Beattie and Bath revel in return to top table

Bath 22 - Bourgoin 12
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For the previous winners of the Heineken Cup two years languishing in the lesser competition, the European Challenge Cup or, as it was known, the Parker Pen Challenge Cup, is not considered good enough.

For the previous winners of the Heineken Cup two years languishing in the lesser competition, the European Challenge Cup or, as it was known, the Parker Pen Challenge Cup, is not considered good enough.

Bath, winners of the Heineken Cup in 1998, have suffered such an exile. It may be a testament to the strength of the domestic league that a club as big as the West Country side could fall from grace so swiftly and so far that they flirted with relegation.

Last week Lawrence Dallaglio mentioned some discrepancies in the qualification processes between the countries, but the fact remains that the Heineken Cup has become the benchmark. To be in it means greater financial benefits and prestige. Bath's rebuilding of the squad that started 18 months ago, culminated in last year's narrow defeat to Wasps in the Zurich Premiership final. It was disappointing for Bath but it did herald their return to the Heineken Cup.

Maybe the lay-off made them nervous as the first 20 minutes were dominated by a powerful Bourgoin pack. Admittedly the French side had the advantage of a gusting wind laced with rain, but Bath committed too many basic errors, kicked too frequently straight into touch or into the waiting hands of the Bourgoin counter-attackersand struggled to contain a scrum worthy of the name.

The Bourgoin plan was soon evident, and as one would expect from a team coached by Laurent Seigne, street-smart. He took Brive to consecutive finals in 1997 and 1998, the latter a one-point loss to Bath, and set his team to try to take points on every excursion into opposition territory. However, fighting for honours at home and in Europe had taken its toll. "Bourgoin don't have the strength in depth to tackle both championships," said Seigne. "I'd love to bring all my best players for every match but a coach has to juggle his players for the best."

Benjamin Boyet was set for drop-goal attempts from the very start and was successful in the fifth minute. He doubled the lead with a penalty 10 minutes later but Bourgoin were wasting their supremacy and territorial advantage, particularly as Boyet missed rather more than he hit. It took Bath until midway in the first half to meaningfully attack and their first real threat resulted in a try in the 25th minute. Matt Stevens, who had been under pressure from his opposite prop, Olivier Miloud, barreled over after a superb passage of play. Robbie Fleck collected a poor defensive kick near the half-way line and attacked. Three of four phases later Andy Beattie made the incisive break from the right, angled in-field and when he presented the ball it was fired out to the right where weight of numbers and a little luck, when Mike Tindall lost control, left Stevens with the score.

A Boyet penalty and Olly Barkley miss left the half-time score 10-9 to Bath, a lead they extended with their second try in the 48th minute although the field position that led to it was gifted by Jean-Francois Coux. His attempts to keep the ball in, left him floundering and under pressure and a foolish chip-kick from his own 22 found Tindall who attacked the right flank. A couple of phases later and the attack was finished by Beattie after a neat break and well-timed pass from Barkley.

Bourgoin's hopes were then scuppered with the sin-binning of Nicolas Bontinck in the 57th minute for a professional foul and Bath took advantage during his absence with a try by Brendon Daniel, a forward drive on the right creating an overlap on the left wing that was fully exploited.

For Bath it was a vital victory and no doubt, it was good to be back.

Bath: C Malone; A Higgins, R Fleck (A Crockett, 80), M Tindall, B Daniel; O Barkley, N Walshe (M Wood, 66); D Barnes, L Mears, M Stevens (E Bell, 73), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock (R Fidler, 72), A Beattie, J Scaysbrook, Z Feaunati (G Delve, 66).

Bourgoin: A Forest; G Esterhuizen, D Venditti, G Davis, J-F Coux (L Soucaze, 60); B Boyet, M Forest (M Albina, 74); O Milloud, B Cabello, P Peyron (F Pucciariello, 60), A Mazel, P Pape, N Bontinck, P Raschi (capt), J Bonnaire.

Referee: R Dickson (Scotland).

Comments