Bath scrape past game Saints
December 27, 2008
Matt Banahan coasts in to score Bath's opening try
© Getty Images
Bath climbed back to the top of the Guinness Premiership table with a less-than-convincing win over Northampton.
Saints enjoyed plenty of possession but did not possess a cutting edge to open up the home defence until the final minute when lock Juandre Kruger crossed in the corner. It was another South African, Bath scrum-half Michael Claasens, who was man-of-the-match, scoring two tries and relishing the physical contest around the breakdown.
Bath's first try came in the second minute when Matt Banahan latched on to Butch James's grubber kick. Stephen Myler sent a 50m penalty kick wide at the other end for the visitors but made amends with a more straightforward effort on 14 minutes, only for Bath fly-half Butch James to reply almost immediately.
The home side, out of sorts in a last-gasp win over Sale last week at the Recreation Ground, again were guilty of sloppy work, neglecting to protect the scraps of possession allowed them by the lively Northampton pack.
Dylan Hartley, looking to prove a point against England's hooker in residence, Lee Mears, was held just short of the line on 19 minutes but when Bath prop David Flatman was penalised at the resulting scrum, Myler made it 10-6 with his second penalty. James slotted over a penalty after the visitors were offside at a ruck but there was a scare for Bath when the Springbok had a clearance kick charged down at the other end. It was only Joe Maddock's alertness that denied Myler the try.
Despite all the possession and territory they could have wanted, Saints could not open up the unyielding Bath defence. Full-back Jack Cuthbert, struggling to field Myler's high kicks in the biting wind, fared no better when called up for a long-range kick on the half-time whistle. Myler pulled the score back to 13-9 soon after the restart with a 45m penalty but Bath latched on to a fumble by Saints' skipper Bruce Reihana to work their way within striking distance of the visitors' line. Saints conceded two scrums and a free-kick before Claasens dived through a gap and stretched out an arm to score.
James could not convert but Myler was finding it no easier and missed a penalty to leave his side nine points adrift going into the last 15 minutes. After Bath introduced Justin Harrison and Daniel Browne off the bench they suddenly had the advantage up front and it was Northampton who were struggling for parity.
It was no surprise then that Claasens claimed his second try on 74 minutes off the back of a scrum, James converting. They might have hoped for a bonus point try but Saints came back with a consolation for Kruger collecting Myler's chip.
"I don't think we will be overly pleased with that performance," said Bath boss Steve Meehan. "There were improvements in certain areas compared with last weekend's win over Sale. Individually there were some fine performances but there is more to work on."
Meehan was quick to praise the physicality and performance of his match-winning scrum-half Claassens. "That was his best performance for some weeks," he said. "He's like an extra back rower in that he has the ability to get to the breakdown but he's been looking for scoring opportunities. His tries today, though, were also the result of good work by his forwards."
Northampton Head Coach Jim Mallinder was disappointed not to register any points at the Rec. "If you look at the tries, their first was a bit soft. In the first 15 minutes today we weren't quite at the races," he said. "It was frustrating to come away with nothing. It's little things - every time we scored we then seemed to concede. But Bath are a good side with good strong forwards."
Bath: Cuthbert; Maddock, Crockett, Hape, Banahan; James, Claassens; Flatman, Mears, Stevens, Hooper, Short, Beattie, Lipman, Faamatuainu.
Replacements: Fuimaono-Sapolu for Hape (61), Higgins for Banahan (63), Bemand for Claassens (75), Dixon for Mears (68), Bell for Stevens (75), Harrison for Hooper (68), Browne for Faamatuainu (61).
Northampton: Reihana; Diggin, Clarke, Downey, Lamont; Myler, Dickson, Tonga'uiha, Hartley, Murray, Fernandez Lobbe, Kruger, Easter, S Gray, Wilson.
Replacements: Spencer for Myler (70), Foden for Dickson (55), Smith for Tonga'uiha (66), Day for Fernandez Lobbe (66), Hopley for Easter (70). Not Used: Shields, Mayor.
Ref: Andrew Small (RFU).
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery
"England remind me of a PlayStation rugby team," John Mitchell on tactics and the search for a first-choice fly-half ahead of the World Cup
Augustine Pulu will return home with little more than 20 minutes rugby in one month on tour. It is time for more midweek games writes Craig Dowd
Samoa's Sivi Tau says the team "come completely prepared", the reality is a world away. Seilala Mapusua on Samoa and building a future