Bath edge out Dragons
October 19, 2008
Andrew Higgins dives over to score Bath's match-winning try
© Getty Images
Bath bounced back to winning ways in this season's Heineken Cup with a narrow 13-9 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons at The Rec.
Wing Andrew Higgins came off the bench to rescue Bath's Heineken Cup campaign with a 67th-minute try that finally broke the Welsh side's resistance. By any measure it was an extraordinary defensive effort that held the Guinness Premiership leaders at bay for more than an hour, during which the visitors also lost two players to the sin-bin.
Two Butch James penalties kept Bath's noses in front throughout the first half but even after Higgins' try, converted by Butch James, the Welsh side came back with two penalties from Shaun Connor to claim a precious bonus point. Both sides had performed well enough in their opening pool matches to name unchanged sides although Bath named Shontayne Hape, their summer signing from Bradford Bulls, among the replacements.
The only survivors from the last Heineken Cup meeting between the sides in January 2001 were centre Shaun Berne, scorer of two tries in that 39-10 Bath victory, and prop David Barnes. Bath were on the front foot from the kick-off but the Dragons mounted a sharp attack on five minutes only for full-back Phillip Dollman to be penalised for not releasing the ball. They were to hear the whistle of Italian referee Carlo Damasco rather too often for their liking.
The pattern of the game was set early on, Bath in perpetual motion and the Dragons resigned to a brave defensive effort with 94-times capped Colin Charvis at the heart. A high tackle on Berne by prop Adam Black finally gave James the chance to open the scoring with a 13th-minute penalty.
James landed his second penalty on 23 minutes and almost immediately Charvis was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements. Remarkably, the visitors' defence held out while the 36-year-old flanker was off the field. In fact, they twice threatened their breakaways through wings Richard Fussell and Gareth Wyatt.
Bath lost scrum-half Michael Claasens to injury just before the break and straight after the restart the Dragons' resilience was rewarded when James Arlidge knocked over a penalty from 40 metres. As Bath began to run out of ideas Abendanon was wide with a drop goal attempt and James missed with a 40-metre penalty.
However, the pressure was back on the Dragons when number eight Lewis Evans went to the sin-bin in the 51st minute for killing the ball. As the hour mark approached the Dragons began to put some phases together for the first time in the match but Bath snaffled the ball on their own line and the opportunity was lost.
Fresh legs injected new urgency into the home effort and replacement wing Higgins twice came close to breaking through before claiming a bouncing ball to score, vindicating Michael Lipman's decision to opt for a scrum instead of an unmissable penalty.
James converted from the touchline but Connor replied with two penalties to earn a deserved losing bonus point for Tom Willis' men.
Bath: Abendanon, Maddock, Crockett, Berne, Banahan, James, Claassens, Flatman, Mears, Stevens, Harrison, Short, Hooper, Lipman, Faamatuainu.
Replacements: Higgins for Banahan (63), Bemand for Claassens (37), Barnes for Flatman (49), Dixon for Mears (63), Scaysbrook for Harrison (63). Not Used: Bell, Hape.
Newport-Gwent D'gons: Dolman, Wyatt, Sidey, Stcherbina, Fussell, Arlidge, W. Evans, Black, Willis, R. Thomas, A. Jones, Charteris, Bearman, Charvis, L. Evans.
Replacements: Smith for Sidey (68), Connor for Arlidge (68), R. Lewis for W. Evans (72), Hall for A. Jones (68), Webb for L. Evans (68). Not Used: S. Jones, Coundley.
Man of the Match: Joe Bearman (Dragons)
Ref: C Domasco (Italy).