5 years ago
25 January 2009, 12:00am
Among all the permutations available on the last afternoon of the Heineken Cup pool stages, a 3-3 draw was the result no-one had really considered - but then we had not expected a truly biblical hailstorm just before kick-off.
The result was the lowest scoring match in the history of the Heineken Cup - 971 games over 14 seasons - leaving Bath with a quarter-final trip to Leicester on the weekend of 11-12 April. But it's only three years since Bath tweaked the Tigers' tail at the same stage of the competition.
Any notions of try bonus points were washed down the River Avon as the Recreation Ground pitch quickly became a morass. Although Bath battered away at the visitors' line for the last ten minutes, Steve Meehan accepted that a penalty apiece was a fair outcome.
"We were fortunate. To be 3-3 at half-time didn't do them any justice at all. They had all the territory, all the possession. We were looking for miracle fixes - it wasn't going to happen - and we addressed that at half-time.
"They weren't making any errors - but we weren't putting them under pressure. When we did, they made mistakes"
Wasps' defeat at Castres meant that both sides had qualified for the quarter-finals before kick-off but Meehan did not tell his players. "I am not aware that the players knew what was going on. Our whole focus was on winning this game."
Bath's points came after just two minutes, Butch James kicking a penalty after Toulouse infringed at a ruck in front of the posts. His opposite number Jean Baptiste Elissalde pushed penalty attempt wide of the posts at the other end as it became increasingly difficult for players to keep their footing.
On 16 minutes, Bath's cause was hampered by the loss of skipper Michael Lipman, left face down in the mud after an accidental blow to the head. James Scaysbrook came off the bench as Toulouse stepped up the pressure.
Nick Abendanon was being peppered with high balls and eventually Toulouse forced a scrum in the corner under the West Stand. Veteran lock Fabien Pelous was held on the line as Bath manned the barricades but they eventually conceded a penalty in front of the posts and Elissalde kicked the points.
That score in the 24th minute was the last of the game but, as Toulouse turned the screw on the Bath scrum, Elissalde was given three more opportunities to give his side the lead before half-time, the easiest being from 30 metres.
In near-impossible conditions Bath did try to run the ball out of their half on one or two occasions but quickly found that this was a hazardous tactic.
The nearest they came to threatening a try came on 36 minutes when Joe Maddock worked himself free to chase his own kick. The excellent Clement Poitrenaud was back to cover the danger. Just before the break, Maddock charged down Cedric Heymans clearance kick to force a 5-metre scrum but No 8 Daniel Browne could not force his way through.
With David Flatman on for David Barnes at loose head, Bath attacked the Toulouse scrum from the restart, winning a strike against the head after just two minutes.
James attempted a highly optimistic penalty from 40 metes soon after but he was unable to lift the ball far out of the swamp. That was the signal however for a spell of sustained pressure by James's teasing grubber into the corner, Bath opting for a scrum when Toulouse infringed at a ruck. Lee Mears came close to burrowing over but overeagerness cost a penalty which allowed the visitors to clear their lines.
Elissalde had a penalty chance from 40 metres on 57 minutes but the ball failed to clear the crossbar . Both sides were resorting to 'rugby tennis', hoping to capitalise on the one mistake that might swing the game. Having undergone a severe examination in the first half, Abendanon was now warming to his task and lifted his team with a superb clearance to beyond halfway from a narrow angle.
As the game moved into the last ten minutes, Bath roused themselves for one last big effort, roared on by the massed ranks of sodden Bath supporters. Another dangerous James grubber kick forced a lineout and Byron Kelleher did well to clear his lines.
That was virtually the last Toulouse saw of the ball as Bath's forwards kept the ball for 19 phases in a determined effort to force the winning score. With a dropped goal out of the question - Meehan said afterwards "like dropping the ball into a bath tub" - time eventually ran out.
Meehan was left to reflect on a campaign that did not quite deliver the home draw they longed for. "To play six matches for four wins and a draw and only a narrow defeat to Toulouse is a great effort. I believe in these players - they are very resilient, full of character."
Bath: Abendanon; Maddock, Crockett, Berne, Banahan; James, Claasens; Barnes (Flatman 40), Mears (Dixon 67), Bell, Harrison, Hooper, Beattie, Lipman (Scaysbrook 16), Browne (Fa'amatuainu 71).
Toulouse: Poitrenaud (Clerc 72); Medard, Fritz (Ahotaeiloa 38), Jauzion, Heymans; Elissalde (du Toit 63), Kelleher; Human (Basualdo 66), Lecouls, Pelous (Lamboley 71), Albacete, Bouilho (Nyanga 52), Dusatoir, Sowerby.
Referee: A Rolland (Ire).
By Kevin Coughlan
Other results for this match are not available.
Lineups for this match are not available.