Proud Bath prove a point
Bath showed that English club rugby is in rude health with an unrelenting display of courage and commitment that saw off the challenge of Pau in a bruising contest at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.
It was not a classic encounter - mutual tension and a high penalty count ensured that - but after each side had scored a try of stunning quality the outcome always hung in the balance. In the end Bath, spurred on by last week's 50-point hammering by Saracens, appeared to believe they had more to prove, to themselves as much as to their supporters.
Relief rather than euphoria was Bath's post-match mood, especially for the coaches Andy Robinson and Jonathan Callard, whose on-field role as the kicker of five penalty goals proved crucial. Robinson, having issued jack-in-the-box commands from the stand throughout, declared that Bath would have to improve 50 per cent to stand a genuine chance of wearing the European crown.
Though Pau attempted a comeback after Philippe Bernat-Salles, the most dangerous wing on view, scored a magnificent try on the hour, the French ultimately lost heart when every Bath player put his body on the line in uncompromising style. Phil de Glanville had to have stitches in a face wound, Dan Lyle finished with a wonky shoulder, and Mike Catt, who was concussed in England's Test against South Africa last month, took another fearful battering from the Pau forwards.
The French pack did themselves no favours with the Welsh referee Derek Bevan, who was not prepared to countenance a succession of ruck and maul infringements that destroyed continuity. When the score was tied at 3-3 Callard could afford to fail with two long-range penalties, safe in the knowledge that more chances would present themselves.
Once Bath had scored the first try through the England prop Victor Ubogu they never relinquished the lead. Initially Pau's well organised defence was breached by a lancing run by Callard, who set up a ruck in front of the posts; when the scrum-half Andy Nicol swept the ball cleanly out to the right the number eight Dan Lyle was on hand to send Ubogu over in the corner.
It was fortunate though that Callard maintained his length and line with three penalty goals - from 43, 25 and 37 metres respectively - in the final half-hour because Bernat-Salles's well-worked try could easily have destroyed Bath's composure. An inch-perfect pass by David Dantiacq deceived Adedayo Adebayo into lunging for an interception and left the French wing with a free run to the right corner.
When Callard landed his fifth penalty goal Pau needed a converted try to win but that proved a bridge too far. As the Bath fullback remarked: "This victory shows how far we've come in recent months, particularly after our dirty linen was washed in public. I cannot put words on what it means to us. The Bath tradition lives on."
Bath: Callard; Evans, de Glanville, Perry, Adebayo; Catt, Nicol capt; Yates, Regan, Ubogu, Llanes, Redman, Thomas, Webster, Lyle. Replacement: Peters for Lyle (81 mins).
Pau: Brusque; Bernat-Salles, Dantiacq, Leloir, Martin; Aucagne, Torossian; TriepCapdeville, Rey capt, Gonzalez, Lagouarde, Cleda, Keith, Bacque, Rolles. Replacements: Vignolo for Rolles (55 mins), Mentieres for Lagouarde (64 mins), Bria for Triep-Capdeville (71 mins).
Referee: D Bevan (Wales).