Rugby Union: Brive left broken by Bath

Bath 27 Brive 25
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The Independent Online
No broken bodies for Brive yesterday, just broken spirits and bruised egos as Bath, their team strengthening by the week as their walking wounded return to action, triumphed over the Frenchmen with a wondrous show of power, guile and speed.

This was easily Bath's most impressive display of the season. It was a compelling contest from first to last and although Brive will complain that last week's fracas against Pontypridd had deprived them of two of their best players, it is extremely doubtful if Philippe Carbonneau and Christophe Lamaison, both backs, would have made a whit of difference to the result for the very good reason that Brive were undone by Bath's pack in which both the locks Nigel Redman and Martin Haag were outstanding.

Quite apart from their massive contribution in the tight both were hugely influential figures in the loose, making a number of powerful runs into the heart of Brive's defence which, to its credit, held firm throughout a punishing spell of Bath pressure in the second quarter.

Brive will also complain, no doubt, that the publicity attached to them during the past seven days had a paralysing effect on their efforts. Certainly there were a number of times, in fifty-fifty situations, when their players held back, but that was as much due to Bath's all-out aggression than to Brive inhibitions.

Although they kept their tempers in check, their indiscipline in giving away so many penalties - 20 to five - ultimately proved to be their undoing.

This was a great pity because at times they expressed themselves as only they can and succeeded in scoring 15 points during the first quarter. The first try was scored by the right wing Pascal Bomati who was the chief beneficiary first of Mike Catt's reckless pass inside his 22 and then of Sebastien Viars' fingertip pass. Gerome Carrat scored the second, running onto Alain Penaud's long pass. Lisandro Arbizu who, for such a slight man, has the kick of a mule, converted one of the tries and kicked a penalty to give Brive a 15-6 lead after 19 minutes.

It was a tribute to Bath's determination and courage that they held their nerve and their shape. They raised the pace, kept Brive on the back foot and waited patiently for the gaps to appear. If the tries didn't come immediately there were tangible rewards as Jim Fleming, the referee, punished them mercilessly for their indiscretions. Jonathan Callard was successful with three penalties but, more important was the sustained pressure they were able to exert throughout the game with their touch-kicks. By breaking up Brive's famed flow they blunted one of the most potent attacking machines in club rugby.

Bath's first try, nine minutes before half-time, was therefore a triumph waiting to happen. Four successive rucks to Bath and with Matt Perry cleverly changing the angle of his run, he blasted on to Catt's pass to score.

At this point Brive were wobbling badly. Their forwards appeared leaden- footed and had Bath scored again before half-time the game might have been all but over. That's how it looked three minutes into the second half when Catt broke from a ruck to score underneath the posts and offer an easy conversion.

Astonishingly, that was the signal for Bath to lose the plot when, for the second time in the match, they recklessly lost possession with their threequarter line committed to attack. David Venditti sent a kick through and with Bath's defence terribly exposed Arbizu scuttled through to win the race for the touch-down.

The balance of the game was now shifting and although Bath somehow kept their lead with Callard kicking two more penalties to Arbizu's one, Brive were gradually coming back into the match through the quality of their running and their superior speed with ball in hand.

Arbizu's penalty miss from 40 yards a minute from time raised the second loudest cheer of the afternoon, followed of course by the crescendo reserved for the final whistle.

If the events of last week cannot be entirely erased, the game of rugby made up a lot of lost ground at Bath yesterday.

Bath: J Callard (capt); A Adebayo, P de Glanville (R Butland 45-50), M Perry, I Evans (J Sleightholme 77); M Catt, R Pellow; D Hilton, M Regan, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, R Earnshaw, S Ojomoh (D Lyle 77), R Webster.

Brive: S Viars; P Bomati, D Venditti, L Arbizu, J Carrat; A Penaud (capt), S Bonnet; O Gouiallard, L Travers, R Crespy (D Laperne 45), Y Manhes, P Lubungu, L van der Linden (O Magne 78), F Duboisset; R Sonnes.

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland)