7 years ago
19 May 2007, 12:00am
Bath Rugby gave everything in the attempt to win the European Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday, but three second-half tries within twenty minutes gave ASM Clermont Auvergne a 22-16 lead which, despite an excellent fightback, they held at the final whistle.
Thousands of Bath fans - most in the blue, black and white shirt, countered by a smattering of drum-beating Clermont supporters clad in yellow, generated a pulsating atmosphere.
From the kick-off, the crowd's liveliness was matched on the pitch by both teams, each seeking to play attractive rugby on the firm turf. Clermont looked especially dangerous on the counter-attack, and just before the ten-minute mark, their skipper Aurélien Rougerie, receiving the ball just inside the Bath half, set off down the left wing and brushed off several tackles before being hauled down inches short of the line. Bath's defence rallied, and though they conceded a penalty, fly-half Brock James failed to slot the three points on offer, pushing the ball to the right of the posts.
Minutes later, Shaun Berne looped round and broke through the flat defence. With no support near enough, he chipped through, forcing the French to touch down in their goal area. Securing the restart, Bath made the most of their first real foray into the Clermont half, winning a penalty which Olly Barkley struck confidently through the uprights, giving Bath a 3-0 lead.
James might have equalised soon after, when Bath were penalised in possession at the ruck just in their half, but this time the ball fell short of the posts. However, as the half approached its midway point, Bath conceded a penalty at the ruck, and compounded the offence by backchat. Ten metres nearer the posts, it was third time lucky for James.
Barkley might have reasserted Bath's lead soon after, when Clermont failed to roll away at the tackle, but the touch judges' flags stayed down. The French were getting into their stride, moving the ball slickly down the line or out of the tackle, and the big wings in particular, Rougerie and Malzieu, challenged Bath's defence both out wide. Thirty minutes had passed when Anthony Floch dived elaborately over by the left corner flag, but to Bath's relief, no try was given as the pass to him had been forward.
A penalty at the ensuing scrum allowed Bath to clear their lines, but it was a struggle to break into French territory. Dogged forward work did the trick, though, and after Steve Borthwick had carried the ball beyond Clermont's ten-metre line, the French were penalised for preventing release, and the culprit, Sam Broomhall, sent to the sin-bin.
Nick Walshe caught them by surprise in taking the penalty quickly, but now Bath's forwards were penalised at the ruck, and the promising position lost as Clermont kicked for touch. However, the forwards made up for it by turning Clermont over just inside Bath's half, and then David Bory and Nick Abendanon combined to open up the French defence. Their running took play into the French 22, where another penalty gave Barkley his third opportunity to kick for goal, which he did successfully.
Just before half-time, the ball spurted out of the maul as Bath attempted to drive to halfway. The French rushed onto it, and the Bath defence, though it kept them from scoring on the left, was stretched out right. But as the ball swung to the right wing, Grant Esterhuizen ignored the extra man, and the score remained 6-3 to Bath at the break.
But Clermont drew first blood in the second half, their threat on the counter-attack proven at last when Bath turned over just inside the French half. A chip over the defence took play into Bath's half, and this time Malzieu made his strength tell, handing off the defenders on the right wing and scoring the first try of the match. James converted and Clermont led 10-6.
Thirteen minutes later, they scored a second, after a cunning lineout move on the right had sucked in the defence. With men on the left, the ball moved down the line quickly, and Tony Marsh jogged in for the try.
James missed the conversion, but nevertheless got on the scoresheet again within a few minutes, thanks to a searing break by Malzieu which took play from beyond his own ten-metre line to the Bath 22. Just yards from the posts, James chipped over and gathered the bobbling ball to touch down, and then added the simple conversion.
But Bath were not finished yet, thanks to a few fresh legs and some magic footwork by Joe Maddock. The club's back of the season, from a fairly static and apparently innocuous position just over the Clermont ten-metre line, bamboozled a host of French defenders and scored under the posts.
A fired up Bath side now attacked the French in robust fashion, urged on by a magnificently supportive crowd. Their efforts secured a penalty ten metres out, and Borthwick spurned the chance to kick at goal, asking Malone to kick the ball into touch. They won the lineout, and the forwards surged over the line, but the referee asked the TMO for his assistance, and he ruled that Peter Short, a recent replacement, had knocked the ball on in going over.
An angry pack turned the subsequent Clermont scrum through ninety degrees, but a knock-on in the backs allowed the French to clear over halfway. But Bath did score again, taking the sensible opportunity to kick three points when the French were next penalised within Barkley's range, for not rolling away in the tackle.
They soon won another penalty, but this one was rather distant, and Malone kicked for touch. The lineout, though, was cleaned up by Clermont, and play forced back to halfway. But Bath attacked again, won another penalty, and this time Borthwick claimed the ball at the tail of the lineout. But despite another vigorous attack, the finish eluded Bath, and when the ball fell forward, the referee blew the whistle to leave ASM Clermont Auvergne the victors.
Steve Meehan said: "My feelings are for the players. They put in absolutely everything for that competition and for today. We will continue to work hard and continue to improve and next season will come out better."
14: Penalty Barkley, 0-3
22: Pen James, 3-3
40+5: Pen Barkley, 3-6
44: Try Malzieu, Conversion James, 10-6
57: Try Marsh, 15-6
62: Try James, Con James, 22-6
68: Try Maddock, Con Barkley, 22-13
80+6: Pen Barkley, 22-16
BATH: 15. N Abendanon 14. J Maddock 13. E Fuimaono-Sapolu (Cheeseman, 41) 12. O Barkley 11. D Bory (Malone, 47; Fuimaono-Sapolu, 54) 10. S Berne (Malone, 65) 9. N Walshe (Williams, 65) 1. D Barnes 2. L Mears (Dixon, 80+3) 3. M Stevens 4. S Borthwick (captain) 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie (Short, 66) 7. M Lipman 8. I Feaunati (Scaysbrook, 65)
Replacements: 16. P Dixon 17. A Jarvis 18. P Short 19. J Scaysbrook 20. A Williams 21. C Malone 22. T Cheeseman
ASM CLERMONT AUVERGNE: 15. A Floch 14. A Rougerie (captain) 13. G Esterhuizen (Baikeinuku, 64) 12. T Marsh (Baikeinuku, 2-14) 11. J Malzieu 10. B James 9. P Mignoni 1. L Emmanuelli 2. M Ledesma (Miguel, 70) 3. M Scelzo (Shvelidze, 73) 4. J Cudmore 5. T Privat (Jacquet, 46) 6. M Dieude (Longo, 54) 7. S Broomhall (sin-bin: 39-45) 8. E Vermeulen
Replacements: 16. B Miguel 17. G Shvelidze 18. L Jacquet 19. G Longo 20. A Troncon 21. S Baïkeinuku 22. R Chanal
Referee: N Owens
By Hilary Weale
Other results for this match are not available.
Lineups for this match are not available.