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Tired Bath run out of steam

Despite leading 6-3 going into the sixth minute of injury time, Bath were ultimately unable to hold onto what was, so nearly, a narrow victory. This they let slip, along with replacement hooker Matt Holt, whose eleventh-hour try beside the posts served to add insult to Bath's season of injury.

That injury, destined to be added to later, had in fact been sustained by captain Jon Humphreys, whose swansong at the Recreation Ground was cut abruptly short two minutes in when he was forced off the pitch to receive treatment to his nose.

The commonly regarded Powergen Cup final rematch did, however, start off in Bath's favour - and a try looked possible early on, as Duncan Bell broke loose midway through the Leeds 22 in the early stages.

Leeds, though, fighting against relegation, also looked to open the scoring early on having earned a penalty in the 12th minute - but Gordon Ross's deep left-wing heave missed its target.

Bath Rugby got close again three minutes later and again in the 17th after taking control of the line-out inside the Tykes' 22, moving the ball from left to right through the backs and pushing the maul forward. A strong drive having been established, it then acted as a shield for Chris Malone to slot home his drop goal directly opposite the parallels and open the account, 3-0.

Bath subsequently made a couple of breaks into the pastures, one coming from outside centre Tom Cheeseman, who found himself quickly grounded by the same stubborn Leeds defence that had tested Bath to frustration at Twickenham two weeks earlier.

However, Bath would go on to steal three consecutive line-outs shortly thereafter. And it was their aggressive line-out play - their dominion for the whole contest - that would fuel the backs, and their pilot Chris Malone, who led a screeching drive into the centre of the Leeds 22 but was then penalised for not releasing the ball after the tackle.

Leeds were similarly penalised for not respecting the rules of the tackle on the stroke of normal time, when they were caught diving into the ruck. Olly Barkley capitalised, setting the ball down for his lofty kick from mid-left field which extended the score, 6-0 shortly before the interval.

The home side began the second act with sustained attacks at Leeds. They eventually gained a foothold of a scoring opportunity with a penalty on the five-metre line in the 12th minute. The resulting scrum saw the ball move out to the right for yet another breakdown, which was controlled and manoeuvred leftwards through Martyn Wood, Chris Malone and Olly Barkley, who spied a hole to chip ahead to Tom Cheeseman - but the outside centre missed the catch that could have set up a Bath try.

The chance to widen the gap gone for Bath, Leeds sought to close it two minutes later through Gordon Ross and Andre Snyman's penetrating two-man play, which ended in young left-winger Tom Biggs being pulled down and dragged into touch.

By half-way through the second period, it was obvious there was still plenty at stake for both sides. After much seesawing in possession over the next ten minutes, Leeds then made another threatening stab into the west country defence and were afforded a gift of a scoring opportunity when Bath conceded a penalty in the centre of their 22.

The tide was beginning to turn in the Tykes favour, as Gordon Ross's 37th minute penalty kept Leeds in contention and split the deficit, 6-3.

Spurred on by the continuing threat of relegation as time ticked on, Leeds continued to take the game right to Bath Rugby again into the 39th, number eight Alix Popham and Tom Biggs collaborating well on the left wing until Biggs fumbled his pass and dropped the ball out of play.

It was a lucky escape for the home team. Going into the 43rd minute, Bath would then kick themselves out of trouble again (as they had done throughout much of the game) through Chris Malone.

But unfortunately, it was Olly Barkley's kicking vision and invention which had heralded a potential score earlier that, two minutes later in crunch time, let him down. And so it was that in the 45th minute he saw his left foot slice wide an otherwise feasible penalty conversion.

It was a mistake that seemed to permanently loosen the home side's tenuous hold on the game.

Just sixty seconds later Leeds' second row substitute Jon Dunbar and scrum half Alan Dickens helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when they teamed up in dying moments for hooker Matt Holt's dramatic touchdown.

Bath could only then helplessly watch as Gordon Ross chipped the conversion that sealed the club's fate 10-6, and emphatically drew the curtain on Bath's final performance of the season, a performance where the home team had again, unwittingly, let the northern understudies steal the show.

15 Perry, 14 Williams, 13 Cheeseman, 12 Barkley, 11 Welsh, 10 Malone, 1 Barnes, 2 Humphreys (Mears), 3 Bell, 4 Hudson, 5 Grewcock, 6 Lewis, 7 Scaysbrook, 8 Delve.

Reps: 16 Mears, 17 Kok, 18 Goodman, 19 Fidler, 20 Booth, 21 Walshe, 22 Davis.

Points: Olly Barkley p, Chris Malone dg

Ref: Steve Lander
Att: 10, 500

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