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Malone brace secures vital victory

It was not their finest performance of the season, as coach Mike Foley eluded to after the match, but the Australian was happy at the way his team stuck at it throughout what was a scrappy contest to record a fourth successive victory.

"I am pleased that we are finding some form," commented Foley. "This is an incredibly spirited and hard working squad. This run of victories is as much down to the players and their work ethic as it is what myself and Richard (Graham) are doing as coaches."

Bath did not manage to replicate their all-encompassing form from a Cup campaign that has yielded ten tries in three matches this month, but the Guinness Premiership is an entirely different kettle of fish. Defences are more streetwise and with relegation looming over every club's approach to play, the matches are subsequently a lot less free-flowing.

Brian Ashton takes over the reins on New Years Day with his new club in a little form of late. The Lancastrian was in the capacity crowd yesterday and would have been pleased with some of Bath's more assertive back play, and in particular the outstanding contributions from Chris Malone and Olly Barkley.

As Foley was keen to point out, the pair have forged a rather fruitful axis in recent weeks and this was perhaps Malone's finest game for the club. A cool customer, he runs the show aptly alongside Barkley and the second of his brace of tries - a lovely arc around the cover and reach for the line - was the final nail in Worcester's coffin.

Malone is often written off as a top level ten, but time and time again, he proves that he can offer Bath Rugby a cool head, superb distribution and the odd incisive break. Barkley, Malone's partner in crime, was the other architect of Worcester's first home defeat of the season in the league. The centre, who is raising a few eyebrows within the England management, contributed twenty-one points and missed just one effort from nine kicks to severely punish frequent Worcester indiscipline.

The third factor was of course the forward effort. The backs may have been stealing the headlines of late, but against a Worcester pack that is increasingly building a formidable reputation, Bath's eight (or seven at one stage) were excellent. Danny Grewcock, Steve Borthwick and Michael Lipman had massive matches, but it was young Gareth Delve, the slick number eight, who was outstanding.

A fine performance by the Welshman was capped off by a seventy-metre sprint for the line after intercepting Dale Rasmussen's desperate pass.

Up until Malone and Delve crashed over in injury time it had been a tense affair with neither side getting the upper hand. Turnovers in the opening quarter cost Bath dearly as they could not convert excellent possession into points, whilst Worcester struggled to make simple passes go to hand.

The first half ended with the home side three points to the good after Shane Drahm's thirty-ninth minute penalty broke a deadlock that had been created after both side had registered a converted try.

Drahm had put early points on the board before he was charged down by Chris Malone who gathered to race under the posts for his first five pointer of the season. Barkley converted to put Bath's noses in front, but Worcester hit back with a penalty try as they attempted to rumble over from a five metre lineout.

Worse was to come for Bath as Duncan Bell was sent to the sin bin on the stroke of half time, but Worcester failed to capitalise after the interval and indeed in was Bath who drew first blood with two Barkley penalties to regain the lead.

Worcester responded with a period of sustained pressure which lead to a Kai Horstmann try in the corner, to nudge the home side in front, but thereafter it was all Bath. Worcester could find no way round or through a resolute Bath defence and after Olly Barkley's superb clearance to within eight metres of the home line, Gavin Hickie's throw was plucked off by Andy Beattie. Bath then probed and battered and eventually the pressure paid as Malone stretched an arm between the legs of an opponent to score under the posts.

The victory had been sealed, but Worcester searched for the bonus point and in their desperation inside the Bath twenty-two, a pass fell into the hands of Gareth Delve, who out-paced Thinus Delport over seventy-metres to add some icing on Bath's Christmas cake.

BATH: M Stephenson; J Maddock, A Crockett, O Barkley (3c,5p) S Finau (rep: A Higgins, 71); C Malone (2t), N Walshe (rep: A Williams, 76); D Barnes (rep: Bell, 64), L Mears (rep: P Dixon, 68), D Bell (sin bin 39-49; rep: M Stevens, 49), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, A Beattie, M Lipman (rep: Stevens 41-50), G Delve (1t).

Referee: S Davey.

Attendance: 9,726.

Man of the Match: Chris Malone.

Scoring sequence: 2 mins: Drahm pen 3-0 16 mins: Malone try, Barkley con 3-7 33 mins: Penalty try, Drahm con 10-7 38 mins: Barkley pen 10-10 39 mins: Drahm pen 13-10 43 mins: Barkley pen 13-13 48 mins: Barkley pen 13-16 50 mins: Horstmann try 18-16 53 mins: Barkley pen 18-19 61 mins: Barkley pen 18-22 76 mins: Malone try, Barkley con 18-29 79 mins: Delve try, Barkley con 18-36

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