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BBC Sport's Alistair Hignell
"This was a pretty average match."
 real 14k

Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Bath ground flat Falcons
Ian Blashaw
Balshaw made some decisive breaks for Bath
Bath 18-9 Newcastle

Bath are through to the Premiership play-off semi-finals but it was a less than convincing display at the Recreation Ground.

Tries from flanker Angus Gardiner and centre Shaun Berne ensured the victory but, in all, it was an erratic Bath performance.

Full-back Matt Perry kicked two penalties and a conversion - but missed four kicks at goal - while Dave Walder's penalty hat-trick for the Falcons was never going to be enough.

The early exchanges were dominated by the forwards and it was Bath's ability to keep ball-in-hand that produced a spectacular reward on 21 minutes.

In what could be a contender for try-of-the-season, England star Iain Balshaw raced clear from deep inside his own half and superb support from lock Mark Gabey and hooker Andy Long ensured momentum was maintained.

Perry's kicking woes

Fly-half Mike Catt and centre Kevin Maggs then provided an incisive midfield link, which allowed Gardiner to finish off a breathtaking 80-metre move.

Perry's kicking woes continued when he missed the conversion and Walder reduced the arrears to 5-3 when Bath strayed offside.

Gardiner, though, quickly went from hero to villain, blatantly killing possession in the shadow of Bath's posts and referee Robin Goodliffe had no hesitation sending him to the sin-bin.

Walder slotted the simple penalty, edging Falcons closer.

But even with Gardiner still off Bath managed to stretch the Newcastle defence right and left before Falcons ran out of numbers and centre Maggs sent his unmarked midfield partner Berne sprinting over.

Bath to make signings

The visitors cut their deficit on 48 minutes through another Walder penalty.

But Perry responded with 10 minutes remaining, putting Bath nine points clear.

Falcons threw everything at Bath during the closing minutes but they could not breach a well-organised home defence.

Afterwards, Bath coach Jon Callard, said he was already looking forward to next season.

"We have got to supplement the squad - hopefully, there are at least three people coming in," he said.

"Jon Preston is leaving and Dan Lyle hopes to get UK residency, so there could be scope for two overseas players.

'Blood and tears'

"We need to be more clinical, with our strike-rate around 98% or 99%, but I was pleased with our defence today", he added.

Bath have already qualified for next season's Heineken Cup through their third-place Premiership finish, and Newcastle should also be certain of Europe if Wasps beat Gloucester at Loftus Road tomorrow.

"I have no doubt that we can compete in Europe, although we would need a bit more firepower in the forwards," said Newcastle rugby director Rob Andrew.

"Our set-piece play is good, and our back-line is developing nicely. Today was a very tight game, but two little mistakes cost us 10 points, and you cannot afford to do that.

"You can sweat blood and tears for 80-odd minutes, and then one stupid technical error can make a difference."

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