Bath vs Montpellier: Matt Banahan upstages Sam Burgess as Bath keep Euro hopes alive

Bath 32 Montpellier 12: Rugby League convert sets up first try but Banahan hat-trick takes the plaudits

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He's big and powerful, he runs straight and hard, he relishes the more brutal aspects of his chosen sport and he can find his way to the line.

So much for Matt Banahan, who bagged a hat-trick of tries at the Recreation Ground to keep Bath in the hunt for knockout qualification despite the defeats they suffered at the hands of Glasgow and Toulouse in the opening rounds of the   new tournament.

But what about the other big, powerful bloke in the Bath back division – the man who was meant to dominate events here? Sam Burgess, making his first start in the union code after his much-publicised move from rugby league and a couple of rather fruitless yet minutely documented runs off the bench, looked like the player he is at this stage of his development: an individual with obvious physical gifts, trying his level best to work out what the hell is going on.


It is hardly his fault that many people, some of whom should know better, are trying to talk him into the England team before he has even begun to find his bearings. The fact that Bath would have found it much easier to score their fourth try and secure the bonus point they craved with either Kyle Eastmond or Ollie Devoto in the No 12 shirt tells a story.

Montpellier being in the state they are – their moving parts have seized up since last season, hence the widely reported ultimatum to their coach, Fabien Galthie, to oil the wheels before the middle of next month or face the consequences – there was no great likelihood of them recovering from a grisly first dozen or so minutes. Banahan, an England wing at the last World Cup but not on the red-rose radar now, scored two tries in that time, which was enough to secure the West Countrymen the win.

The first was a fluke in which Burgess played a prominent part. George Ford’s cut-out pass off the left hand opened up the field for Leroy Houston, and although his inside ball was not quite a triumph of pinpoint accuracy – it hit Burgess on the knee – the rebound fell kindly for Banahan, who ran past the bemused remnants of the visiting defence to  touch down.

Ford promptly added a penalty, and while Burgess was not having it all his own way in defence – some of these union types are almost as tough as the league boys, it seems – Bath’s attacking game suddenly clicked into gear when Semesa Rokodoguni sliced through in midfield to leave Montpellier in all manner of strife. The wing’s pass to Anthony Watson was not as sympathetic as it might have been, but Watson’s one-handed delivery to Banahan was a gem. Seventeen points in 13 minutes? Thank  you  and goodnight.

Thereafter, the first half was boring enough to send the crowd into a stupor. Bath, feeling the effects of Dave Attwood’s early shoulder injury almost as much as the England lock himself, began to struggle at the set-piece – an unusual state of affairs for them this season – and with the outstanding Montpellier No 8 Alex Tulou generating some momentum and the wings Yohann Artru and Viriviri Nasagavesi bobbing and weaving to encouraging effect, the balance of the contest shifted towards the visitors. Sadly for them, they were not accomplished enough to register so much as a single point.

Bath reasserted some authority at the start of the second period and with a little luck, both Watson and Rokoduguni might have crossed the whitewash. As it was, they were restricted to a second Ford penalty that was barely worth the effort expended on kicking it, given the circumstances. But they needed five-pointers, not three-pointers.

Still, the tide was flowing in their direction at this point and from a line-out drive in the left corner, the scrum-half Chris Cook worked the ball, albeit clumsily, to Banahan, who finished from close range. Yet it was Montpellier who turned the screw in the final quarter, claiming close-range tries through Tulou and Mickael Ivaldi, and it was not until 90 seconds from time that Ford hit Horacio Agulla with an excellent pass and celebrated royally as the Argentine wing sprinted clear to score at the posts to keep Bath’s quarter-final hopes alive.

Scorers: Bath – Tries: Banahan 3, Agulla. Conversions: Ford 3. Penalties: Ford 2. Montpellier – Tries: Tulou, Ivaldi. Con: Pail Iaugue.

Bath: A Watson; S Rokoduguni (H Agulla 66), J Joseph, S Burgess, M Banahan; G Ford, C Cook (M Young 58); P James (capt, N Auterac 50), R Batty (R Webber 50), D Wilson (H Thomas 50), D Day, D Attwood (S Hooper 9), A Fa’osiliva (D Sisi 72), F Louw, L Houston.

Montpellier: P Berard (B Sicart 63); Y Artru, R Ebersohn (R Ranger 32), W Olivier, V Nasagavesi; E Selponi (B Pail Iaugue 48), J Pelissie; N Leleimalefaga (Y Watremez h-t), C Geli (M Ivaldi 62), P Cilliers (D Attoub 56), R Tchale Watchou, T Privat (T Donnelly 48), F Ouedraogo (capt), A Qera (A Bias 48), A Tulou.

Referee: M Mitrea (Italy).