Rugby Union: Callard hides the cracks

Bath 20 Pau 14
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The Independent Online
Bath's understandable elation at reaching the final of the Heineken European Cup must be tempered by the knowledge that if they play as untidily and frenetically as they did in beating Pau in yesterday's semi-final, they have little chance of winning it. This was a classic example of the speed of the game outstripping the skills of those who play it. The pace was unrelentingly frantic, the ball moving so much faster than the wits of the participants that mistakes were inevitable.

Bath won because they made fewer errors and kicked more penalties. Jon Callard kicked five from seven attempts while David Aucagne was successful with three. In the midst of the blur which passed before us only two tries were scored, Bath's by Victor Ubogu, who popped up in the centre to take Dan Lyle's scoring pass, and Pau's, more conventionally, by the right- wing Philippe Bernat-Salles in the right-hand corner. Neither was converted.

Bath deserved their victory. They had much more of the play and when they were in possession of the ball they at least gave the impression of knowing what to do with it. Pau, on the other hand, despite having a lively and inventive back line in which David Dantiacq's pace was a genuine threat, persisted in carrying the ball through their forwards too far and much too often. For whatever reason they appeared reluctant to release it quickly to Frederic Torrossian, their scrum- half.

In contrast Andy Nicol was given a much easier passage by his forwards which enabled him to deliver a stream of low, fast and accurate passes to the speeding Mike Catt at fly-half. Catt, returning after his head injury at Twickenham, had lost none of his edge and, as is now his custom, operated as close to Pau's defence as the laws and the need for self-preservation allow. But this had a baleful effect on those outside him and in particular Matt Perry, who spent the entire afternoon running at the wrong angles. As often as not he was forced to cut inside when he should have gone with the flow, but although his game suffered terribly as a result, the fault was not always his.

With neither side generously endowed with massive bulk it was always going to be a matter of wills in the forward battle and despite the fact that Pau refused to run up the white flag as they have tended to do on away days in this competition, they found the bloody-mindedness of the Bath's pack, and in particular of Nigel Redman, impossible to break down.

It was Redman, not Lyle, who Bath targeted at the line-out, but just having this splendid No 8 as an option was a bonus. Once again Lyle played a mighty part in this victory. His catching from the kick-off is a joy to watch and his sheer athleticism was unmatched by any of the opposition. It was his speed on the outside break which gave Ubogu the space he needed for Bath's try after what remained of their pack had won a ruck wide on the left.

It was the kickers, though, who were keeping the scoreboard moving and at half-time Aucagne led Callard 3-2 with Ubogu's try giving Bath their two-point advantage. It was no more than they deserved. Their forwards had been faster around the field and much quicker to the loose ball. If Pau were to have any chance of winning they would have to change tactics. But there were no signs of towards the end of the third quarter, by which time Callard had kicked two more penalties as Pau, in their desperation to prevent their opponents from turning their increasing flow of possession into points, infringed incessantly. Despite Nicol's frantic foot-scraping of offending French hands, the ball was not released and it was up to Derek Bevan to ensure that justice was done.

Pau did, however, manage to retain their shape, if not always their self- control. Aucagne delivered a cleverly flighted pass, by-passing his centres, to Bernat-Salles who sped past Bath's bewildered defence to score in the corner. This encouraged Pau to run everything for the final 20 minutes which added to the entertainment, although not appreciably to the general standard of the play. The French were outraged by Adedayo Adebayo's intemperate charge on Bernat- Salles and the fact the referee had already penalised Pau for an earlier infringement did not absolve the Bath wing and he should at the very least have suffered a caution.

In the event it was Bath who made the final strike when Callard kicked his fifth penalty to give them a memorable victory in a distinctly unmemorable match.

Bath: J Callard;, I Evans, P de Glanville (R Butland 42-50), M Perry, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (capt); K Yates, M Regan, V Ubogu, G Llanes, N Redman, N Thomas, D Lyle (E Peters, 80), R Webster.

Pau: N Brusque; P Bernat-Salles, D Dantiacq, F Leloir, Y Martin; D Aucagne, F Torrossian; P Triep-Capdevielle (S Briat, 67), J Rey (capt), J M Gonzales, A Lagouarde, T Cleda, S Keith (S Vignolo, 55), F Rolles, N Baque.

Referee: D Bevan, (Wales).