Bath’s season is going from bad to worse after Saturday’s Guinness Premiership defeat at home to Newcastle – which was their sixth loss in eight matches in all competitions.
As so often, they led at the break but failed to press home the advantage against a confident and inventive Falcons side.
Kiwi fly-half Jimmy Gopperth tormented the home defence with his kicking out of hand, setting up the clinching try for full-back Charlie Amesbury with a clever dink off the outside of this foot. Half-back partner Micky Young was just as much of a handful, scoring the try of the game on the hour with an 80-metre intercept.
England scrummaging coach Graham Rowntree was in the stand to cast an eye over contenders among the Bath props for the clash with Australia, not only David Flatman and Duncan Bell but also David Barnes – taking his turn on the bench. With ex-All Black Carl Hayman leading the Falcons from tighthead, it was a true test of their front row credentials.
Repeated knock-ons robbed the first quarter of any shape or fluency, and the only clear-cut scoring chance was a 40-metre penalty which Gopperth sent wide. Former Bath lock James Hudson made an interception but in too much traffic to get away from defenders, and it took a covering tackle by home captain Michael Claassens to snuff out an attack featuring a strong run by right wing Danny Williams.
The deadlock was broken in the 24th minute after Nick Abendanon countered from Gopperth’s kick – supported by Julian Salvi, Claassens and Jonny Faamatuainu. Flatman set up the ruck, and Newcastle gave away a penalty converted by Nicky Little.
Almost straight from the restart, Bath added to their lead with a try by Matt Carraro. The ball was turned over at a ruck on the visitors’ 22, and Pieter Dixon fired out a long pass to the Australian centre – who squeezed in at the corner for an unconverted try.
Gopperth was wide with another penalty on 34 minutes. But just before the break, Little failed to hold Amesbury in a tackle – and the full-back wriggled away to score in the corner under a pile of bodies. Gopperth converted from the touchline to make the score 8-7 at the break.
The game suddenly came to life after the restart, Abendanon’s stunning counter-attack creating a try for captain Claassens after good support by Salvi and Carraro. But Little was again off target – and within three minutes Newcastle had cancelled it out with an unconverted try of their own, scored by James Hudson.
The home team then imploded, conceding 15 points in 10 minutes. First, Young intercepted a pass from Dixon in his own 22 to run in for a try converted by Gopperth – and although an increasingly desperate Bath responded with a drop goal by Ryan Davis, Gopperth kicked a penalty and then slid a delightful grubber kick through for Amesbury to score.