Bath hammer Leeds to go top

Bath surged to the top of the Guinness Premiership table for the first time in three years with a resounding 41-10 bonus point victory over struggling Leeds Carnegie at the Recreation Ground.

Steve Meehan's side, who were just one point adrift of west country rivals Gloucester heading into the match on Saturday afternoon, were in impressive form, scoring five tries in a complete performance bristling with pace, power and attacking intention that underlined their title credentials.

Bath started the match as they had done the week before against Albi and it took just one minute for the scoreboard to register the first of the home side's five tries. Having stretched the Leeds defence with a sweeping move that covered the breadth of the pitch, Butch James, Olly Barkley and Daniel Browne combined to release Matt Banahan from fifteen metres out. The powerful winger, who has developed a nose for the try line this season, needed no second invitation and powered over in the corner for a superb opening score. Barkley's touchline conversion handed Bath the perfect start.

Though dominant in the opening quarter having set up camp in the Leeds 22 on numerous occasions, Bath did find it difficult to get into their stride and were unable to unlock a committed Leeds defence and find pathway through to the try line for a second score. Instead the home side had to be contented to extend their lead through the boot of Olly Barkley, who kicked Bath to a 13-3 half time lead.

Conscious that every point would count in the Premiership title race, Bath piled on the pressure in the second half and took just three minutes to return to try-scoring form as Matt Banahan crossed for his second five-pointer of the afternoon. The giant winger, who has made quite an impression for his club this season, was the beneficiary of a superb passage of play from the home side which started deep inside their own 22 and culminated with the try being scored under the posts. Barkley, impeccable with the boot, slotted over the extras to give his side a healthy 20-3 lead.

If Bath's second try was impressive, then the third was undoubtedly the moment of the game. Sparked by an electric break by Nick Abendanon in the shadow of his own posts, Bath stormed up field in breathtaking passage of expansive play that demonstrated just why Steve Meehan's side are troubling opposition this season. Forwards and backs combined with seamless ease to rip holes in a bewildered Leeds defence, before Michael Claassens, who had an immense game, completed the move under the posts much to the delight of the Rec faithful. Barkley's routine conversion stretched the lead to 27-3 and Bath were cruising.

Banahan completed his hat-trick three minutes later with a finish that was every bit as good as his first. Once again Bath showed impressive handling skills with Lee Mears, Andy Beattie, Matt Stevens all looking comfortable playing in the outside backs before Butch James and Alex Crockett combined before Banahan swatted away two would be tacklers to power over the line once more to secure the all-important try bonus point. Barkley's conversion pushed the lead to a buffer of over 30 points.

Entering the final quarter with victory already secured and with one eye on the Wasps clash the following weekend, Steve Meehan threw on four pairs of fresh legs to bolster the Bath attack with Martin Purdy and Lee Dixon immediately making an impression.

Despite the fresh impetus it was Leeds who finally secured the consolation try that they so desperately sought. Subjected to phenomenal pressure all afternoon, the Yorkshiremen were forced to live off scraps, but from a rare turnover inside their own territory, former England A winger Tom Biggs burst down the touchline to beat Nick Abendanon's despairing tackle to score in the corner. Alberto De Bernardo added the extras to take the scores to 34-10 with ten minutes left on the clock.

Any thoughts of a Leeds revival were immediately thwarted as Bath ratcheted up the pressure once again. The home side were camped inside the opposition 22 for the final ten minutes, but appeared not to be able to find a breakthrough until Barkley's moment of magic on the stroke of full time.

Noticing that a tiring Leeds defence was up flat, the England centre executed with precision a delicate chip through for Nick Abendanon to gather and round off yet another impressive passage of play by Bath. Barkley's conversion wrapped-up another impressive home performance to make the final score 41-10.

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