Bath Rugby v Saracens – A season defining game?

My lady who lunches status on a Friday has given me the chance to plan more sport watching!  In my world that’s utterly perfect, so I’m heading to Limerick, Paris and Cardiff before the end of November; rude not to I believe!  My 1st Friday away day took me to the beautiful city of Bath; I had company for my journey which is very unusual; and with huge apologies to Penny I must confess I missed my usual match preparation of singing the whole way at the top of my voice.  The trip was to say the least a little traumatic after a, hmmmmm, totally awful driver (I hesitated so I didn’t offend with a naughty word)  decided he’d pull into my lane before he’d passed me!  Something of an issue as he nearly took the front of my shiny BRIGHT RED!!!!  car off; an interesting driving stye but one I hope never to encounter again!  A timely swerve, is the only word, avoided the collision and we arrived in one piece.  Having a home ground seems to be making a difference to the Saracens fan base and friendships are being formed; a very nice late lunch was the forerunner to what had the promise to be a great game.  I’d only been to Bath once before and felt the need to introduce my camera to a few shots without a ball while I had the inclination; once in the ground it’d be sports shots all the way!  I do feel the need to share by the way!

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Bath Rugby had a great 2013/14 season and having interviewed Mike Ford and seen his squad train in August I’d felt certain they’d be in the Top 4 when the 2014/15 season had played out.  If that was to be the case it would be vital for them to beat the ‘big’ teams; especially at home.  Bath had opened their account with 3 wins out of 4 including a 45 nil drubbing of Leicester Tigers; their narrow loss against Northampton Saints saw them travel home with a losing bonus point.  Not a bad start at all!  Saracens had 4 wins under their belts; but having been at all 4 of those games I felt that the 4 wins could easily have been a different story.  Had I been a betting fan I must confess my money would have gone the way of the home team.  I was looking forward to my 1st Recreation Ground visit and a good hard fought game of rugby.  I’d set the game to record so I could firm up a few facts for this report and as I now sit and write it I’ve discovered I’ve managed to make it disappear!  So I write this from my notes while I’m watching the Rugby League Championship Grand Final – hope I don’t confuse myself!

George Ford started the game with Alex Goode returning the ball, he didn’t make touch but had a better kick 2nd time round.  In spite of the fact the tickets and all advertising clearly had the time of the game people were very late into their seats; and a criticism I would have of the very beautiful ground is that the seats in the large ‘temporary’ stand don’t afford a good view of the whole ground due to the lack of height.  That was exacerbated by those spectators without a watch!  A scrum was awarded in the Bath half early on and as is so often the way the players rose up and in this instance Saracens were awarded a penalty.  Charlie Hodgson stepped up to go for the 3 points; he hit the posts leaving the scores as they started.  Saracens went on the attack moments later with the ball in hand; but were halted after a forward pass by Hodgson to Billy Vunipola.  Another scrum, another penalty; this time the way of the home team.  Bath progressed with their attack and George Ford put in what was to be one of many effective kicks; Alex Goode appeared to be out of position and had little choice than to let the ball bounce; always a problematical situation with a ball shaped for rugby!  The ball bounced back towards the on rushing Bath players; but Duncan Taylor was the first to it.  Rather than catch the ball he batted it – well backwards – yet straight into Kyle Eastmond’s hands!  His centre partner was with him all the way and he slipped a pass to Jonathan Joseph who scored the 1st try to the delight of the home crowd!  George Ford added the extras to put Bath 7 ahead.

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David Strettle seemed to take the ball from the kick off but the ball was knocked on; Bath were awarded a free kick on the 2nd attempt at the scrum.  It seems to be becoming more and more unlikely that the ball will emerge cleanly from a ecru the first time; not a good thing from a spectator point of view; especially as it’s virtually impossible to see exactly what the problem is when penalties and free kicks are awarded!  The Bath attack from their scrum came to nothing as the ball was knocked on – meaning – another scrum.  Another scrum??  Yes, another penalty; this time for Saracens; Charlie Hodgson slotted the ball between the posts to close the gap to 4.  The intensity of the game became clear after Saracens were penalised for not rolling away; it seems that Jacques Burger felt he’d received rather more attention from Bath boots than he deemed acceptable as we had a small handbags affair.  The officials saw no problem and the penalty for Bath stood.  It was to be Ford who hit the posts on this occasion.  Neil De Kock was slightly awry with his clearing kick hitting it high rather than long and Bath were given another good attacking platform.  That platform turned into a points opportunity as Saracens were penalised in the line out.  Ford missed the posts by some distance with his kick.

