Gap to big guns dis­played

Bath Chronicle - - SPORT -

Ig­nore the fact Bath Rugby are up to sixth in the Premier­ship ta­ble. If any game showed they be­long in the bat­tle of the bot­tom-feed­ers rather than the tank with the big fish, this was it. The Sharks didn’t live up to their moniker ei­ther. They too are more at home in the ridicu­lously tight bat­tle be­tween mid-ta­ble and the rel­e­ga­tion spot than any loftier ri­val­ries. A match which threat­ened to be a 0-0 bore sparked into life in the se­cond half at least, when Sharks No8 Jean-luc du Preez scored and his brother Rob con­verted. As the clock ticked down and the rain con­tin­ued to fall, Bath needed a spark from some­where to get any­thing out of the con­test and it came from Cooper Vuna off the bench. James Wil­son found him with a lovely miss-pass, he stepped Denny Solomona a treat, breezed past Sam James and had the aware­ness to chip in-field to the scream­ing Joe Cokanasiga to fin­ish. Fel­low re­place­ment Wil­son coolly slot­ted the ex­tras to de­liver two points which some­how saw Bath leap up from tenth in the ta­ble. The sup­port­ers who braved the Win­ter rain were not happy with the per­for­mance though, and rightly so. De­spite hav­ing 66 per cent pos­ses­sion, 69 per cent ter­ri­tory and the edge in the scrums, the hosts didn’t score a sin­gle point un­til the 73rd minute. The wet weather did make play dif­fi­cult, but Bath’s at­tack was still pre­dictable, pedes­trian and pon­der­ous. One-out, round-the-cor­ner rugby which the Sharks’ tack­lers lapped up with dou­ble hits. They knocked car­ri­ers back, slowed down ball and even when there was a sniff of a more ex­pan­sive op­por­tu­nity Kahn Fo­tu­ali’i – mak­ing his first start of an in­jury­hit sea­son – lacked the ur­gency to de­liver it. Out­side him there were static car­ri­ers again, lit­tle cre­ativ­ity and, other than the driv­ing mauls, the vis­i­tors didn’t have much trou­ble in keep­ing the hosts at bay. Fred­die Burns put in a cou­ple of good tac­ti­cal kicks but, over­all, Bath rarely caused the vis­i­tors prob­lems in that de­part­ment. Burns had a long-range shot at goal early on but dragged it wide. Rob du Preez re­ally should have pun­ished a Fran­cois Louw in­fringe­ment but shanked his kick. Bath picked up plenty of penal­ties – mostly from scrums – but rather than have a shot at goal from out wide to at least take the lead, they went for more set-piece at­tacks. Sharks con­tin­ued to in­fringe, Bath kept ham­mer­ing away, but af­ter about 15 phases of closerange car­ries a poor Fo­tu­ali’i pass was scooped up by the Sharks. But for an un­favourable bounce, Cokanasiga would have latched on to a neat cross­field punt from Jackson Wil­li­son and scored. Solomona came even closer when a kick over the top caught Cokanasiga by sur­prise, his op­po­site man out­paced him and gath­ered the ball su­perbly, only to lose con­trol of it as he was tack­led by Cokanasiga and slid over the line. Score­less at the break, Bath needed to fire into the se­cond half but it was the Sharks who had the bite. The hosts fell off tack­les, con­ceded penal­ties and within min­utes they were de­fend­ing their line. That was when Jean-luc du Preez evaded Sam Un­der­hill to put his side in front. The Un­der­hill-louw axis had some ben­e­fits. They were a nui­sance when the pos­ses­sion-starved Sharks did get some ball, but nei­ther of­fered a great deal of threat go­ing for­ward and Zach Mercer – seem­ingly ham­pered by a strapped – knee, was well shack­led by the red wall in front of him. Af­ter Burns had strug­gled to get the back­line on the front foot, Wil­son added some spark late on, but he too missed a long-range, cen­tral penalty which could have proved the dif­fer­ence. Ruar­idh Mc­connochie equipped him­self well on his first start at full­back and Wil­li­son had a good all­round game. A draw ended up a de­cent re­sult for Sale and takes them off the bot­tom of the ta­ble. For Bath’s longterm am­bi­tions of climb­ing the ta­ble it wasn’t enough. Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Le­in­ster – the next vis­i­tors to the Rec who have been de­mol­ish­ing Welsh provinces for fun with their se­cond string – will not be quak­ing in their col­lec­tive boots.

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