Bath see off Saracens for semi-final spot

Bath Rugby face an away match at Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership semi-finals after ending the regular season with victory over Saracens at The Rec.
Tries from Andrew Higgins, Peter Short and Matt Banahan - plus 18 points from the boot of Ryan Davis - set up the victory over Saracens.

Bath were made to fight for their win by a determined Saracens side, who tested Steve Meehan's men throughout a frantic clash which lasted 104 minutes in total.

And Bath's reward for finishing fourth in the Premiership after the 22-game regular season is a repeat of this season's Heineken Cup quarter-final away at the Walkers Stadium.

With Joe Maddock, Alex Crockett and Butch James all ruled out through injury, Bath head coach Steve Meehan put his faith in Higgins, Tom Cheeseman and Davis with his side needing two match points to guarantee a place in the semi-finals.

And Bath led 13-8 after an incident-packed opening half which - like the second half - lasted 52 minutes, after two sin-binnings for Saracens players and several stoppages for injury.

One of those unfortunately claimed Bath captain Michael Lipman, who hobbled off after only 13 minutes and was replaced by James Scaysbrook.

Bath fell behind inside the opening 30 seconds when possession was coughed up in midfield and Saracens flanker Andy Saull broke clear, before supplying the scoring pass to winger Chris Wyles. Glen Jackson missed the touchline conversion, so Saracens held a 5-0 lead.

Bath were then unable to capitalise on a couple of line-outs deep inside Saracens territory - but were also given a reprieve when the hesitant Jackson broke but delayed his pass, allowing Davis to force the visitors to concede possession.

A midfield flare-up saw Saracens lose prop Tom Mercey to the sin-bin - and fly-half Davis made no mistake from the 45-metre penalty to bring Bath to within two points at 5-3 after 17 minutes.

There was concern for Bath when both Lee Mears and Justin Harrison required attention from the physiotherapists at the same time - but the duo soldiered on and their side were soon in front.

Davis profited from another yellow card to a Saracens player, sending a 40-metre penalty between the posts after Hugh Vyvyan had been sin-binned for killing the ball.

With Mercey still off the field, Bath made the most of the two-man advantage, scoring a try through Higgins after patiently working through the phases. After Cheeseman, Banahan and Michael Claassens had all gone close, Davis sent a pass out to Higgins, who held off Noah Cato to extend Bath's lead to 11-5.

Davis, starting only his second Premiership match of the season, held his nerve with the conversion to see his side into a 13-5 lead after 29 minutes

But, on 32 minutes, Saracens were awarded their first penalty of the afternoon - at a scrum - and Jackson found the target to make it 13-8.

Bath hit back with another lengthy spell of possession, but referee Rob Debney brought a frantic opening period to a close after Davis' long pass to the left wing could only find touch.

The first score of the second half went to Saracens, after 48 minutes, when Jackson landed his second penalty of the game after Debney penalised Bath for handling at a ruck.

Bath's advantage was briefly cut to two points, but Davis landed his fourth successful shot at the sticks from four attempts to give his side a 16-11 lead after Saracens committed a ruck offence of their own.

Saracens then lost a man to the sin-bin for the third time in the match, Saull seeing yellow for a cynical late tackle on Nick Abendanon, who had kicked ahead and set off toward the try-line after a sweeping Bath move.

Bath almost scored from the line-out that followed, but were denied - even though Scaysbrook got the ball down over the line - for crossing.

Saracens failed to find touch, though, and Bath were soon celebrating their second try of the afternoon. Higgins and Abendanon combined to launch the attack, before the forwards took over, Duncan Bell and Justin Harrison sending Peter Short in to score under the posts.

Davis converted to take his personal points haul for the afternoon to 13 - and it was not long before his tally reached 16, finding the middle of the posts from a penalty after Saracens had infringed at a line-out.

Bath then lost both starting props, David Flatman and Bell, to injury - and following the first uncontested scrum, Saracens conjured a second try of the game.

They worked the ball from right wing to left, with Andy Farrell's long pass setting up Cato for the score. Jackson converted to leave 26-18 in front with 15 minutes to play.

Bath had another try ruled out for crossing, Davis getting the ball down on 69 minutes after some powerful work from the forwards, only to see his efforts denied.

They did manage to add a third, however, in the closing minutes when Banahan intercepted a loose Saracens pass deep inside the Bath 22 - and tore up-field to score. Davis landed his seventh successful kick at the posts from seven attempts to put the seal on a 33-18 victory.

Bath Rugby: 15. Nick Abendanon; 14. Andrew Higgins (rep Michael Stephenson 75 mins), 13. Tom Cheeseman (rep Shaun Berne 76 mins), 12. Shontayne Hape, 11. Matt Banahan; 10. Ryan Davis, 9. Michael Claassens (rep Scott Bemand 77 mins); 1. David Flatman (rep Rob Hawkins 63 mins), 2. Lee Mears (rep Jonny Faamatuainu 70), 3. Duncan Bell (rep Paulica Ion 63 mins), 4. Justin Harrison, 5. Peter Short, 6. Andy Beattie, 7. Michael Lipman (capt; rep James Scaysbrook, 13 mins), 8. Stuart Hooper. Replacements: 16. Rob Hawkins, 17. Paulica Ion, 18. Jonny Faamatuainu, 19. James Scaysbrook, 20. Scott Bemand, 21. Shaun Berne, 22. Michael Stephenson.
Scorers: Tries - Higgins, Short, Banahan. Conversions - Davis (3). Penalties - Davis (4).

Saracens: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Chris Wyles, 13. Adam Powell (rep Richard Haughton 69 mins), 12. Andy Farrell, 11. Noah Cato; 10. Glen Jackson, 9. Neil de Kock (rep Justin Marshall 52 mins); 1. Tom Mercey, 2. Alex Walker (rep Matt Cairns 61 mins), 3. Census Johnston (rep Cobus Visagie 69 mins), 4. Steve Borthwick (capt), 5. Hugh Vyvyan (rep Tom Ryder 59 mins), 6. Chris Jack (rep Cobus Visagie 18-29 mins; rep Don Barrell 42 mins), 7. Andy Saull, 8. Ben Skirving. Replacements: 16. Matt Cairns, 17. Cobus Visagie, 18. Tom Ryder, 19. Don Barrell, 20. Justin Marshall, 21. Gordon Ross, 22. Richard Haughton.
Scorers: Tries - Wyles, Cato. Conversion - Jackson. Penalties - Jackson (2).
Sin-binned: Mercey (16-29 mins), Vyvyan (24-34 mins), Saull (54-64 mins).

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