punish a scrummage offence when given a penalty opportunity from near 50 metres.

It was all hands to the pump at times as Saracens used all their guile and physicality in an effort to punch through the home defence. But when Cheeseman made an early tackle on the dangerous Noah Cato, anticipating a pass from full-back Alex Goode, referee Chris White showed the Bath player a yellow card.

That left the home side a man down with three minutes to play before the break and the league leaders were not about to pass up the opportunity. It was Cato who profited, spinning out of an attempted tackle to score wide out on the right. This time Jackson's conversion was wide, leaving Saracens 12-3 ahead at half-time.

Bath found themselves under pressure almost from the restart as Hugh Vyvyan's 50-metre left-foot kick found touch just inches from the corner flag. But they claimed the line-out and then forced a penalty on their own line. Although Davis failed to find touch, Saracens surrendered possession with a forward pass from the quickly taken line-out; with David Flatman now in control on the loosehead, Saracens gave away a penalty at the scrum and Cuthbert banged over the kick from 48 metres to reduce the margin to six points.

Julian Salvi was horrified to give away a penalty almost immediately afterwards but Jackson somehow contrived to send his kick wide from the easiest of positions.

Energised by this let-off, the home forwards began to take control, scrummaging more destructively and mauling with greater purpose. Again Saracens infringed, drifting offside, close to the breakdown, but this time Cuthbert sent his 40-metre kick wide.

Although Salvi brought off a fine 'steal' at a tackle, Saracens injected fresh blood into their pack and mounted a series of strong attacks around the hour mark. Finally, Saull burst through and offloaded in the tackle to the dangerous Cato but he was unable to hang on to the ball with the line less than 10 metres away.

The impressive Flatman's last act was to 'monster' his opponent, Richard Skuse, at the resulting scrum before giving way to David Barnes, released from the England squad.

The crowd responded noisily to the increasingly confident play of the pack who won another penalty as Saracens conceded a penalty at a maul. After Davis found touch on the 22, the forwards forced yet another penalty. Skipper Michael Claassens took a quick tap and when Rhys Gill was adjudged to have interfered with his progress without retreating the necessary 10 metres, Mr White sent him to the sin bin.

Again the line-out was won and again Saracens infringed but this time Bath opted for the line-out and Claassens dummied his way from short range. Unfortunately, Davis could not convert the try and Saracens held out for the remaining 10 minutes.

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