Bath Rugby's opening Heineken Cup fixture against Toulouse was always going to be a fierce affair, but nothing could have prepared either side for the dramatic final minute victory for the home side that snatched the glory from Bath Rugby in the dying seconds. After a nail-bitingly close 80 minutes, Toulouse came out on top with a final score of 18-16.
After 80 tense minutes, the visitors looked to have sealed a famous victory after Nick Abendanon sliced through the French defence to score a timely try, only to have the win slip through their fingers as David Skrela capitalised an infringement five metres from the Bath line to kick the winning points.
Bath began with a determination that matched the intensity of the 37,000 cheering fans, as good interplay between Butch James, Matt Stevens and Matt Banahan ensured that ground was made into the hosts' 22 in the opening five minutes. A clearance kick from Yannick Jauzion gave Toulouse a brief moment of respite, but the relentless charges from Bath kept the pressure firmly on the men in black and red and it was not long before Toulouse were penalised for holding on to the ball in the ruck
and James slotted the penalty kick perfectly between the posts for the first points of Bath's Heineken Cup campaign after 11 minutes.
The defending champions came back with sudden ferocity as their captain Jean Bouilhou ploughed into an awaiting David Flatman, before off-loading to fly half David Skrela who was in turn taken down by Peter Short. The hosts were given a chance to equalise as Bath were penalised for a knock on and Skrela took the penalty, successfully scoring three points at 17 minutes.
With twenty minutes gone and the scores locked at three points a piece, Bath were determined to forge into the lead and James, Alex Crockett and Abendanon made some swift passes to ensure that Bath were heading dangerously towards Toulouse territory. Skrela made a break, but was met by Flatman, proving steady in defence against the French side and as the fly half attempted to make a clearance kick, Bath team captain Michael Lipman made a good interception. However, it was not enough and
moments later Maleli Kunavore broke away from the Rec defence and sprinted towards the try line. The ball rolled into touch in goal and relentless drives from Toulouse were not enough to secure the try.
With just three minutes of the first half left on the clock, both teams were desperate for that much needed five points and Skrela was back on the attack as he once again put in a strong run towards the Bath defence. Supported by Cedric Heymans, they made good headway towards the visitor's 22 and as Bath were penalised for hands in the ruck, the number 10 awarded Toulouse with a further three points before the half-time whistle., Bath responded with a clearance kick from James and although it met with the hand of a Frenchman before going into touch on Toulouse's 22 metre line, Bath were not awarded the ball. However, with the action now firmly implanted in Bath's favour, an offside offence from the hosts gave James the chance to equalise at the break. But with the loud boos from the home fans, James failed to slot the kick.
The score remained at 6 - 3 to Toulouse at half-time.
Coming back on for the second half, Toulouse were set upon making an instant statement of intent immediately forging their way into Bath's 22 and forcing them to offend. Skrela took the penalty and kicked another three points for his team. However, three minutes later Bath responded with a try. Having made headway inside their opponent's 22, James was the victim of a high tackle that resulted in a scrum. As the offender tackler tried to peel the ball from the scrum, James intercepted the
pass and Michael Claassens finished the move by slipping over the line. James missed the conversion and at 47 minutes, Bath were behind by just one point.
The intensity heightened as the clock reached 50 minutes, when Lee Mears broke down midfield, performed a dummy and offloaded to Jonny Faamatuainu in support. Faamatuainu made a swift pass to Claassens, who kicked towards the white line, but Jannick Jauzion cleared the ball, preventing Bath from reducing the score divide. Instead, Toulouse increased it 10 minutes later as Bath were penalised once again for hands in the ruck and Skrela booted the hosts into a 12 - 8 lead. Toulouse did not enjoy the four point lead for long though, as three minutes following Skrela's kick, James slotted three points of his own, leading Bath to bite at the ankles of the French team.
The final ten minutes were nailbiting. Yet another penalty kick from Skrela secured Toulouse in the winning seat with a four-point lead, and as the clock continued to count down, Bath were desperate to claim the lead. As the Rec contingent burst deep inside the Toulouse 22, James kicked to the corner for a line out. Bath won possession and Butch off-loaded to Tom Cheeseman who had replaced Matt Banahan and the Welsh winger slipped the ball to Nick Abendanon for the try. The following
seconds were tense as the referee waited for the signal from the video replay to award the try and with just three minutes left on the clock, it looked as though Bath may have clinched the win.
After the try was finally awarded, Bath claimed possession and looked to close out the game. However, in attempting to keep the ball tight and run down the clock, control was lost and the ball squirted out for Toulouse to attack. Bath's defence was desperate and an attempting to prevent a try, the West Countrymen were forced to concede a penalty, handing Toulouse the opportunity they needed.
As Skrela stepped up to kick his sixth successful penalty, the stadium fell silent. The Frenchman seemed to have pushed the ball wide of the left upright, but to Skrela's relief the ball shaved the post and fell on the right side of the posts to seal a 18-16 victory for Toulouse.