Notwithstanding a late comeback to salvage a bonus point, Bath retreated from the shadow of the Dolomites with a dollop of egg on their faces.
A rude end to a run of four wins could mean an end to their Heineken Cup aspirations, too. Certainly, Bath's coach, John Connolly, believes only the maximum return from the remaining three fixtures will do. Treviso were understandably cock-a-hoop, and will be in fine fettle for the return at the Rec - unlike Bath, who have fresh injury worries surrounding Mike Tindall and Matt Perry.
A few miles inland from Venice, last year's Zurich Premiership runners-up opened a Canaletto of worms with a sloppy opening and refused afterwards to countenance the absence of 10 injured players as an excuse. "Our execution was poor, and we were very lateral in attack," said Connolly. That was not the Australian's only beef; he lambasted the referee, Simon McDowell, for his handling of the scrums and for chalking off a "try" by Alex Crockett in the 53rd minute. Instead, play came back for a penalty against Duncan Bell for a late tackle on Brendan Williams, the Treviso full-back. It appeared Bell had done no more than stand his ground. When the resulting penalty went over, Bath trailed 22-6.
None of this should deflect much credit from Treviso. The club bankrolled by Benetton cloaked themselves in glory, with a little help from their friends in the southern hemisphere. Marius Goosen, a one-time Junior Springbok, scored a crucial try four minutes from the end and kicked seven of eight shots at the posts. Franco Smith, a fully-fledged Bok, pulled the strings at fly-half while Williams, an Australian sevens cap, was a waspish threat in tandem with Gonzalo Canale.
It was Canale who swept past Tindall, Perry, Olly Barkley and Brendon Daniel for the first try after eight minutes. In the process, Tindall fell awkwardly on his right shoulder, but a bigger worry for the England vice-captain is a stress fracture of the foot that is growing worse by the week.
Clearly, Bath in this state are vulnerable to opponents who have beaten Llanelli, Wasps and Harlequins here in past European campaigns. If Treviso had possessed anything resembling a working line-out, there would have been real trouble. Instead, Fabio Ongaro, the hooker who captained Italy last week, either missed his targets or found them put off their stroke by Steve Borthwick and Rob Fidler. Otherwise, Treviso prospered with committed defence in the face of predictable Bath attacks, and led 19-3 at half-time through Goosen's kicks.
Bath scored first in the second half, with Barkley's faultless boot landing a penalty. But then came the touch judge's flag to signal Bell's supposed misdemeanour, and Bath had to dig deep for their late flurry. Barkley thumped over a 35-metre penalty with 63 minutes gone, then Silvio Orlando, crudely lying over the ball, was sent to the sin-bin. Treviso unwisely com-pounded the flanker's absence by making substitutions in their pack, and Bath drove a line-out fully 20 metres for a try by the prop David Barnes.
Barkley converted for 22-16, and, if the next score had gone the visitors' way, any result was possible. Instead, Barkley was robbed of a steepling garryowen by the Treviso replacement Simon Picone, and the supporting Smith fed Goosen for an exultantly finished try. Goosen cut short his celebration to kick the conversion, yet Bath kept coming. Nick Walshe, the scrum-half, sneaked away on the short side of another driving maul for a try converted by Barkley.
Perhaps the least surprising aspect of what remained was that Gerhard Klerck coughed up a Treviso line-out. Still, Bath's last raid came to nought. "After the yellow card and the pushover try it was a worrying time," admitted Treviso's coach, Craig Green. "But it's not difficult to work out how Bath play once you've watched a couple of their games." Green's team, in with a shout themselves of being Italy's first Heineken Cup quarter-finalists, cannot wait for their next close-up look on Saturday.
Benetton Treviso: B Williams; T Visentin, W Pozzebon (S Picone, 73), M Goosen, G Canale; F Smith, A Troncon (capt); G Faliva (F Sbaraglini, 73), F Ongaro (A Tejeda, 73), S Costanzo (J-P Mauro, 80), G Klerck, A Gritti (S Parisse, 64), E Pavanello (D dal Maso, 75), S Palmer, S Orlando.
Bath: M Perry (S Davey, 48); B Daniel, M Tindall, O Barkley, A Crockett; C Malone, N Walshe; D Barnes, L Mears, D Bell (M Stevens, 58), S Borthwick (capt), R Fidler, A Beattie (M Lipman, 59), G Delve (G Lewis, 69), J Scaysbrook.
Referee: S McDowell (Ireland).
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