Bath 24 Worcester 16: Bath fired to crown by Barkley bullets

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The Independent Online

The temperature in Cardiff on Saturday evening was in the high 70s, so they drew the roof across the Millennium Stadium and fried the Heineken Cup audience alive. Brilliant. Yesterday's weather in Gloucester was better measured in fathoms than degrees, but as Kingsholm will never be anything other than an open-air stadium, the European Challenge Cup finalists had no choice but to get on with it. This they did, magnificently, and over the course of a furious encounter they demolished the ridiculous presumption that the best rugby matches are played in the "best" conditions.

Bath prevailed largely because they had more players of the very highest calibre – Matt Stevens, Danny Grewcock, Steve Borthwick, Michael Claas-sens, Butch James, Olly Barkley – and drew top-notch performances from each of them. The three tight forwards were at the heart of the club's first tournament success in 10 years, edging Worcester in what modern-day professionals politely refer to as the "shit fight" and out-performing them at the set-pieces. At the same time, Claassens kept the machinery oiled with his efficiency at the base of scrum, ruck and maul; James created an opening try for the Samoan flanker Jonny Fa'amatuainu with the most delicious of disguised passes close to the left touchline; and Barkley slammed the door on his opponents with two wonderful strikes, a penalty from 50-plus metres followed by a bullet of a drop goal from right of the sticks.

But they had to scrap for all they were worth against a Worcester side prepared to mix it from start to finish. There was much to admire from their captain, Pat Sanderson, and their All Black lock, Greg Rawlinson, not to mention the Tongan hooker Aleki Lutui, a human dodgem car with a skill set to match his physicality. If Lutui's display was less than revelatory, it was only because he made similarly impressive contributions during last year's World Cup. The sight of him collecting a loser's medal at the end of 80 minutes' unstinting effort was almost an affront to justice.

Talking of which, Worcester felt hard done by on the refereeing front. Less than 24 hours after Toulouse had been forced to play a Heineken Cup final with an official whose grasp of the French language mirrored Wayne Rooney's command of quantum physics, two English clubs found themselves lumbered with Christophe Berdos of – you guessed it – France. It did not make much sense before the weekend, and made even less sense as events unfolded on either side of the Severn Bridge.

Monsieur Berdos made rather a balls of things, sadly: he failed to spot a forward pass from Lee Mears in the build-up to Fa'amatuainu's try and he missed the same player's blatantly illegal interference with Shane Drahm as the outside-half set off in pursuit of his own kick towards the Bath line. There were moments when the match teetered on the edge of a serious dust-up and had this transpired, the blame would have fallen squarely on one individual.

Bath were 15-6 up and almost home by the break, Fa'amatuainu's try being trumped by a better one from the full-back, Nick Abendanon, who crossed from short range after a lovely long pass from Barkley and some characteristically intelligent continuity work from Joe Maddock. The downpour hardly suited the West Country club's offloading game, but the passes they managed to string together out of contact raised them above their rivals.

Yet when Drahm reduced the arrears by three points five minutes into the second period, the outcome was very much in the balance. Lutui was running really hot, as was a fellow South Seas forward, the Fijian Netani Talei, who replaced Drew Hickey and set about scattering Bath tacklers right and left. It was Barkley who quelled the uprising with his brace of left-footed spectaculars, which rendered a late penalty from James and an even later converted try from Thinus Delport wholly irrelevant.

"Today wasn't about rugby; it was about leaving a group of people I'll miss dearly – people I love," said the England centre, who will spend rather more time at Kingsholm next season on account of his decision to join Gloucester. Quite why he is leaving is anyone's guess, but Bath will miss every hair on his head.

Just as they will miss Borthwick, who is heading for Saracens. The England captain was equally emotional at close of play, but being the good second-rower he is, he stopped well short of playing the "lurve" card. And there you have it, in a nutshell: the essential difference between backs and forwards.

Bath: Tries Fa'amatuainu, Abendanon; Conversion Barkley; Penalties Barkley 2, James. Drop goal Barkley. Worcester: Try Delport; Conversion Carlisle; Penalties Drahm 3.

Bath: N Abendanon (T Cheeseman, 80); J Maddock, A Crockett, O Barkley (S Berne, 76), M Banahan; A James, M Claassens (N Walshe, 80); D Flatman (D Bell, 64), L Mears (P Dixon, 76), M Stevens, D Grewcock, S Borthwick (capt), J Fa'amatuainu, M Lipman (P Short, 72), D Browne (I Fea'unati, 76).

Worcester: T Delport; M Garvey, D Rasmussen (R Gear, 72), S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; S Drahm (J Carlisle, 80), M Powell (R Powell, 69); A Windo (M Mullan, 55), A Lutui, T Taumoepeau (C Horsman, 60), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (W Bowley, 72), D Hickey (N Talei, 52), P Sanderson (capt), K Horstmann.

Referee: C Berdos (France).

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