Rugby Union: A happier episode for the Rugby Club

Tim Glover watches as underdogs Bath continue their long cup tradition
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The Independent Online
THE bookmakers, a bemused race nowadays, made Brive odds-on favourites and with some justification. After all, Brive were holders of the European Cup and the fact that they were playing at Bordeaux, rather than a truly neutral venue, gave them "home" advantage.

There were about 7,000 West Countrymen holding crosses against the combined garlic air of 30,000 Frenchmen. It was, of course, bound to end in tears but, apart from the faithful, what most people forgot was that when it comes to cup finals, Bath know their onions.

"That's 11 out of 11," Jeremy Guscott said at the end of an enthralling, if not vintage match. "Never write us off."

He was referring to the fact that in cup finals - when the national knockout was sponsored by John Player, Bath were chain-smokers, when it was endorsed by Pilkington they went through the looking glass - their record is played 11, won 11.

Seven days ago, Bath were defeated by Richmond in the fifth round of the Tetley's Bitter Cup, leaving the impression that they did not have one for the road. But in the end, Andy Robinson's strategy, albeit a bit negative, succeeded in the Heineken. In the Tetley's, Bath omitted Jon Callard, preferring the attacking skill of the young England full-back Matt Perry. That meant that Mike Catt was entrusted with the goal-kicking and he betrayed that trust. Yesterday, Callard was the match-winner. As well as his penalty in the 81st minute which gave his club the lead for the first time, he scored the only try.

Bath's defence was magnificent but Callard apart, they were also indebted to the inhibited ambitions of Brive. You would never have guessed that in the 24 Carrat brothers, on the wings, they possessed a couple of fliers. But they hardly received a pass.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, was at Le Stade Lescure, principally to see whether Mark Regan's dodgy line-out arm will find England's jumpers in the Five Nations opener against France on Saturday. Overall, Regan was not hitting the bull's eye, but did a good job. Nigel Redman won invaluable possession but the player who really frustrated Brive was the American No 8, Dan Lyle.

Woodward was also checking on Catt, Guscott and Phil de Glanville. Catt remains an enigma. He has some admirable qualities, notably courage and pace, but the impression remains that he is not a natural footballer. His attempt at a drop-goal in the first half was not only the wrong option, but the execution was pathetic.

One of the major influences on the game was the Scottish referee, Jim Fleming. In December, it was Jim "C'est la vie" Fleming when he took charge of the exhilarating international between England and the All Blacks at Twickenham. Yesterday, it was Jim "Pedantic" Fleming. In fairness, he probably did not have much choice but to issue a stream of penalties as both sides were preoccupied with 10-man rather than 15-man rugby.

Bath looked as if they were going to pay the penalty for frequent indiscretions and the Brive centre, Christophe Lamaison, filled his boots. When Lamaison kicked Brive into a 15-6 lead at half-time, he threatened to bring the house down.

However, the second half belonged to Bath, Lyle and, ultimately, Callard. "The reliability of JC is extraordinary," Guscott said. JC? Not quite, but he did manage to pull off the trick of turning bitter into wine. In fact, a Bathful of champagne.