Bath scrape home against resurgent Leeds
January 8, 2011
Bath's Jack Cuthbert tests the Leeds defence
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Bath halted Leeds' mini-revival with a hard-fought 16-13 victory at the Rec on Saturday.
A spectacular Nick Abendanon try straight after half-time helped earn the off-colour home side their second win in eight days following a narrow away victory over London Irish last time out. Abendanon latched onto a cleverly-disguised inside pass from fly-half Butch James and outpaced the cover, rolling over to touch down as he was caught on the line. Olly Barkley converted and also added three penalties to the victors' total.
Otherwise it was another patchy performance from Bath, who failed to subdue the Leeds pack as easily as they had overcome the Exiles on New Year's Day. It was a frustrating afternoon for the Premiership's bottom side, who had plenty of possession and territory but were unable to notch their second win of the campaign after beating Gloucester last weekend.
Bath skipper Luke Watson had been struggling with a foot injury all week and pulled out just before kick-off, to be replaced by Ben Skirving, while Leeds arrived with an unchanged starting line-up including try scorer Michael Stephenson and No.8 Daniel Browne - both released by Bath last summer.
Despite talk of Bath 'narrowing' their game to win ugly when necessary, they opened up with plenty of pace and width, but could not finish off. Eventually Barkley kicked a 10th-minute penalty from 40 metres. Leeds survived the onslaught to string together several phases at the other end, until James was able to relieve the pressure by hacking clear and Scott Barrow knocked on.
The visitors were quickly back on the attack but James opened his box of tricks with a deft chip over their defensive line from inside his own 22 and Barkley gathered to gain 60 metres with a rolling kick. On 25 minutes, Leeds' persistence - and Bath infringements - earned Ceiron Thomas the chance to level the scores from 30 metres.
Bath nearly scored from the restart as Matt Banahan was brought down inches from the line. Visiting scrum-half Warren Fury was then yellow-carded for killing the ball, leaving his team-mates to defend desperately as prop David Barnes was cut down under the posts.
It looked grim for the 14 men of Leeds when half-back partner Lachlan MacKay was then forced off with an injury but Bath continued to butcher try-scoring opportunities. Just before Fury returned from the sin-bin, Barrow put his side ahead with a drop-goal - fair reward for the bottom club's spirit and competitiveness at the breakdown. The lead lasted only six minutes, however, as Barkley landed a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Within 60 seconds of the resumption, Bath shrugged off the mid-winter blues with Abendanon's classy score. Leeds could quickly have gone further behind but Bath failed to finish off spectacular breaks from long range, first by Skirving and then fullback Jack Cuthbert. Instead they found themselves back on the defensive and a knock-on by Cuthbert allowed Leeds to set up camp in the corner and England hooker Steve Thompson eventually peeled off a maul to score.
Thomas added the conversion to bring the sides level at 13-13 and replacement Alfie To'oala nearly created a second five minutes later but the cover closed in on Luther Burrell just in time. Instead it was Bath who regained the lead through the boot of Barkley on 68 minutes. While Abendanon whirled and wheeled in search of an opening, James and Barkley resorted to a more pragmatic approach, skidding kicks into the corners to keep the opposition pinned into their 22.
The effort had clearly drained Leeds and their scrum was suddenly shunted back and went to ground, conceding a penalty, but Barkley's long-range kick fell short.
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