THERE was a growing suspicion that the recent boost in support of Sir James Goldsmith's party might have been the result of English rugby folk disenchanted by the performances of their clubs in Europe. Nothing short of victory by Bath yesterday would have ensured their continuing interest in this competition, and for much of this contest there was considerable doubt they would make it. The contrast in styles was compelling. The light and shade of the Frenchmen against the dogged persistence of Bath's outweighed but never outmanoeuvred pack.
The light came from a number of blistering runs Dax made from deep positions, to which Bath had no response. Unfortunately the darker side of the Frenchmen's character surfaced too often, and here Bath did have the answer. Jon Callard, as he has done so often, steered his side to safety with accurate and composed goalkicking. Five times he punished the opposition's indiscretions in addition to converting Henry Paul's try.
As the penalty count rose against them so did the Frenchmen's frustration. More than anything else this was the result of the ferocity of Bath's tackling. In this area none did greater service to their club than the inestimable Nigel Redman and Steve Ojomoh. Their crushing hits not only held Bath's defence together at times of stress but were inspirational to surrounding colleagues who had spent so much time clutching at thin air.
Ojomoh's was a towering performance in every way because in addition to his defensive duties he provided Bath with their cleanest possession at the lineout, an area which, in the early stages, had appeared to be the sole property of Olivier Roumat. But once Ojomoh moved into the playpen and removed so many of the Frenchmen's toys, Bath's game plan was given another dimension.
Instead of regarding the lineout as a no-go area and running from some high-risk positions, Bath could find sanctuary in the touchline, and from it built a number of menacing attacks. Fittingly, it was the combination of Ojomoh and Redman which set up Paul's try. Richard Dourthe had just kicked a penalty to give Dax a 10-6 lead but from the kick-off Redman won the ball, Ojomoh surged forward and with Jeremy Guscott making a half- break and Callard thundering into the line, Paul was clear.
With a hideous penalty count against them - 26-9 was the final tally - the French will no doubt reinvent the Anglo-Saxon conspiracy theory, but their indiscipline on this occasion did not even have the merit of subtlety. Whether it was off-side, pulling down the maul, killing the ball or flailing their fists and feet, it was glaringly obvious and the referee, Bertie Smith, did his difficult job with admirable efficiency.
By the time Mike Catt, substituting as kicker for the injured Callard, struck Bath's sixth penalty, 12 minutes from the end, Dax had clearly lost their appetite for the fray. Two of their back row had left the field with what looked like similarly feigned limps to join their stand-off, Frederic Duberger, who had long since departed with what could have been a hamstring injury but was more likely a premonition of defeat.
It was a shame because at their best Dax were a class act. Ugo Mola was a wing with whistling pace, as he showed in the scoring of his try. It came from Catt's loose pass and was not, alas, his only aberration of the afternoon. Sensing that he would be taken in the tackle if he caught the ball, Mola quick-wittedly fly-hacked it upfield and even more speedily gave chase to score close enough to the posts for Dourthe's conversion to be a formality. It was not until the red mists had finally risen from his team-mates' eyes late - too late - in the game that he was given more opportunities to express himself.
In the end, though, the frailties got the better of the frolics. Dax were vulnerable to attack wide out, a flaw readily exposed by Jason Robinson, and Dourthe's defensive qualities did not begin to match his flair in attack.
Bath: J Callard (capt; M Perry, 72); J Robinson, H Paul, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, C Harrison; D Hilton, G Adams, J Mallett, M Haag, N Redman (B Cusack, 58), N Thomas, R Webster, S Ojomoh.
Dax: R Dourthe; U Mola, P Giordani, F Tourzin, P Labeyrie; F Duberger (J Dubois, 56), J Daret; O Gouaillard, R Ibanez, D Laperne, F Lalanne, O Roumat (capt), O Magne (F Dupleich, 60), R Berek, F Pelous (G Norris, 68).
Referee: B Smith (Ireland).Reuse content