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The next penalty went the way of Bath after David Strettle was adjudged to have interfered with the on-rushing Bath player as Saracens cleared their lines; without the benefit of a TV replay I can’t really comment on whether that was harsh; it’s a real gamble to touch a man in the air in any way; even if you pull away very quickly.  George Ford scored the 3 points this time.  Knock ons seemed to be a feature of the game as did penalties awarded form the resulting scrums – Billy Vunipola knocked on; Bath won the penalty for the next such set.  Ford kicked to touch then showed his evasive skills as he ran through at least 2 missed tackles setting up a strong Bath attack.  At times it can seem that Ford may be lacking the size needed by a top class fly half; but he certainly uses his feet and the benefits of being smaller than some of the opposition players to jink through the most unlikely spaces; it makes him very exciting to watch.  The first half had been a tight affair but definitely had Bath with more than a points advantage.  Alex Goode was able to close that points gap having made a great break himself; his team were awarded a penalty in front of the posts; a lucky break as the rest of the Saracens tam didn’t seem to be with Goode.  With Charlie Hodgson in need of medical attention Goode took the kick and scored 3 points.  Advantage however stayed with Bath as Chris Ashton was sent to the bin after going for an interception during a very promising Bath attack.  Deliberate knock on and yellow cards are generally friends and so it was the case for Ashton.  Home fans may have had a good argument for seeing a penalty try awarded but the result was a 3 point penalty kicked by George Ford.  The teams went in with the scores on Bath Rugby 13 Saracens 6.

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Charlie Hodgson restarted the game and Chris Cook kicked the ball to touch; we had an early scrum as George Kruis lost the ball in the lineout.  Bath went on the attack and at this point my notes mention a player I haven’t spoken about too much as yet, to repeat what I typed – ‘Kyle Eastmond looks brilliant! So fast!’ . I am most probably slightly biased having watched Eastmond play the ‘other’ code but he shines when he’s on the pitch and he had a great game!  I for one, hope he features in the white shirt of England in the Autumn Internationals.  After another scrum and free kick to Saracens, then a penalty miss by Ford after a Bath maul was pulled down; Eastmond was to get his reward, having been try maker he became try scorer as Bath surged forward with an overlap.  I must admit here, my notes say Gavin Henson missed the conversion; sitting here now I can’t recall him taking a kick but I can only presume I wasn’t going doo-lally!

Both teams had made several changes and to a degree Saracens looked livelier in the 2nd half for a while.  If I had to make a judgement I’d say that Bath had sussed out the Saracens style of play and kept them subdued for the largest part of the game.  The visitors were determined not to give up however and scored a  good try through Chris Wyles after Alex Goode had made a great pass to Chris Ashton, back on the pitch after his misdemeanour.  The kick was a tricky one for Goode and was missed.  George Ford who had a mixed game with his kicking; doing well with his positional kicks but missing points, however he added 3 with a penalty  after Saracens were again penalised in the lineout.  There were no further points added, but a couple of moments worthy of a mention; one such a very popular move by Gavin Henson; who looks in great shape; he handed off the rather larger Billy Vunipola with some ease.  I believe that Chris Ashton had another memorable moment, not in a good way, as he made a ‘tackle’ with his shoulder rather than his arms; again without the replay I can’t judge that with my on eyes, but I wonder if there may be ramifications if that was the case.  The game finished with the scores on Bath Rugby 21 Saracens 11.  Intent has been shown by the West Country team; they have their marque signing Sam Burgess to come yet.  He won’t feature for a while as he fractured his cheekbone in the NRL Grand Final and of course had to learn to play the game.  But, on the season so far?  A very satisfactory start for Bath!  They visit High Wycombe to take on Wasps next weekend, with their confidence high.  Saracens will have a week looking at where things went wrong and plan for the visit of a jubilant Gloucester visiting Allianz Park on the back of a good win against Leicester Tigers.  I do believe there will be no dull weekends during this years’ Premiership season!

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