Bath 16-13 Montpellier, Heineken Cup, November 20, 2011
Donald inspires Bath to victory
November 20, 2011
Stephen Donald enjoed a dream full debut for Bath against Montpellier
© Getty Images
World Cup winner Stephen Donald sprinkled some All Blacks magic on Bath's Heineken Cup campaign as they battled past Montpellier 16-13 at the Rec.
Donald, who kicked the winning penalty for New Zealand in the World Cup final last month, set up two first-half tries for Bath's Olly Woodburn and David Flatman as well as adding two penalties on his full debut.
Martin Bustos Moyano, who scored a first-half penalty, pulled Montpellier back into the match with a converted try and penalty after the break. But Bath held on for a narrow victory. And there were more positives for Bath as Olly Barkley made his return from broken leg as a late substitute.
After losing away to Glasgow last weekend, Bath knew they could not afford a second successive defeat and effectively risk pool stage elimination, a fate seemingly destined for their fellow English representatives Northampton, Gloucester and London Irish.
Donald's first start apart, former England captain Lewis Moody also featured in a Bath side that knew any further Heineken slip-ups would leave their quarter-final hopes hanging by a thread. Montpellier, meanwhile, who were beaten narrowly by Toulouse in last season's French championship final, looked to build on a draw against Heineken Cup holders Leinster eight days ago.
Bath made a blistering start, establishing an 8-0 lead after just nine minutes as Montpellier struggled to cope with the fluency of their attacking game. Donald was at the heart of Bath's onslaught, kicking a short-range penalty and then floating a pinpoint long pass to an unmarked Woodburn, who finished off in the corner.
Donald's conversion attempt hit the left-hand post, but Bath were up and running before striking with another try that left Montpellier floundering.
The visitors looked to be stringing together a threatening attack, yet Donald intercepted a midfield pass and sprinted 80 metres into Montpellier's 22 before he was caught by their cover defence. Donald managed to free centre Dan Hipkiss, and after he was hauled down just short of the line, Bath worked Flatman over on an overlap for a 13-point advantage.
And to make matters worse for Montpellier, they were temporarily reduced to 14 men when their star fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc was sin-binned by referee Alain Rolland for killing Bath ball. With Trinh-Duc still off, Bustos Moyano kicked a penalty from halfway to cut Bath's advantage, but he could not find the target just two minutes later from closer range.
Bath had gone into their shells after such a livewire opening, and Bustos Moyano missed another penalty on the stroke of half-time as the home side retained a comfortable lead. Donald took a hefty blow early in the second period, but he dusted himself down to boot a 44th-minute penalty before Montpellier finally stirred into action.
Even if there was a huge slice of luck about Bustos Moyano's try - the scoring pass from lock Thibaut Privat was clearly forward - they were back in contention at 16-13 adrift after Bustos Moyano landed a touchline conversion and then an angled penalty.
Montpellier had scored ten points in five minutes, and with Bath losing their early attacking verve, the game appeared set for a tense final quarter. It became a highly-attritional contest as darkness descended on the Recreation Ground, although Bath had at least kept Montpellier pinned deep inside their half.
Barkley, sidelined since March because of a broken leg, made his comeback off the bench five minutes from time, and he had an immediate opportunity to calm Bath's nerves with a long-range penalty kick, but it dropped just short.
Bath, though, possessed sufficient composure to successfully wind down the clock and collect a crucial four points.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.