Flatman's dainty morsel keeps Bath at the feast

Bath 16 Montpellier 13

The Recreation Ground

He had waited nine years and 150 games, give or take, to score a try for Bath and yesterday, at a moment when his club was in significant need of a crossing of the opposition whitewash, loose-head prop David Flatman duly delivered. It was a thing of delicate beauty, completed from the traditional front-rower's distance of three millimetres with the daintiest of pirouettes – albeit a pirouette past the Invisible Man – and in the final accounting, it pretty much kept the West Country club in the Heineken Cup.

How much longer they stay involved depends on next month's back-to-back matches with Leinster, the reigning champions, and with the Recreation Ground injury list growing ever longer, those games could easily prove too much of an ask, even though the Dubliners are resigned to defending their title without any input from the recently operated-upon Brian O'Driscoll. But unlike Northampton, Gloucester and London Irish, who have yet to win a game in this season's Premiership, the 1998 winners are at least off the mark.

"If we hadn't won today we'd have been making up the numbers," admitted Stephen Donald, the All Black outside-half whose second-half penalty from long range in the World Cup final ultimately proved the decisive act in New Zealand's pursuit of the Webb Ellis Trophy. "We do have some injuries and that was a pretty young side who finished the game out there, but learning how to win in those circumstances is half the thing, isn't it? We stuffed up against Glasgow in our first match, but maybe losing that game helped us win this one. We certainly toughed it out against a pretty powerful side and it will do the team good."

Donald, making his first start forBath, made quite an impact. He opened his account with an early penalty he could have kicked with his eyes shut, but the cut-out pass he threw off his left hand to create a stroll-over try for the busy young wing Olly Woodburn on eight minutes required a far greater degree of mastery, not least because it took three Montpellier defenders clean out of the game.

The contest was still in its first quarter when the man from Waikato made another contribution, intercepting a dangerous passing movement in his own 22 and running the best part of 80 metres before being hauled down by the covering Martin Bustos Moyano. Dan Hipkiss, who had a very decent game in the Bath midfield, was on hand to continue the attack and after a ferocious ruck on the Montpellier line, in which Donald's direct opponent in the global final in Auckland, François Trinh-Duc, did everything he could to kill the ball stone dead, Flatman performed his Swan Lake routine to open up a 13-point advantage. As Donald was lining up the conversion, which he promptly missed, Trinh-Duc was packed off to the cooler for his indiscretions on the floor.

It seemed for all the world as if the visitors' first Heineken Cup away game – never before have they qualified for European rugby's elite cross-border competition – would go the same way as so many involving the likes of Agen, Bourgoin and Perpignan down the years. Their line-out was barely functioning, their midfield could not find a way of penetrating... hell, even Mamuka Gorgodze, the mighty Georgian forward who had given England so much unmitigated grief in Dunedin in September, was peculiarly quiet. Yet slowly, last season's Top 14 runners-up took a grip of proceedings, thanks largely to the energetic efforts of their two flankers, Rémy Martin, the "deadly nightcap", and captain Fulgence Ouedraogo. Bustos Moyano, who has a kick like a mule, landed a long-range penalty to reduce the arrears and might easily have rattled off two more before the interval, and even though Donald added to Bath's tally early in the second half, the Argentine wing dragged Montpellier right back into it with a try down the left on 46 minutes.

That score was not wholly devoid of controversy, for Thibaut Privat's scoring pass was so far forward it might have been thrown by a gridiron quarterback – a fact that somehow failed to register with Alain Rolland, the Irish referee. Asked what he thought, Donald played the diplomatic card. "We might get the same ref again, so I won't tell you," he said.

Sir Ian McGeechan, the director of rugby at the Rec, was a little more forthcoming. "I've given up looking at these things," he said with a sorry shake of the head. "Sometimes, I think the referee and the touch judges could work better as a three. The touch judges are called assistant referees now. Maybe they should assist the referee a bit more."

With Bath coming under the hammer at the set-pieces – by the end, neither their scrumming nor their line-out work bore much scrutiny – Montpellier could smell victory, especially with Gorgodze developing a taste for the close-quarter conflict and scattering would-be tacklers to all points of the compass. Yet Donald, aided and abetted by the excellent Michael Claassens at scrum-half, kept a cool head, which is pretty much what he is being paid to keep, and nursed his new side home. On this evidence, he will be of inestimable value to the West Countrymen over the long term, even if he does not find a way of guiding them into the quarter-finals of this competition at his first attempt.

Bath: Tries Woodburn, Flatman; Penalties Donald 2.

Montpellier: Try Bustos Moyano; Conversion Bustos Moyano; Penalties Bustos Moyano 2.

Bath N Abendanon; O Woodburn, D Hipkiss, S Vesty (O Barkley 74), T Biggs; S Donald, M Claassens (M McMillan 71); D Flatman (C Beech 55), R Batty (M Lilley 46), D Wilson (A Perenise 55), S Hooper (capt), R Caldwell (D Attwood 65), F Louw, L Moody (G Mercer 65), S Taylor.

Montpellier L Amorosino; M Bustos Moyano (Y Audrin 63), G Doumayrou, P Bosch, J Peyras Loustalet; F Trinh-Duc, J Tomas (B Paillaugue 61); M Nariashvili (N Leieimalefaga 48), A Creevy (R Van Nuuren 59), M Bustos (G Jgenti 59), J Tuineau (D Hancke 68), T Privat (M Matadigo 68), R Martin, F Ouedraogo (capt), M Gorgodze.

Referee A Rolland (Ireland).


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power