Freddie Burns leads Bath to messy win away at declining Wasps
Bumper crowds do not always coincide with brilliant rugby matches. The Coventry multitude of 31,626 were consigned to a bitty mess of breakdown and scrum penalties, not that Bath will care too much as their fly-half Freddie Burns steered them through the holiday traffic with a man-of-the-match performance of personal redemption.
Burns suffered a much-publicised and ridiculed blip against Toulouse at The Rec earlier this season, when he had the ball knocked from his grasp with a simple try in the offing, so a nicely-taken score and 19 points overall in this win that moved Bath up to sixth in the Premiership was bound to put a smile on the fly-half's face. “I was just happy I put the ball down, it was a good monkey off the back,” Burns said. “Everyone mucked in. I get the glory of scoring the try but what a team effort to keep Wasps out at the end.”
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It was the highest Premiership attendance outside Twickenham this season – although it should be said no other club has a venue of this size – and just under 400 short of the ground record set in May 2015. And the cheers were cacophonous when Wasps charged in pursuit of a comeback, as they trailed 24-14 going into the final quarter. But no points came of it, and while they clung on to the fourth title play-off spot in the Premiership, you wonder how morale will hold up amid conjecture they might lose top players including Elliot Daly and Nathan Hughes next summer.
Bath have had an up-and-down campaign – with star backs Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Joe Cokanasiga among their injured – but their collective spirit was superb here. The work-rate of Bath's England flanker Sam Underhill was spectacular, and Henry Thomas, the tighthead, handled like an inside centre, including in the move that led to the opening try after 25 minutes, when a set play switched from a line-out into midfield and back again, Wasps were hugely outnumbered and Burns motored serenely through a gap.
Bath were 14-9 up by half-time, with three penalties each for Burns and his opposite number Billy Searle. The lead stretched to 15 points with a try by scrum-half and stand-in captain Will Chudley on the end of 19 phases in the 54th minute, although Wasps replied quickly when their Wales flanker Thomas Young peeled off a line-out maul.
Wasps then had a series of mini-boosts, as Lima Sopoaga came on to fling some daring flat passes, Bath had a possible try ruled out for a double movement by Nathan Catt, and a scrum penalty put the home team on the front foot. But Wasps' pack lacked the oomph to force Bath back at a five-metre line-out, and in the meantime they lost prop Kieran Brookes to what looked a badly damaged left ankle.
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Wasps have lost four of their last five league matches, and director of rugby Dai Young said: “It was hugely disappointing and the buck starts and ends with me. It is my responsibility to turn this round. Confidence is low. We're not asking enough questions and we're lacking control. We let the supporters down and I'm gutted for them.”
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