6 years ago
22 April 2007, 12:00am
Bath Rugby have reached the final of the European Challenge Cup after a close-fought, high-scoring win over Saracens at Vicarage Road, which they won 31-30.
They will face ASM Clermont Auvergne on Saturday 19th May (venue yet to be decided) after the French saw off Newport Gwent Dragons.
Bath had led since the eighteenth minute, but both they and Saracens played entertaining and attacking rugby, and the result was only assured when Shaun Berne booted the ball unceremoniously into touch from the back of a ruck, after the stadium clock had reached forty minutes in the second half.
Steve Meehan, the Head Coach, was proud of the team's determined performance: "It was a real show of desire from the guys; they wanted to be in the final. They really dug deep and showed a lot of pride in their performance."
Bath had made a promising start, with Andy Beattie athletically claiming the kick-off and Steve Borthwick getting his hands on the ball to disrupt Saracens' first lineout throw. In contrast, Saracens' fly-half Glen Jackson missed touch with his first penalty kick, and their second lineout throw wasn't straight. But perhaps both sides were nervous in the opening minutes, for Bath were not error-free, spilling the ball on a couple of occasions.
However, after ten minutes, Saracens settled themselves with a try on the left wing by Rodd Penney, the result of a speedy backline move that produced an overlap. It was an early blow, but an excellent kick through by Olly Barkley put Saracens under pressure, and Thomas Castaignède knocked on as he tried to field the bobbling ball. A scrum to Bath ensued, five metres out, and when Danny Grewcock charged towards the line, his forwards supported to take the ball over the line. The referee needed to check with the Television Match Official, but he awarded the score to Andy Beattie, and from in front of the posts, Barkley converted to take Bath ahead.
Just three minutes later, Bath extended their lead with a score that began with a break by David Bory in his own half. Joe Maddock took the ball on, and exciting interplay between forwards and backs allowed Berne to exploit another gap in the 22. Saracens were unable to stop the momentum towards the line, and this time Grewcock himself touched down. Barkley once more added the two points.
For a while now, Bath had to defend, as the home side enjoyed a period in possession in their own half. But they tackled strongly, and a double hit by Barkley and Michael Lipman dislodged the ball from Saracens' big captain Simon Raiwalui. However, Bath were penalised at the scrum that followed, and Jackson struck his first points of the game.
Moments later, Saracens No 8 Ben Skirving broke off the back of a scrum in their own 22 and broke into the Bath half. They were throwing the ball around as Bath's defence tracked back, but David Bory latched onto a pass intended for a Saracen, and ran unchallenged to score under the posts.
But the home supporters were soon cheering a try under the posts of their own, Penney again the beneficiary as he cut through the tacklers with a diagonal run. Jackson, who had converted the try, further reduced Bath's lead, when Steve Borthwick was penalised for not rolling away in the tackle just inside his half.
But Bath ended the half on a high note, when Shaun Berne's dummy fooled the approaching defenders, and the Australian fly-half backed his strength and pace to score Bath's fourth try.
The home side had the first chance to get on the scoreboard after the break, when Bath were penalised again at the ruck for not rolling away, but Jackson's attempt at goal was unsuccessful. They went better than a three-pointer a few minutes later though, Jackson providing a neat back-handed scoring pass to Dan Scarbrough. Bath came straight back at them and won a kickable penalty, which Barkley converted from about thirty metres out on the right-hand side of the pitch.
Bath mounted two promising-looking attacks around Saracens' 22-metre area, patient pick-and-drive work at the heart of each, but the one ended with a knock-on, and the other with a turnover at the ruck, and Saracens's counter-attack took them within dangerous distance of Bath's line. Bath won a scrum, and their supporters breathed a sigh of relief when a penalty denied Alan Dickens, Saracens' replacement scrum-half, a try from a charged-down kick.
The crowd's temperature rose again when the home side powered towards Bath's line all the way from a lineout on halfway, but Iain Fullarton, though he made it over the line, was held up. But it was still Saracens' ball at the scrum, and they spun it to the right wing, where Scarbrough secured his second try. But Jackson did not convert, and Bath remained a point in front with eight minutes left on the clock.
Berne attempted a drop-goal when Bath secured the restart, and only missed by inches. It was a nail-biting finish but Bath's forwards kept it tight and held onto the ball to close out victory and ensure their quest for silverware continues into May.
Meehan said that the team had learnt the lessons of some close games in the league recently: "Last week [against Sale] we were in a similar position and we learnt from that, and executed a lot better. It was a pretty good semi-final. Both sides were on top of each other and had to work really hard. Games like that can go either way."
11: Try Penney, 5-0
18: Try Beattie, Conversion Barkley, 5-7
21: Try Grewcock, Con Barkley, 5-14
30: Penalty Jackson, 8-14
32: Try Bory, Con Barkley, 8-21
34: Try Penney, Con Jackson, 15-21
40: Pen Jackson, 18-21
40+8: Try Berne, Con Barkley, 18-28
46: Try Scarbrough, Con Jackson, 25-28
50: Pen Barkley, 25-31
77: Try Scarbrough, 30-31
BATH: 15. J Maddock (Walker, 79) 14. T Cheeseman 13. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 12. O Barkley 11. D Bory 10. S Berne 9. N Walshe 1. D Barnes 2. L Mears (Dixon, 70) 3. M Stevens 4. S Borthwick (captain) 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie (Short, 67) 7. M Lipman 8. I Feaunati (Goodman, 70)
Replacements: 16. P Dixon 17. L Ovens 18. P Short 19. C Goodman 20. A Williams 21. M Stephenson 22. C Walker
SARACENS: 15. T Castaignède 14. D Scarbrough 13. K Sorrell 12. A Farrell 11. R Penney 10. G Jackson 9. N de Kock (Dickens, 41) 1. N Lloyd (Visagie, 80+8) 2. S Byrne (Cairns, 71) 3. C Visagie (Johnston, 48) 4. H Vyvyan 5. S Raiwalui (captain; Fullarton, 68) 6. K Chesney 7. R Hill (Seymour, 59) 8. B Skirving
Replacements: 16. M Cairns 17. C Johnston 18. I Fullarton 19. D Seymour 20. A Dickens
21. A Powell 22. T de Vedia
Referee: N Owens
By Hilary Weale
Other results for this match are not available.
Lineups for this match are not available.