Abendanon scores hat-trick as Bath storm into semis

A hat-trick by Nick Abendanon - and five other tries - secured Bath's place in the semi-final of the European Challenge Cup, in a scintillating 51-12 victory over Bristol.
The young full-back, who Steve Meehan said would be his candidate for "Rookie of the Year, had been the first on the scoreboard for Bath. But Bristol had come back at them, and no-one watching the first half, from which the visitors took a two-point lead, could have predicted the onslaught that was to ensue from the home team.
Meehan said of Abendanon: "He has got a wonderful sense of timing, great balance when he's running, and a pretty safe pair of hands. The guys know that nine times out of ten when the ball goes over their heads, he will provide a positive response."

Bristol claimed the kick-off and immediately embarked on a brisk attack, but a forward pass gave Bath a scrum, and when Bristol's front row was penalised Chris Malone kicked for touch. This took play well into Bristol territory, and Bath soon won a penalty which, after a drop goal attempt by Malone which the wind just blew to the right of the sticks, Olly Barkley lined up a penalty, but he too missed.

Bath kept a robust defensive line over the next few minutes, through testing play by Bristol, and although they kept them from get much beyond the Bath ten-metre line, Bristol were eventually awarded a penalty. However, like Barkley before him, Danny Gray, the young fly-half, failed to convert the chance.

From the restart, the visitors attacked, but Malone cleared to touch from a scrum after accidental offside. It was a Bristol lineout, but Steve Borthwick stole it, and tapped the ball down to Nick Walshe. Tom Cheeseman delivered the last of several quick passes along the line to Nick Abendanon, who danced down the left wing, wrong-footing several defenders, to score. Clearly, the full-back had no long-lasting ill effects from a blood injury, for which he had been off the field for nine minutes earlier in the game. Barkley converted for a 7-0 lead.

Midway through the half, Bath recovered from a dangerous moment, when Andrew Blowers charged over halfway after a free kick, but eventually Joe El Abd was penalised for holding on after an excellent tackle by Abendanon. However, moments later Lee Robinson struck down the right wing, his team too showing quick hands to force a two-on-one overlap, of which the winger took full advantage.

Though Gray missed the conversion, Bristol took the lead minutes later when Robinson cut a devastating line through the defence, and offloaded to David Lemi for the try. This time Gray added the two points.

A high tackle on Abendanon by Gareth Llewellyn gave Barkley the chance to recover three points, but his penalty attempt bounced back into play off the right-hand post. On 38 minutes, Gray too tried and missed with a shot at goal when Bath had failed to roll away in the tackle.

Bristol took the restart but two players ran into one another, giving Bath a penalty. Malone kicked to touch, Danny Grewcock won the lineout, but Bristol slowed the ball down well, and drove over the ruck, forcing a penalty against Bath. A second soon followed, this time within range of the posts, but yet again Gray hooked the kick. With the last play of the half, Barkley sent the first successful penalty for either side over the posts in front of the Hamptons Stands, an excellent effort from fifty metres out, cutting Bristol's half-time lead to two points.

Bath conceded the first kickable penalty of the second half, after Robinson had made the telling inroads into Bath's defence, but Gray's radar remained awry. Instead, Bath struck the first points of the half. Given a penalty, Malone went for touch, Borthwick won the lineout, and though the Bristol pack prevented the maul from making any progress towards the line, the effort had tied in a lot of forwards, and when the backs injected momentum needed, taking advantage of an overlap on the right wing for Maddock to score. Barkley could not convert, but minutes later, Bath notched another try. It came thanks to skilful handling and inventive interplay between backs and forwards, and was finished off by Cheeseman, who skated over and managed to touch down despite Robinson's admirable attempt to hold him up.

Next Berne got in on the act - twice! First, Danny Grewcock's fringe work forced Bristol to lose the ball in the tackle, Zak Feaunati scooped it up, and fed Berne, who raced in unopposed. Three minutes later, Barkley ran onto a flat pass from Malone, cut through towards the 22, and drew his man before feeding the Australian centre, whose path to the line was clear. From in front of the posts, Barkley had no trouble adding the two points.

Bath tails were up, and even when Bristol got the ball, they found it hard to hold on. Twice Bath forced a turnover at the breakdown, and the second time, Berne floated a beautiful ball to Maddock in space, who fed Abendanon for his second try of the game.

He completed his hat-trick when he set off on a run from his own half, broke through several tackles, and after feeding Maddock, kept running in support of the winger to take the ball again. He ran round under the posts, and Malone converted.

Bath were not done yet. Andy Williams caught Bristol napping when he took a tap penalty in his own half, and dashed well over halfway. With the defence in disarray, the ball eventually found David Bory, whose try under the posts helped Berne to kick his only attempt of the game, and thus to take Bath past a half-century of points.

The Head Coach was delighted: "It was a very good second half, a fine performance," Meehan said. "Some aspects of play were brilliant, out of the top drawer, breathtaking."

17: Try Abendanon, Conversion Barkley 7-0
25: Try Robinson, 7-5
28: Try Lemi, Con Gray, 7-12
40+7: Penalty Barkley, 10-12
49: Try Maddock, 15-12
53: Try Cheeseman, 20-12
61: Try Berne, 25-12
64: Try Berne, Con Barkley, 32-12
71: Try Abendanon, 37-12
78: Try Abendanon, Con Malone, 44-12
79: Try Bory, Con Berne, 51-12

BATH: 15. N Abendanon (Walker, 7-16) 14. J Maddock (Walker, 78) 13. S Berne 12. O Barkley 11. T Cheeseman 10. C Malone (Bory, 78) 9. N Walshe (Williams, 54) 1. D Barnes (Jarvis, 76) 2. P Dixon (Mears, 41) 3. M Stevens 4. S Borthwick (captain) 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie (Short, 71) 7. M Lipman 8. I Feaunati (Faamatuainu, 73)

Replacements: 16. L Mears 17. A Jarvis 18. P Short 19. J Faamatuainu 20. A Williams 21. D Bory 22. C Walker

BRISTOL: 15. J Taumalolo 14. L Robinson 13. N Brew 12. S Cox 11. D Lemi (Arscott, 43) 10. D Gray (Strange, 51) 9. S Perry (Nicholls, 41) 1. D Hilton (Clarke, 75) 2. S Linklater (Blaney, 41) 3. D Crompton 4. M Sambucetti (Budgett, 67)5. G Llewellyn (capt) 6. R Winters (Short, 67) 7. J El Abd 8. A Blowers

Replacements: 16. D Blaney 17. A Clarke 18. N Budgett 19. C Short 20. G Nicholls 21. J Strange 22. L Arscott

Referee: D Courtney
Attendance: 9,600

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