Biarritz took a bonus-point win that gave them top spot in Pool Four of the Heineken Cup, at the expense of Ulster. The Basque club, who lost to Toulouse in last year's final in Paris, will stage a home quarter-final; their beaten opponents find themselves out of European action for another year.
With Biarritz and Ulster level on 17 points at the start of the final round of pool matches, Bath knew they would have to win with a bonus point if they were to secure an unlikely place in the quarter-finals. In the event they came up against a fired-up Biarritz team who got off to a flying start with a Dimitri Yachvili try after five minutes, before Iain Balshaw, who once played for Bath, scored two tries either side of half-time.
Stuart Hooper scored a try to give Bath a glimmer of hope but it was short lived, with the American wing Takudzwa Ngwenya racing clear to score Biarritz's bonus-point try after 63 minutes. The former Leeds wing Tom Biggs struck back with two tries for Bath in the last 10 minutes but it was not enough as Biarritz marched into the knockout stages.
Olly Barkley could have given Bath the perfect start but he struck the right post with a penalty after five minutes. It got worse five minutes later when Bath shot themselves in the foot. Barkley's attempted clearance was charged down by Yachvili. The terrier-like France scrum-half gathered the ball and raced clear to score. He kicked the conversion to give his side a 7-0 lead.
Biarritz extended their lead after 18 minutes when Balshaw celebrated a new contract with the French club by scoring their second try. The former England and Lions full-back received the ball out wide and combined with his No 15, Dane Haylett-Parry, to score. The Bath full-back, Nick Abendanon, saved a probable third Biarritz try but the home side continued to press in the closing stages of the first half. They had several close-range scrums, which eventually saw the Bath loosehead prop, Duncan Bell, sent to the sin-bin for a technical offence, but Bath held on and the score was 14-0 at the half-time.
Bath got off to a wretched start in the second half as Biarritz scored a third try, again through Balshaw. The French club made several attacks through the middle before the ball was spread wide and despite Luke Watson getting a hand to Yachvili's pass, possession fell to Balshaw. He stepped inside Abendanon to score.
The West Country team hit back from close range after 46 minutes. After several phases, Hooper crashed over. Barkley was unable to kick the conversion and the score was 21-5. Biarritz scored their bonus-point try thanks to the Zimbabwean-born Ngwenya. Yachvili, a thorn in Bath's side, threw a long pass out to MarceloBosch and the Argentinian centre sucked in three defenders to create space for Ngwenya. The wing raced clear to score in the corner and restore his side's 21-point lead – Yachvili failed to kick the conversion.
Biggs scored his two late consolation tries, which Sam Vesty converted, but it was not enough for Steve Meehan's men.
Biarritz D Haylett-Petty; T Ngwenya, M Bosch, D Traille (A Mignardi, 67), I Balshaw (I Bolakoro, 76); J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; E Coetzee (Y Watremez, 65), B August (R Terrain, 57), S Marconnet (E Guinazu, 67), P Taele (J Thion, 53), E Lund, S Vahafolau (B Guyot, 41), R Lakafia, I Harinordoquy.
Bath N Abendanon; M Banahan, O Barkley (J Cuthbert, 75), S Hape, T Biggs; B James (S Vesty, 70), M Claassens (M McMillan, 65); D Bell, L Mears, D Wilson (P Dixon, 70), S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 52), S Taylor, B Skirving, L Watson (capt; J Ovens, 53).
Referee G Clancy (Ireland).
Tries: Yachvili, Balshaw 2, Ngwenya
Cons: Yachvili 3
Tries: Hooper, Biggs 2
Cons: Vesty 2