Concentration lapses cost Bath

As Steve Meehan reflected afterwards, this comprehensive defeat was a reflection of Bath Rugby's season so far. Fatal lapses in concentration, particularly in the ten minutes after half-time, left the side 28-10 down and chasing the game with increasing desperation.
Meehan refused to blame the 32nd minute dismissal of Danny Grewcock, shown the red card by Jerome Garces for a stamp on Stephen Ferris's arm, for a defeat which left Bath rooted to the bottom of Pool 4.

"I wouldn't say that we lost the game because Danny Grewcock wasn't on the field", he said. "What was disappointing is that in that period after halftime we weren't applying ourselves to the game. To miss tackles as we did is simply a matter of losing concentration. For whatever reason, we started the second half very poorly."

Meehan added: "We were then playing catch-up. We're down to 14 men and it's 21-10. We were attempting passes that weren't on, when you'd expect to be a bit more patient, setting up a ruck. "

"Our half-dozen matches in the Heineken Cup reflected the five months of our season almost getting there and then taking a step back. It's been extremely frustrating for all involved, the supporters too."

Ulster, who took over the mantle of Heineken Cup champions in 1999 after Bath were unable to defend their title because of an English boycott of the competition, came to the Recreation Ground never having won in England.

And head coach Brian McLaughlin sprang a surprise by naming Niall O'Connor at fly-half rather than leading scorer Ian Humphreys, trusting the youngster's ability to get the line moving as the Ulstermen went in search of the bonus point victory that might take them into the quarter-finals.

O'Connor survived a nervous start to open the scoring with a penalty after six minutes after Bath fell offside at a ruck on the 22. Nicky Little was immediately presented with a 35-metre chance at the other end but the ball struck the left hand upright.

There was a nervous moment at the other end as Irish centre Paddy Wallace almost wriggled through but Ulster coughed up the ball and Bath won a penalty at the resulting scrum. An O'Connor drop goal attempt then cleared the bar from 50 metes but not before bouncing first!

Ireland and Lions blindside Stephen Ferris was a major influence in the close quarters and when he drove into the Bath defence at the end of the first quarter, Julian Salvi was penalised, allowing O'Connor kicked his second penalty.

Bath responded immediately and decisively, winning the ball back from the restart and moving the ball speedily to the right where Joe Maddock came into the line to send Matt Banahan in at the corner. Little converted from the touchline and it was 7-6.

That heralded a spell of concerted pressure from the home side but O'Connor, finding his range, kept them at bay with some astute tactical kicking.

Find themselves pinned back in their own 22, Bath conceded a penalty in a ruck. Ulster opted for the pick and drive and as the maul went to ground, the whistle blew. Referee Jerome Garces called Grewcock over and showed the veteran second row a straight red. TV replays suggested that Ferris had been holding the Bath man's foot and Grewcock used his boot to free himself.

O'Connor made the most of the moment by landing his third penalty, giving Ulster a 9-7 interval lead.

The second half was barely two minutes old when former Bath wing Simon Danielli fielded a kick and set off on a run beyond his own 22. Andrew Trimble appeared on his shoulder for the offload and sped 70 metres upfield to score a remarkable solo try.

Seven minutes later, Ferris flicked a pass to Danielli on the Ulster 22 under the West Stand and it was the left wing's turn to outwit the home defence. He nearly made it all the way but Darren Cave was left with the simplest of touchdowns under the posts, with O'Connor adding the conversion.

Little pulled back three points with a penalty as Ulster again failed to deal with the restart but the visitors continued to profit at the breakdown.

A break by Luke Watson appeared to have opened up the visitors' defence on the hour but the inside pass went to ground. Michael Stephenson chased his own chip ahead down the right but the ball beat him into touch just short of the flag and Banahan put a foot into touch after collecting a high, hanging cross kick from Little.

The last quarter was all Bath but it was increasingly frantic and, almost inevitably, a spirited, well organised Ulster team had the final word when Wallace stepped through a couple of tackles to score under the posts. O'Connor converted quickly but the fourth bonus try eluded them, not that it would have mattered anyway because Stade collected a bonus point in Edinburgh.

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