Yachvili inspires Biarritz to all-important bonus point
Biarritz Olympique 26 Bath 19
Biarritz secured a bonus-point win over Bath to deny Ulster the top spot in Heineken Cup Pool Four.
France scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili got the French giants off to a perfect start when he touched down after five minutes. Former Bath favourite Iain Balshaw then struck with a try either side of the interval before Stuart Hooper gave both Bath and Ulster a glimmer of hope.
But American flyer Takudzwa Ngwenya raced clear for Biarritz's vital bonus-point try to secure the victory before Tom Biggs scored two late consolation tries for the visitors.
Bath went into the crunch encounter knowing only a bonus-point win would give them a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. But they entered a cauldron at Parc des Sports Aguilera, where Biarritz had triumphed in all but two of their last 32 European matches. The French giants went into the clash level on points with Ulster but knew a bonus-point win would secure their fate, having the superior match point difference.
England international Olly Barkley could have edged Bath into an early lead but his penalty, after five minutes, struck the right-hand post. Biarritz knocked on from the rebound but Bath were unable to take advantage of the resulting five-metre scrum.
Five minutes later, things got worse for Barkley when his clearance was charged down by Yachvili. The 44-cap French scrumhalf expertly re-gathered the bobbling ball to touch down beneath the posts. Yachvili added the extras to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
Biarritz extended that on 18 minutes when Balshaw showed the attacking prowess that made him a crowd favourite at The Rec during his six years there. The former Lion received the ball out wide after two long passes, popped the ball inside to Haylett-Petty, who returned the ball to Balshaw to race clear. Yachvili again added the conversion to give his side a 14-0 lead.
They could have extended that further after 26 minutes. Imanol Harinordoquy broke and showed audacious handling skills, with the ball in one hand, he flicked what would have been a try-scoring pass but Nick Abendanon got a hand to the ball and referee George Clancy adjudged Harinordoquy to have thrown a forward pass.
Biarritz continued to put Bath under pressure in the dying moments of the first half and looked to take advantage of several scrum re-sets on the Bath five-metre line. Despite Duncan Bell being sent to the sin-bin, Bath won a penalty from the next scrum. The ball was cleared and the scores remained 14-0 at the interval.
But Bath made a nightmare start to the second half with Balshaw grabbing a second try. Biarritz came out firing and made several attacks into the heart of Bath's defence. They worked an overlap on the left and despite Luke Watson getting a hand to Yachvili's pass, the ball fell to Balshaw who stepped inside Abendanon to finish. Again Yachvili slotted the conversion to bring the scores to 21-0.
Bath looked dead and buried at this point but they kept fighting and were handed their reward when Hooper dived over from close range. Barkley missed the conversion and the score remained 21-5.
But with 61 minutes on the clock Biarritz clinched the vital bonus-point try thanks to Ngwenya. Again Yachvili was at the heart of the move and threw a long pass out to Marcelo Bosch. The centre sucked in three Bath defenders to give Ngwenya a yard of space and the American flyer needed no second invitation to touch down. Yachvili failed to add the conversion.
Tom Biggs crossed for a consolation try on 73 minutes with replacement fly-half Sam Vesty converting and the former Leeds man grabbed a second with the final play of the game. Again Vesty converted but it was not enough as Biarritz triumphed.
Bath head coach Meehan said: "If we return to the Premiership and play rugby like that then we are going to be a handful. The rugby itself was fairly evenly shared. At various times we got on the front foot and played some good attacking rugby.
"If you look only at our win-loss count in this pool, it looks poor. But we performed better than that indicates. In the second half, both of their tries came from poor tactical kicking that put us under pressure.
"But we finished off well and kept working for the full 80 minutes. We thoroughly deserved those three tries. It's frustrating to have lost, but you must be optimistic after performances like that."
Scorers -- Biarritz: Yachvili, Balshaw (2), Ngwenya tries; Yachvili 3 cons. Bath: Hooper, Biggs (2) tries; Vesty 2 cons.
Biarritz Olympique: D Haylett-Petty; T Ngwenya, M Bosch, D Traille, I Balshaw; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; E Coetzee(Y Watremez, 64), B August (R Terrain, 56), S Marconnet (E Guinazu, 64), P Taele (J Thion, 52), E Lund, S Vahafolau (B Guyot, 41), I Harinordoquy (capt), R Lakafia.
Bath: N Abendanon; M Banahan, O Barkley, S Hape, T Biggs; B James (S Vesty, 68), M Claassens (M McMillan, 64); D Bell (D Flatman, 80), L Mears (P Dixon, 64) , D Wilson (A Jarvis,68), S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 51), S Taylor, L Watson (capt, J Ovens, 52), B Skirving.
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
Sunday Indo Sport