Rugby Union: Davies toast of Cardiff

Cardiff 22 Bath 19
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The Independent Online
Bath are not ones to sell themselves short. John Hall, their director of rugby, had anticipated this Heineken Cup quarter-final as the biggest match in their history. And in terms of commitment, skill and tension it lived up handsomely to its billing. Yet sadly for Bath, who played most of the attacking rugby and repeatedly stretched Cardiff to breaking point, they were beaten by an even more dogged defence from Cardiff, gifted place-kicking first by Jonathan Davies and then a replacement, Lee Jarvis, and one blissful moment of subtle attacking movement from Nigel Walker who scored their only try. And to be honest, Bath also lost by some sheer bad luck.

Once again crossing the Severn proved a bridge too far for Bath who have won only once at Cardiff in 72 years. But if it is any consolation to Bath, and it will not be, they played the most consistently combative role in what proved to be one of the most enthralling club games ever seen at the Arms Park.

It was a typically muggy afternoon in the city. The pearly atmosphere comprised of a cold mist from the Taff and the hot breath of 14,000 packed spectators. The floodlights were already on when Mike Catt kicked off for Bath. But his second kick was even more significant. From behind the line-out he sent the ball high in the air to drop a dozen metres out from the Cardiff line where Justin Thomas took his eye off it and knocked on. The Bath forwards drove ahead vehemently, Cardiff went offside, and although Catt missed that penalty, he succeeded with a second attempt in the sixth minute as Bath turned up the pressure.

It was a thoroughly unnerving start for Cardiff, who should have been six points down by the time they made their first aggressive move. Robert Howley, burrowing through from a midfield scrum, fed Jonathan Davies who put a delicate kick into the far corner. Even then Cardiff only just saved their skins during Bath's ensuing counter attack when Thomas stopped Jason Robinson dead in his tracks.

Bath were playing with such pace and intensity that Cardiff could only strive to keep their line intact in the hope that their opponents would burn themselves out. Davies brought the scores level in the 22nd minute with a penalty and, after Catt had replied with his second, kicked another four minutes later to level again. But the kick that made the difference came five minutes before the break.

Howley ran out of defence, Davies kicked ahead into open space and then had his jersey tugged as he followed up. In a way it was a blessing for Cardiff. Davies would have had to beat the flyer, Robinson, over 40 metres, which was a tall order. But it was not asking too much of Davies to kick the penalty from there and he gave Cardiff a lead which they took into half-time.

Bath showed no sign of tiring and it was now more a question of whether cracks would appear in Cardiff's cover. The more so when Catt struck another two penalties to put Bath back in the lead. Instead, Cardiff engineered one magnificent individual try from an attacking position little more promising than others that had gone begging before. From a line-out Walker took flight. Stretching his long legs he steered effortlessly around Robinson and French, raising his left hand in salute as he cruised to put down behind the posts.

Jarvis, who had come on as a late replacement for Thomas at full-back, had an explosive impact on the game. First he ran half the length of the field to nail Robinson in front of his posts. Then his triumph was complete as he took over from Davies as the long-distance kicker, landing penalties from the touchline and just inside the Bath half.

That virtually settled it, even though Nathan Thomas, the Bath flanker, scored a try at the end of a prolonged attack by backs and forwards.

Cardiff: J Thomas (L Jarvis, 55); N Walker, M Hall, L Davies, S Hill; J Davies, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys, D Young, J Wakeford, D Jones, M Bennett (O Williams, 12), H Taylor, J Ringer.

Bath: J Robinson; H Paul, P De Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (I Sanders, 4); D Hilton, G French, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, N Thomas, E Peters, S Ojomoh.

Referee: G Black (Ireland).

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