Bath to stand by Anthony Watson after red card in Saracens defeat
Bath look set to mount a vigorous defence of England star Anthony Watson after he was sent off during a 30-10 Aviva Premiership home defeat against league leaders Saracens.
The Grand Slam winner received a 49th-minute red card for what referee Greg Garner ruled to be a dangerous tackle as Saracens full-back Alex Goode caught a high ball deep inside his own half.
With scrum-half Chris Cook being sin-binned shortly afterwards, Bath were temporarily reduced to 13 men, and Saracens required no second invitation to take advantage as they triumphed in bonus point fashion at the Recreation Ground, opening up an eight-point gap on second-placed Exeter.
Garner consulted television replays before brandishing a red card, but Watson was furious as he left the pitch, reacting in disbelief at the official's decision and appearing to have words with Saracens wing Chris Ashton, who had pushed him following his challenge on Goode and seemingly impeded him beforehand.
"By the letter of the law, it is a sending off, isn't it? He (Watson) got underneath Alex, and Alex landed awkwardly," Bath head coach Mike Ford said.
"You get underneath the guy jumping, take his legs away and he lands awkwardly like he did, it's a red.
"Anthony is gutted. He was going for the ball, Ashton checked his run, and then all of a sudden he is underneath the player. It was an accident.
"We will have a look at it. We will fight his corner."
And Watson also found an ally in Saracens rugby director Mark McCall, who added: "The letter of the law says it is possibly a red card, but I feel sorry for Anthony because it was not intentional.
"His route to Alex was slightly disrupted by one of our players. He had to change course, he doesn't time it well, but it was what it was. It didn't change the course of the game."
Ford and McCall, meanwhile, played straight bats to suggestions of two unconfirmed alleged gouging incidents during a second-half maul.
Ford said: "The mauls, if you have ever been in one, there are arms and fingers flying all over the place. I doubt very much there is anything untoward there."
And McCall added: "I have come straight here (to the post-match press conference). I shouldn't comment on something I haven't seen."
Ashton marked his return from a 10-week ban by scoring two tries, while flanker Will Fraser and substitute back Mike Ellery also touched down, with fly-half Owen Farrell kicking two penalties and two conversions.
Bath could only muster a George Ford penalty and conversion of substitute Leroy Houston's try in reply, and their final four league games of a dismal season could now be played with Watson, who helped England to Six Nations glory in Paris just 13 days ago, on the sidelines.
Ashton, who had been out of action since Saracens' European Champions Cup pool victory over Ulster in January after being cited for making contact with Ulster player Luke Marshall's eye area during that game at Allianz Park, was quickly into the action.
And McCall said: "It was good to get Chris back. At times, we played some really good rugby, especially in the first half.
"His try-scoring record per game is probably as good as any winger in the Premiership.
"It is important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground. What we know is if we prepare really well and do our homework and turn up with the attitude that we had tonight, we are a tough proposition."
Saracens' England second-row sensation Maro Itoje departed at half-time and then had an ice pack applied to his left knee, and McCall added: "It is obviously a small concern. We took him off at half-time when we knew he had taken a knock, and we will assess that as the week goes on."
Ford, meanwhile, had no complaints about the result, admitting: "They put us under a lot of pressure, and we didn't cope with it in a lot of ways. We melted in some departments.
"We lost the game in the first half. 18-3 down against Saracens is always going to be tough.
"And then down to 13 men, it was very ugly, but the boys showed a bit of a character to score a try."