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Impressive Bath march on in europe

Bath completed a double of European Challenge Cup victories over Albi with a comprehensive 59-15 demolition of the French side at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.
Head coach Steve Meehan made eleven changes to the side that had won the reverse fixture in Albi the previous weekend, but as in France, the result was emphatic as Bath scored nine tries in romping to a fourth successive victory in Europe to cement a commanding position at the top of Pool One of the competition.

Meehan could not have scripted a better start as immediately from the kick off Joe Maddock exploded down the wing for an instant and easy five points. While there will be some debate as to whether the New Zealander's try was the quickest in the competition's history, there was little doubt that Bath meant business.

Despite the bitterly cold conditions, Bath turned up the heat and the Rec faithful were not kept waiting long for a second try. Samoan international fly-half Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, playing his first match since shoulder surgery, punched a hole through the Albi cover to create the platform for fellow countryman Jonny Faamatuainu to score with barely five minutes on the clock. Shaun Berne's conversion handed Bath a commanding 12-0 lead.

Albi did manage to get on the scoreboard after 14 minutes through the boot of Frederic Manca, but it was to be a brief respite as Bath forged further ahead. A move started by number eight Chris Goodman and continued by Faamatuainu, resulted in Matt Banahan being released in space. Although the giant winger was hauled down just short of the line, the ball was quickly recycled and Berne found a gap to score the third try. The centre's converted his own try to give Bath a 20-3 lead within the opening quarter.

Despite living off scraps, Albi looked to attack at every opportunity and after Frederic Menca had set up field position within the Bath 22, centre Tim Bowker scored to reduce the arrears to just nine points for the visiting team.

Any thoughts of an upset were quickly dispelled as yet again Albi were reduced to 14 players after they lost prop Jerome Filitoga to the sin-bin. Bath immediately capitalised and marched Albi back towards their own line with a powerful driving maul, before Michael Claassens slipped the ball to James Scaysbrook to score the try that sealed the bonus point and a 24-10 half time lead.

Bath started the second half in the same vein as they had ended the first and came close to scoring almost immediately from the restart after a powerful scrum at close quarters resulted in the forwards being driven over the Albi line at pace. However, the home side were thwarted by some excellent defensive play by the Frenchmen.

Albi refused to capitulate and the Frenchmen to produce a period of sustained pressure deep inside Bath territory, frustrating the home side. Bath, experiencing a rare opportunity to defend, tackled with purpose, but Albi's pressure eventually told as Justin Mensah-Coker, squeezed in at the corner for his side's second try.

With a quarter of the match remaining, coach Meehan brought on fresh legs in an attempt to break the deadlock and finish off a tiring Albi side. The reward was immediate as replacement hooker Rob Hawkins showed a good turn of pace to round off Bath's first try of the second period. Berne converted for a 16 point lead, and Bath were back on track.

The try served to open the floodgates for Bath who responded with four tries in a final ten minute salvo of exceptional quality. Olly Barkley, having only just entered the fray, scored his side's sixth try after some clever interplay inside the Albi 22, and with Berne's conversion attempt successfully executed, Bath led 38-15.

With Albi's spirit broken, Bath created opportunities with ease. Alex Crockett was next to get in on the act and scored his side's seventh try after picking a superb line to outpace the French cover for a superb try. Berne landed the conversion and Bath were cruising.

With two minutes remaining on the clock, Berne took Bath past 50 points, crashing over the line for yet another five-pointer. Barkley added the extras and moments before the final whistle the scorer became the provider as Berne offloaded to Barkley a few metres from the Albi line for Bath's ninth and final try of the afternoon. The replacement fly half converted to wrap up an impressive 59-15 victory.

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