Stephenson drop earns Bath valuable draw at the Rec

After the mauling at the Madejski Stadium, the prospect of facing a Saracens side that were at the top of their game after five straight wins, was always going to be a difficult one. Missing five England players, Salesi Finau and Chris Malone, Frikkie Welsh, David Flatman and Martyn Wood through injury, the odds were stacked against John Connoly's side before referee Rowden had whistled for kick-off.
In a fractious first half that saw Bath's Rob Fidler and Saracens' Cobus Visagie sin binned, the game failed to ignite in terms of rugby played. Glenn Jackson opened the scoring for Saracens with a penalty after Kevin Sorrell was hauled down close to the line following a fine rolling maul, but Bath's response was immediate as Andy Dunne hit back with two penalties after Saracens were twice found guilty of killing the ball inside their twenty-two.

After their problems in the lineout last weekend, an improved performance in that area was demanded of the home side, but without the influential Steve Borthwick and Danny Grewcock, Bath's primary possession was somewhat stifled by a Saracens side that currently has the best lineout in the Guinness Premiership.

Saracens came closest to a score six minutes from the interval when Richard Haughton slipped past two defenders. With the in-form Dan Scarbrough outside him a score beckoned for the full back, but he couldn't hold on to the simple pass. It was a big opportunity missed.

Unable to finish with their backs, Saracens forwards took the initiative and only some superb defence from the home side in thwarting three successive catch and drives from close range kept the visitors at bay. Frustrated at being unable to make their good possession count, Saracens had to make do with a second Glenn Jackson penalty to level the scores on the stroke of half time.

Bath started the second half well and profited from Saracens' mistakes to launch a series of surges deep inside the visitor's twenty-two. However, a promising attack came to nothing when Andy Dunne pushed a drop goal attempt just wide.

After weathering the storm, Saracens themselves surged into the Bath twenty-two and it took a terrific defencive effort from the Bath pack and David Barnes in particular to keep the visitors out. However, the visitors did finally make their pressure count when Glenn Jackson struck over his third penalty.

Starved of possession, Bath's defencive effort was phenomenal. They chased and ushered everything, whilst Lee Best's boot at full back was a relieving presence. Such efforts lifted the Bath side inside the final quarter of the match and Andy Dunne kept the home side in the game with a penalty inside the Saracens twenty-two after thunderous drives from Andy Beattie and Peter Short. Spurred on, Bath were suddenly able to gain parity in the possession stakes and continued to mount some pressure. After a wonderful move involving both forwards and backs was ended, Michael Stephenson, returning from a knee injury, dropped a long range goal to seal the draw.

Bath Rugby: 15 Lee Best, 14 Joe Maddock, 13 Andy Higgins, 12 Alex Crockett, 11 Michael Stephenson (dg), 10 Andy Dunne (3p), 9 Nick Walshe (Andy Williams 23), 1 David Barnes, 2 Pieter Dixon, 3 Duncan Bell, 4 Peter Short (Delve, 59), 5 Rob Fidler, 6 Andy Beattie, 7 Michael Lipman (Scaysbrook, 59), 8 Zak Feaunati (capt)

16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Chris Loader, 18 Gareth Delve, 19 James Scaysbrook, 20 Andy Williams, 21 Tom Cheeseman, 22 Dan Smith

Saracens: 15 Dan Scarbrough, 14 Richard Haughton, 13 Mark Bartholomeusz, 12 Kevin Sorrell, 11 Paul Bailey (Vaikona, 48), 10 Glen Jackson (3p), 9 Kyran Bracken (Dickens, 57), 1 Kevin Yates (Broster, 67), 2 Matt Cairns, 3 Cobus Visagie, 4 Simon Raiwalui (Chesney, 45), 5 Iain Fullarton (Raiwalui, 57), 6 Hugh Vyvyan (capt), 7 David Seymour (Russell, 73), 8 Ben Skirving

16 Andy Kyriacou, 17 Ben Broster, 18 Kris Chesney, 19 Ben T Russell, 20 Alan Dickens, 21 Tevita Vaikona, 22 Ben J Russell

Ref: Ashley Rowden
Cards: Visagie, Fidler
Att: 10,348

Bath Moon and Sixpence Man of the Match: David Barnes.
The Bath loosehead was outstanding in defence and carried the ball well throughout this tight Guinness Premiership encounter at the Rec.

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