Preston and Lyle conjure up Bath's revenge

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The Independent Online

Steady goal-kicking by Jon Preston and a single try from Dan Lyle were enough for Bath to prevent a repeat of the damaging defeat here by Toulouse in the first match of last season's Heineken Cup pool stage.

Steady goal-kicking by Jon Preston and a single try from Dan Lyle were enough for Bath to prevent a repeat of the damaging defeat here by Toulouse in the first match of last season's Heineken Cup pool stage.

The Welsh referee, Nigel Williams, whistled the Castres front row up at the first two scrums and the visitors' Irish skipper, Jeremy Davidson, perhaps wary of a persecution complex setting in, indulged in regular conflabs with the official. Even so, Castres rarely looked comfortable on their own put-in, and apart from Davidson giving Steve Borthwick a stiff examination on Bath's line-out throw, they did little to upset the 1998 European champions up front. The upshot was an open yet rarely too structured match.

After two seasons at Brive, Gregor Townsend has pitched up at Castres. Unfamiliar colours, but the same old frustrations of watching the Scottish Lion. One arcing break, after a little dart by the scrum-half, Alexandre Albouy, caught Bath unawares until Ben Clarke got enough of Town-send's jersey to prevent a try. At other times Townsend over-egged the pudding, going for passes that simply were not on. "Too much volleyball," mused one French observer nearby.

Outside Townsend, Castres had the experienced Kiwi centre Norm Berryman, who only arrived from provincial duty with Canterbury last Monday. One early bang up the middle suggested Berryman would be a handful, but his influence soon waned.

In spite of themselves, for they were far from firing on all cylinders, Bath reached half-time 19-6 up. They only truly clicked once, but that was enough for a well-worked try after 30 minutes. A set move off a line-out missed out Mike Tindall in the backs, Matt Perry came charging through from full-back on to Phil de Glanville's pass, drew his opposite number, François Plisson, and put the supporting Lyle in at the posts.

Up to that point Bath had flattered to deceive. Too often the man on the end of second- or third-phase ball was standing still. But they worked enough territory for Jon Preston, at outside-half for the first time this season in the continued absence of Mike Catt, to kick three penalty goals in addition to the conversion of Lyle's try. Inside Preston, Gareth Cooper looked unsure of his best options and some way short of international standard.

Bath went hunting for an early score in the second half but had to settle for only a fifth Preston penalty seven minutes in, after some direct running by Tindall and Perry, the pair of them intent on proving their candidacy for England duty. Townsend had previously put a penalty attempt narrowly wide from the 10m line.

But there was a blip for Bath when John Mallett, the prop who already has a hearing set for later this month for accumulating three yellow cards, added another to his collection at a ruck in the shadow of his own posts. There were still around 25 minutes remaining as the night drew in, but if Castres saw the lights of the last chance saloon gleaming they blithely drove by without stopping. A break by the French international flanker Arnaud Costes made a clear opening out wide, only for Berryman to hang on to the ball at the expense of a two-to-one overlap.

Relieved, Bath were soon restored to the full XV, and saw out time with the minimum of fuss. Preston added a sixth penalty, and The Rec were already pondering the challenges of Munster and Newport to come when Ismael Lassissi's injury-time try was converted by Townsend.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, P de Glanville, M Tindall, A Adebayo; J Preston,G Cooper; D Barnes, M Regan, J Mallett (C Horsman, 63), M Haag, S Borthwick,G Thomas (C Horsman 52-62), B Clarke (capt), D Lyle.

Castres: F Plisson; M Biboulet,E Artiguste, N Berryman (A Larkin, 68), P Garrigues; G Townsend, A Albouy; L Toussaint, C Batut (R Vigneaux, 62),L Tsabadze (M Reggiardo, 56), T Bourdet (S Chinarro, 56), J Davidson (capt),A Costes, J Diaz, I Lassissi.

Referee: N Williams (Wales).

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