Rugby Union: Bath See Bristol Fall Down the Drain ; Bath 24 Newcastle 12 Tries: Balshaw, Voyce, N Thomas Pens: Wilkinson 2 Cons: Barkley 3 Drops: Wilkinson 2 Pen: Barkley Half-Time: 14-9 Attendance: 8,200; the Relegation Issue - Carnival Time at the Rec as Points Difference Separates West Country Rivals

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In the end, if of course this is the end, Bath kept their neck above the Plimsoll line, condemning their neighbours Bristol to bottom place in the Zurich Premiership, on points difference.

There was a huge roar at a very nervous Rec the moment the home team had beaten Newcastle, and an even louder reaction seconds later, when the result from down the M4 at Reading confirmed that Bath had sidestepped the trapdoor.

Before the start the atmosphere here, with a drumbeat providing a black backcloth, was almost akin to that of a public execution. An hour and a half later it was carnival city.

Bath's victory and Bristol's 20-point defeat to London Irish meant that both clubs finished with 36 league points. They could not be separated on the number of games won - both had seven - so it came down to points difference, which Bath "won" by 24 points.

So it is impoverished Bristol relegated to National League One, except that their owner Malcolm Pearce wants to avoid that ruinous route by sticking his feet in at Bath. It is a merger nobody wants except Pearce, maybe his Bath counterpart Andrew Brownsword and the Premiership itself.

Before the game Michael Foley, Bath's Australian coach, was reminded that Newcastle had bought their way out of the relegation dogfight by importing half-a-dozen overseas players in the latter half of the season. "We would have considered doing the same," Foley said, "but we were not in a position to do so."

So much for loyalty. In the event, the players saved Brownsword from producing his chequebook with an invaluable victory by three goals and a penalty to two penalties and two drop-goals: Bath 24, Jonny Wilkinson 12.

After Newcastle had opened up a 6-0 lead after 10 minutes through Wilkinson's boot, they wasted all the good work with a bizarre passage of play. The England stand-off, who had opened with a drop- goal, had just landed a penalty when he elected to run from the resultant kick-off.

When it reached Tom May on the right wing he was in no fit state to receive it, and suddenly pulled up with a leg injury. May threw away possession and Iain Balshaw, making yet another belated return from injury, was able to accelerate past the hooker Nick Makin for a try at the posts. Olly Barkley, who had earlier spurned a penalty chance, added the conversion to secure the lead.

When Andy Beattie attempted to cut down Andy Mower with a high tackle, Wilkinson kicked the penalty, but then Bath began to play with something of their old passion and flair, and the result was a mouthwatering try for Tom Voyce.

The creator was Barkley - keeping Mike Catt on the bench - who delivered a visionary pass in midfield to Jon Humphreys. …