Bath fall to mountain Magne

Montferrand 38 Bath 22 <i>Montferrand win 53-51 on aggregate</i>
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The Independent Online

It can be a topsy-turvy life in the pressurised world of international cup rugby, especially at the semi-final stage, but the way Bath saw the gleam of Parker Pen silverware disappear before their eyes in the sunshine of central France yesterday was almost incomprehensible.

It can be a topsy-turvy life in the pressurised world of international cup rugby, especially at the semi-final stage, but the way Bath saw the gleam of Parker Pen silverware disappear before their eyes in the sunshine of central France yesterday was almost incomprehensible.

At the top of the English Premiership, they were toppled by a Montferrand side who are fighting for their lives to stay in the top 16 at home and facing the near-certainty of having to take part in the relegation play-offs.

Bath had a 14-point cushion from the first leg after playing against an indisciplined French side reduced to 14 men for the final 30 minutes of that opening encounter. Yesterday they saw the feathers blown out of that in a first half that ended 28-3 in the home side's favour. But the game ended with an aggregate score only two points in Montferrand's favour - 53-51 - and if the penultimate try for Bath had been converted then the West Countrymen would have gone through 7-6 on the try-count tie-breaker.

Just to add to the perversity of such a bitterly disappointing result, both sides scored the majority of their points playing against an increasingly strengthening wind and the home team had to look at ranks and ranks of empty seats as their supporters stayed away in droves in protest at the way their club have performed overall and particularly at the manner of their defeat in the French league at home to Castres last weekend.

Afterwards Mike Catt, who came on for a jaded-looking Olly Barkley in the second half, emphasised how important it was to grasp opportunities. After all, the club had high hopes of beating whoever wins between Connacht and Harlequins today, even if the Heineken Cup place on offer would have been irrelevant, thanks to their league position.

But Catt also paid tribute to the way Montferrand had played. "They came out and bullied us. We just didn't turn up in the first half." Quite right. The gameplan had been to pin Montferrand, put a few more early points on them and put the tie out of sight. But fortune was favouring the brave. Every mistake, every loose pass was pounced on by Montferrand and their "in your face" approach promised plenty of punishment.

Olivier Magne, one of 10 players who may be on the move, gave a towering display with the forwards, Pierre Mignoni outdid his opposite number Martyn Wood in the niggly stakes at scrum-half, and man of the match Tony Marsh, another of the 10, in addition to scoring the other two tries, provided the iron in both attack and defence when it came to motivating the Montferrand backs.

With the boot of Anthony Floch, back from injury, also on song, Bath were lucky to have a shout at all. But as Montferrand faded a little in the second half and had two men in the sin bin, Isaac Feaunati, Simon Danielli and Wylie Human all crossed for tries, with Chris Malone adding two conversions to Barkley's solitary first-half penalty.

Montferrand: A Floch; A Rougerie, R Chanal, A Marsh (capt), D Bory; G Merceron, P Mignoni; C Soulette (S Delpeuch, 79), O Azam, B Moyle, H Louw, T Privat, M Dieude (M Raynaud, 63), E Vermeulen (A Audebert, 74), O Magne.

Bath: M Perry (C Malone, 49); W Human, K Maggs, R Fleck, S Danielli; O Barkley (M Catt, 49), M Wood; D Barnes, J Humphreys (L Mears, 39), D Bell (M Stevens, 4), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (capt; R Fidler, 72), A Beattie (S Gray, 72), I Feaunati, J Scaysbrook.

Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).

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