Bath heap woe on London Irish
January 1, 2011
Bath flanker Lewis Moody puts the Exiles under pressure
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A last-gasp penalty from centre Olly Barkley saw Bath snatch a narrow 25-24 victory over London Irish in their Aviva Premiership clash at the Madejski Stadium.
Tries from winger Sailosi Tagicakibau and flanker Richard Thorpe and the boot of fly-half Chris Malone put Irish in control at the break with Barkley keeping his side in touch with three penalties. A try from scrum-half Michael Claassens and Barkley's accuracy propelled Bath into the lead in the second half before Irish wing Topsy Ojo crossed for the home side to put them back on course for the win. But Barkley, who finished with a decisive 20-point haul, had the final say and condemned Irish to their ninth straight defeat in all competitions with the last kick of the game.
Irish made a lively start to the game and were rewarded with the first try of the game with just two minutes on the clock. Pressure from flanker Steffon Armitage in midfield forced the ball loose and centre Daniel Bowden led the charge before Malone lofted a pass out wide to Tagicakibau who showed great pace and strength to do down in the corner. Malone cemented the home side's lead with the conversion from out wide and extended their advantage from the kicking tee a few minutes later after Bath captain and man of the match Luke Watson was penalised for coming in at the side of a ruck.
Errors plagued Bath's best efforts to battle their way back into the game and halt their own five-game losing streak and when they did retain possession they found the Irish defence up to the task of shackling them. And Bath's indiscipline almost cost them another three points midway through the half with a long-range penalty from fullback Delon Armitage narrowly missing the uprights in a stark warning to the visitors.
Bath responded with their best spell of the game to take the ball deep into the Exiles' 22 and although the forwards were thwarted in their attempts to cross the line they were awarded a kickable penalty that Barkley could only push wide of the posts. But he was given a chance to redeem himself moments late and did just that with a sweetly struck kick from just inside the Irish half. A great chase from Bath then had Irish fullback Delon Armitage in trouble and when he was subsequently penalised for not releasing Barkley stepped up to reduce the arrears with his second successful kick.
But it appeared to spark Irish back into life with Thorpe squeezing home in to the corner for his side's second try. No.8 George Stowers and outside centre Elvis Seveali'I combined well in midfield to put Delon Armitage away down the touchline. The fullback then exploited Bath wing Matt Banahan's decision to come inside looking for an interception and his burst of pace drew the tackle of Bath No.15 Jack Cuthbert before the scoring pass found Thorpe on his inside. Malone added the conversion but Bath had the final say of the half with Barkley's third penalty making it an eight-point game as they headed to the tunnel.
A great touch-finder from Bath fly-half Butch James laid the platform for the first real opportunity of the second half and his forwards threw their considerable weight behind the ball to take the game to within inches of the Irish line. The home side's defence held firm and while Bath were handed an attacking scrum in the shadow of the posts their hopes were dashed by a knock on by flanker Lewis Moody.
Bath were soon knocking on the door again with another spell of pressure resulting in a penalty after Irish were guilty of pulling down a maul. The visitors gambled by kicking to the corner for the lineout instead of taking a shot at the posts and it paid off to a certain degree with Thorpe shown a yellow card for coming in from the side as Bath closed in on the line.
The lineout was the chosen option once again and the forwards then rumbled the ball forward but failed to breach a determined defence through an epic series of phases and had to settle for a scrum after the Television Match Official ruled that Irish hooker James Buckland had denied Bath No.8 Simon Taylor a score. But the pressure finally told at the next scrum with another strong run from Taylor opening the door for Claassens to snipe through and touchdown for the score. Barkley's conversion reduced the deficit to a single point as the game entered the final quarter. And Bath had the lead just past the hour mark with Barkley adding to his tally following a scrum penalty against Irish.
Malone then made way for Irish with Seilala Mapasua entering the fray and Daniel Bowden switching to No.10 and the Kiwi made an immediate impact in his new role to take his side into the Bath 22 for the first time in the half. And it got even better for the hosts just a couple of minutes later with Bowden putting Ojo away in midfield and the winger brushed the cover defence aside to dive over under the posts.
Bowden's conversion put Irish in control of the contest but Bath were soon back in striking range when Barkley punished Steffon Armitage for going off his feet at a ruck. The visitors pressed for a game-changing score and were rewarded with a penalty right in front of the posts with replacement Bob Casey and Steffon Armitage pin-pointed by the referee before Barkley stepped up to slot the match-winning kick with the last act of a see-saw encounter.
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