Bath dig deep to keep Title ambitions alive

Like a phoenix rising from the flames, Bath just managed to keep their Guinness Premiership title aspirations alive with a courageous second half comeback to defeat Newcastle Falcons 15-14 at Kingston Park.

Trailing 14-0 at the interval and seemingly in disarray owing to a host of missed kicks at goal and errors, the West Country side showed enormous character to summon all their reserves of energy and mental strength to take the game by the scruff of the neck as Michael Claassens and Shontayne Hape scored tries in a remarkable turn around.

The first half offered little hope that this would be an afternoon of celebration for visitors as Newcastle, searching for Heineken Cup qualification, were rewarded with the first try of the match after 17 minutes following wonderful play from scrum half Micky Young.

With Bath unable to secure the bobbling loose ball, Young hacked ahead before gathering and showing superb alertness to stave off the swarming white defence and chip the ball cross-field for Danny Williams to gather and score. Tom May, posing a threat all afternoon, added the extras for a 7-0 lead.

Bath's problems were compounded by an inability to retain the ball at key moments and by continued kicking issues. Butch James, agonisingly wayward at the Walkers Stadium, toiled once more and the South African missed his first two shots at goal leaving Bath with an early mountain to climb.

Bath's first try opportunity came after a free kick at a scrum allowed Bath to turn the screw as first Flatman and then Short rumbled deep behind Newcastle lines. Having forced a penalty from their opponents in the attack, James again was off target with another routine kick.

Bath had plenty of possession, but errors meant that they failed to make the most of excellent field position. The Falcons, on the other hand, were looking sharp and caught Bath napping when Young showed lighting reactions from a penalty to stride into the corner for Newcastle's second try. May's conversion gave the North East side a commanding 14-0 lead.

Facing a desperate score line, Bath were determined to register something on the board before the interval. With Claassens driving his team forward, the West Country side thundered into the Newcastle 22 only for errors to again hamper progress and leave the team frustrated and scoreless at half time.

Looking for inspiration, Bath replaced James with Ryan Davis and the former England Under 21 captain has an immediate chance to stamp his mark on the game. However, hampered by the same kicking gremlins as the man he replaced, Davis missed his opening shot at goal and a second opportunity three minutes later.

It was apparent early in the second half that the running game would be the answer for Bath and the visitors pressed on inside the Newcastle 22. A superb catch and drive five metres out provided the opportunity, but once again Bath were turned over in a dangerous position as points continued to elude the Guinness Premiership challengers.

Bath finally hauled themselves back into the game through scrum half Claassens. Matching Young's quick thinking, the South African spotted an opportunity from a penalty close to the line, to dart through the Newcastle defence to score the match-needed five points. Davis failed to collect the extras, but Bath had a lifeline.

The Bath resurgence continued in the shape of Shontayne Hape, who sprinted down the touchline to record Bath's second score with 17 minutes left on the clock. Bouyed by his teammate's score, Davis slotted over the difficult touchline conversion.

Incredibly, Bath took the lead three minutes later. Buzzing with confidence and suddenly full of running, field position gifted points and the visitors were happy to oblige. Davis, whose introduction, added the impetus alongside Claassens, slotted over his first penalty of the afternoon to cap a remarkable turnaround and set up a thrilling final teen minutes.

The final moments were not without drama. Confident and incisive in the first half, Newcastle could not get their hands on the ball in the closing minutes and when they did it was their turn to make the errors. May missed a match-winning penalty attempt with five minutes to go when his radar seemed seemingly perfect, and a drop goal position broke down with a fumbled ball.

Bath, in contrast, were in control and showed tremendous stoicism in defence to close off a game that leaves the West Country side heading into the final match of the regular season against Saracens at the Rec in pole position for a semi-final berth.

Newcastle Falcons: 15. Alex Tait, 14. Danny Williams, 13. Jamie Noon, 12. Tane Tu'ipulotu, 11. John Rudd, 10. Tom May, 9. Micky Young, 1.Micky Ward, 2. Rob Vickers, 3. David Wilson, 4. Tim Swinson, 5. Mark Sorenson, 6. Russell Winter, 7. Phil Dowson (c), 8. Adam Balding

16. Matt Thompson, 17. Johnny Williams, 18. Geoff Parking, 19. Ross Beattie, 20. Hall Charlton, 21. Rob Miller, 22. Tim Visser

Bath Rugby: 15. Joe Maddock, 14. Andrew Higgins, 13. Tom Cheeseman, 12. Shontayne Hape, 11. Matt Banahan, 10. Butch James, 9. Michael Claassens, 1. David Flatman, 2. Lee Mears, 3. Duncan Bell, 4. Justin Harrison, 5. Peter Short, 6. Andy Beattie, 7. Michael Lipman (c), 8. Stuart Hooper

16. Rob Hawkins, 17. Paulica Ion, 18. Jonny Faamatuainu, 19. James Scaysbrook, 20. Scott Bemand, 21. Ryan Davis, 22. Michael Stephenson

Referee: Andrew Small (RFU)

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