Barkley the bright spark on grey day

Bath 26 Béziers 7
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The Independent Online

Bath slid and slithered into the semi-finals of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup, waved on their way by four yellow cards, two to each side. A couple of tries in the first 10 minutes, from Alex Crockett and Olly Barkley, swiftly overturned Béziers' five-point first leg lead, and though the pacesetters of the Zurich Premiership did not exactly run away with the tie, they were never seriously threatened with being reined back in.

Bath's director of rugby, John Connolly, made it plain afterwards that this particular component of a possible treble for his high-flying club was easily the least important. Connolly, ever the frank Australian, conceded that his, the players' and everyone else's eyes had been fixed more on next Saturday's Premiership visit of Wasps, Bath's nearest challengers. "The Parker Pen hasn't got the profile of the Heineken Cup," Connolly said. "The only reward is in winning it. Otherwise it costs us £10,000 in match fees to the players every time we play."

It was clear where the gaze of the referee, Giulio de Santis, needed to be fixed - on as many sets of Béziers studs as possible. With the cloying Rec turf restricting both sides to a messy form of hand-to-hand combat, the French side often chose to go in feet first. Some of the rucking was barely in Somerset let alone in the vicinity of the ball, and it was too much for Rob Fidler, the second row replacement, who went to the sin-bin in added time at the end for charging an opponent. The explanation for Fidler's elbow? "I saw one of them standing on David Flatman's head." Fair enough, then.

The previous three miscreants were Béziers' Arnaud Costes and Lionel Camisuli, after 21 and 49 minutes respectively, and the home captain, Danny Grewcock, apparently for dissent, after 53. Fortunately for Bath, they had got their retaliation early, at least in terms of points.

Martyn Wood probed the short side of a tapped penalty kick and Crockett shrugged off the former Gloucester man, Chris Catling, to level up the aggregate score in the fourth minute. Then Zak Feaunati's set-up, and Wood's link, sent Barkley all too easily between the Béziers centres for a second try.

Barkley converted but though this was a cosmopolitan occasion, with umpteen nationalities represented and the weather sweeping in from somewhere nasty in the North Atlantic, it was an imperfect afternoon for presenting Test credentials. The fly-half has grown in confidence in Bath's remarkable season - this was their 19th win in 21 matches - but was forced by the conditions to play a tight game of grubber kicks and short passes.

Barkley might have been at inside-centre but Mike Catt, initially named at No 10, cried off with a sore calf. Catt will link up with the England squad for a medical assessment on Monday, but Connolly confirmed he will not face Wasps.

Grewcock, a candidate to fill Martin Johnson's front-jumping vacancy, was solid in that department. There was also a sight of Matt Stevens, the prop who has earned rave reviews from only four starts for Bath this season, when Duncan Bell went off after a bang to the knee. Stevens did his bit in a dominant scrum, and two penalties from Barkley made it 18-0 at half-time.

Another Barkley penalty curved over in the 51st minute, then, while Grewcock was off, Béziers forced Camisuli over from a scrum and Fédérico Todeschini converted. Bath re-asserted themselves late on, ensuring an April date with Montferrand or Saracens, with Simon Danielli aquaplaning into the left corner.

Bath 26 Béziers 7

Aggregate: 45-31 Attendance: 5,771

Bath: I Balshaw; A Crockett (R Blake, 77), A Higgins, K Maggs, S Danielli; O Barkley (C Malone, 70), M Wood (H Martens, 77); D Flatman, J Humphreys (L Mears, 56-67, 77), D Bell (M Stevens, 18), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt; R Fidler, 67), A Beattie (M Lipman, 77), I Feaunati, J Scaysbrook.

Béziers: R Bianco; P Escalle (capt), O Gargallo, G Delmotte, C Catling; F Todeschini, P-H Broncan; T Ratianidze (J-F Pedessau, 58), S Bruno, P Cardinali (D Khinchagishvili, 64), M Koita (G Jeannard, 60), S Hall (M Uanbayev, 70), A Costes, L Camisuli, O Llari (A Petrarche, 64).

Referee: G de Santis (Italy).

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