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Bath survive Saracens comeback to take maximum points

Bath were outstanding in the opening forty minutes of this match. Playing a great deal of flowing attacking rugby in what were dreadful conditions, Ashton's side looked simply irresistible. However, the visitors failed to push on from their 31-3 advantage at the interval, allowing Saracens to play to the strengths of their huge forward pack and make for a finale that was a lot more tense than anyone would have guessed in would be at half time.
Without six international players it was a much-changed Bath side that took to the Vicarage Road turf. Ashton had challenged his team to raise the bar from the Wasps performance and those who stepped in certainly did that in the opening forty minutes and will have given the head coach a thing or two to think about when it comes to selecting his squad for the visit of London Irish to the Rec on Saturday.

It took Bath just ten minutes in the pouring rain to pick up from where they had left off against Wasps. Capitalising on turn over ball, Nick Walshe's break took play into the Saracens twenty two before the scrum half passed inside to Frikkie Welsh for the firt try. With conditions under foot dodgy at best, Chris Malone coolly slotted over the conversion to give the visitors a healthy 7-0 lead.

Just three minutes later Bath had doubled their advantage. This time it was the outstanding Alex Crockett who proved to the catalyst for an excellent score. Noticing that Saracens had no one at home around the fringes, the centre hacked on a loose ball and gathered before flipping a scoring pass to second row James Hudson. Malone was again on target with the conversion.

Shell-shocked Saracens simply could not retain the ball for long enough to make inroads against a committed Bath defence, but Glenn Jackson did slot over a penalty to reduce the arrears, but it was to be a brief respite as Malone was soon lining up his third successful conversion.

After Zak Feaunati has wrestled the ball from Hugh Vyvyan, Andy Beattie made inroads into the Saracens twenty-two before Michael Lipman made a break. The flanker slipped but had enough awareness to pop the ball up to the supporting David Bory for an excellent try.

Crockett capped a superb individual first half performance by scoring Bath's fourth try - earning the club a valuable bonus point. David Bory's break took him close to the Saracens line and with the hosts' defence in tatters, Crockett picked up and muscled his way over the line.

Then came the fight back. Whilst Saracens were much more organised after the interval, you couldn't help but think that Bath made it a trifle easy for them. Reduced to twelve men at one point after the sin-binning of Flatman and Feaunati and an injury to Duncan Bell, Bath could not defend against the weight of the Saracens scrum in the slippery conditions. Referee Ashley Rowden awarded two penalty tries and a brace by youngster Stefan Armitage handed Saracens two bonus points.

For head coach Ashton it was an afternoon of mixed emotions. Delighted by his side's exquisite performance in a first half that reaped four tries, the Lancastrian would have been slightly alarmed by a second half where yellow cards to Zak Feaunati and David Flatman allowed the home side to take grip of the match.
"I'm delighted with four tries and the way we played in the first-half," he said. "We played with a lot of ambition and intelligence and I would have taken the win with a bonus point if anyone had asked me this morning. However, I am concerned about the sin-bins, the penalty tries and the way we allowed them to play to their strengths."

There will perhaps be more than a little to think about when the squad returns for training on Tuesday, but another win and an emphatic first half performance means that Bath fans have plenty to look forward to for the remainder of this season.

Saracens: Bartholomeusz; Scarbrough, Johnston, Sorrell, Vaikona; Jackson, Rauluni; Yates, Byrne, Broster; Raiwalui, Vyvyan; B Russell, Armitage, Skirving.

Replacements: Harris for Sorrell (40), Powell for Vaikona (56), Bracken for Rauluni (46), Cairns for Byrne (40), Visagie for Broster (40), Chesney for Vyvyan (32).
Not Used: Ryder.

Bath: Stephenson; Welsh, Crockett, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Bory; Malone, Walshe; Flatman, Dixon, Bell; Hudson, Short; Beattie, Lipman, Fea'unati.

Replacements: Fidler for Hudson (72), Filise for Lipman (58).

Not Used: Hawkins, Scaysbrook, Fulton, Dunne, Maddock.

Sin Bin: Flatman (58), Fea'unati (60).
Att: 6,731
Ref: Ashley Rowden (RFU).

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