As many English sides have found to their cost, it is not easy to play in France and win. In Montpellier on Friday night, Bath fought hard to take the spoils in their first match of the European Challenge Cup, 14-21.
Although Montpellier put out a young side, any suggestions that they might not compete were shortlived, thanks to their tenacious defence and typical French counter-attacking flair. In any case, with the constant accompaniment of the supporters¹ band, and with a pitch that cut up from the word go, they could never be taken lightly.
Although they went into the break 11-0 ahead, Bath¹s first half contained many more scoring opportunities than that. The first points came after Malone had driven an early penalty to touch, and the lineout in turn surged towards the home tryline. Indeed, they went over, but the referee had already blown his whistle again, and this time they lost their lineout ball.
Montpellier cleared their lines, but another attack ensued and this time Malone took a successful shot at goal.
Shortly after they were made to defend their own lines, as Montpellier strung together several phases in attack, but they managed to do so and eventually put a few of the travelling supporters¹ minds at rest by scoring a try midway through the first half. Again, it came from a lineout, which made ground before the ball was released to the backs. It swung right and though it went to ground, Shaun Berne picked it up, and it found its way to Nick Abendanon via Joe Maddock and Michael Stephenson. Malone¹s conversion attempt hit the uprights.
Another chance followed, with a five-metre scrum from turnover ball, but Stephenson was tackled into touch just short of the line. A searing break by Berne then looked certain to end in a score, but the supporting Stephenson was forced to cut inside by the cover tackle, and Bath had to settle for another penalty in front of the uprights.
With half-time approaching, a lineout on the Montpellier line, with Louis Picamoles in the sin-bin, might also have yielded a score, but the ball was stolen.
After the break, Bath found themselves on the back foot. One attack was just thwarted, when the ball went forward over the line, but because Bath conceded a penalty at the scrum the danger continued, and eventually Samoan international Philemon Toleafoa was driven over.
With the bit between their teeth and the crowd behind them, Montpellier might have made it 10-11, but a penalty attempt was driven across the posts and instead Bath scored next when Malone slotted one for his side. Another chance soon followed but it shaved the right-hand post.
To the relief of the Bath fans, a try for Peter Short from a catch-and-drive move eventually put daylight between the sides. It was just as well, as Montpellier notched up a try of their own in injury time via Jharay Russell, after a scrum set up by a counter attack from their own half.
Steve Meehan was rightly very pleased: ³I thought, given the conditions, it was a good performance,² he said. ³All the areas that let us down last week [against Saracens] that they guys had focused on was much improved, particularly in the pack. It wasn¹t a game when you could throw the ball around but the guys really adapted well.
11: Penalty Malone, 0-3
23: Try Abendanon, 0-8
33: Pen Malone, 0-11
49: Try Toleafoa, Conversion Régis, 7-11
62: Pen Malone, 7-14
78: Try Short, Con Berne, 7-21
80+5: Try Russell, Con Aucagne, 14-21
BATH: 15. N Abendanon (Perry, 65) 14. M Stephenson 13. S Berne 12. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 11. J Maddock 10. C Malone (Cheeseman, 75) 9. N Walshe (Travagli, 80) 1. D Barnes 2. L Mears 3. D Flatman 4. P Short 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie (captain; Faamatuainu, 80) 7. J Scaysbrook (Goodman, 72) 8. I Feaunati.
Replacements: 16. R Hawkins 17. L Ovens 18. C Goodman 19. J Faamatuainu 20.
T Cheeseman 21. M Perry 22. P Travagli.
Montpellier: 15. J-M Alcalde 14. S Logerot (Boussuge, 72) 13. F Charrier 12.
R Lespinas (Mercier, 62) 11. A Koko 10. F Todeschini (Aucagne, 59). J Tomas; 1. P Toleafoa 2. N Grelon (Caudullo, 38) 3. N Descamps (Vigna, 51) 4. G Uva 5. M Gorgodze 6. J Russell (captain) 7. C Mathieu (Durand, 41) 8. L Picamoles (sin-bin 39-46; Macurdy, 80+5).
Replacements: 16. J Caudullo 17. A Vigna 18. M Macurdy 19. M Durand 20. J Boussuge 21. D Aucagne 22. S Mercier.
Referee: P Allen (Scotland)