Despite a strong start, Bath Rugby fell away from continuing their Heineken journey with a home loss to Ulster on a snow covered afternoon. Final Score 22-26.
On a frozen Saturday afternoon Bath ignited a cold Rec crowd with a try in 42 seconds. Bath showed great attacking purpose and stole the ball in the ruck from the first kick. Great distribution in the backs shipped the ball from one wing to another, and superb vision from Butch James, found Lee Mears running on with pace. Mears' well timed offload in the contact let Matt Carraro slip over in the corner. Olly Barkley missed the conversion, failing to find his angle from out wide. 5-0.
Bath's domination and aggression in contact provided the home side with the chance to add another three points after Ulster were deemed offside by referee Pascal Gauzere. Barkley stepped up and slotted the kick taking Bath eight points in front.
It seemed Ulster had been given a wake up call by Bath's attitude towards the game so far. From the re-start Ulster initiated a pacey attack using the width of the pitch well. With the home sides forwards being sucked in from some tight play, Ulster spun the ball to the centre where a neat offload put fullback Adam D'Arcy over for the try. Fly-half Ian Humphreys supplied the additional two points. 8-7.
James asserted his return to the game with a well caught clearance kick which he then took on and used to open up his South African counterpart Claassens. Ulster's attempt to stop the flying Springbok was high and enabled Barkley to add another thee points. 11-7.#
A Bath error from the restart gave the trailing team a chance to regain the three points conceded after being penalised for crossing. Humphreys doesn't miss making the score 11-10.
In the mix again James's vision nearly provided another opportunity to score when a well placed cross field kick put the Ulster fullback under pressure from a storming Matt Banahan who drove him over the line for an attacking scrum. However, all was in vain as play was brought back for an earlier affray giving Barkley another chance at goal. A strong forty metre kick took Bath ahead 14-10.
At the close of the first half Ulster's talented scrum-half Ruan Pienaar broke loose gaining considerable distance. In an effort to halt the Ulster attack, Bath were found guilty of not releasing which let Humphreys close the gap to a single point. 14-13.
The second half was all to play for but it was Bath who were to go behind, but this time in the numbers of players on the pitch, as James who was sin binned just five minutes into the half.
Sensing Bath were missing an influential play maker, the Irish guests began a 12 phase onslaught, which the Bath defence dealt with superbly. However, patience prevailed for Ulster who put Nevin Spence in the left corner for the try. Humphreys kept up his 100% kicking record and added a difficult two points. 14-20.
Now high in confidence, another purposeful attack began from Ulster. With the intensity so high Bath were penalised again for not releasing in the tackle and Humphreys slotted a massive penalty from within his own half. 14-23.
Knowing they needed to respond quickly Bath fought back, attacking strongly. With James back on the pitch, it was the turn of the visitors to lose a man, after Nevin Spence was found guilty of infringing. Barkley put the ball through the sticks for the resulting penalty, narrowing the score to 17-23.
Now with all guns blazing and with Ulster a man short, Bath went stampeding towards the oppositions try line. Replacement Nick Abendanon darted through a hole in the defence in his own 22 and jinked his way 40 metres up field. Some quick recycling from Claassens fed James, whose excellent pass found Mears and a quick display of hands let Banahan loose down the wing who powered over the line. Barkley had the chance to take Bath ahead with the conversion but it drifted just wide. 22-23.
Bath knew they needed to win to keep their Heineken dreams alive and at the worst possible time the home side were deemed guilty of not releasing the ball. The ever cool-headed Humphreys again stepped up to finish his 100% kicking contribution by successfully slotting the penalty. 22-26.
A last hurrah from Bath saw them finishing the game with an attacking line out. The set piece found James but his pass stretched the wings too far, and a knock-on meant the game ended with the visitors running down the clock. Humphreys kicked the ball out to seal the victory.
Everyone at Bath Rugby would like to help all those who came and helped with clearing the pitch and the ground today. Your help ensure that the game went ahead as planned, and we cannot thank you enough for the effort you put in.