PAST MATCHES: MY FAVOURITE 5
Heineken: Bath win 1998
By P G Tips
April 1 2020
Starved of live rugby by the coronavirus pandemic I have been reminiscing about favourite matches of the past. There are many to choose from – club, international, Lions, Barbarians, but it is favourite Bath matches I’ll focus on here. Making the selection proved more difficult than for gaz59’s Desert Island Discs (I have 3 sets already for that thread) as there is such a rich heritage to choose from – and indulge one’s memory. So – here is my subjective favourite 5, in reverse order. You may wish to add yours.
5. THE GREAT ESCAPE BATH v NEWCASTLE 2003
The final day of the season. A four-way relegation battle dependent on the results of two ties between the bottom 4 clubs: London Irish, Bristol, Bath & Newcastle. In the background two existential threats to Bath – if Bath were relegated would the Recreation Ground meet Premiership criteria to enable them to gain promotion the following season (and given their dominance of the previous two decades would jealous rivals have voted to accept them back)? Also a threatened merger with Bristol would probably have seen matches moved to the larger population centre.
Needing to win comfortably to gain a superior points difference, Bath’s performance that day turned a season of limp efforts on its head. Several players out of contract played as if their lives depended on the result- not least Tom Voyce (Wasps bound) Nathan Thomas (returning to Wales) and John Mallett (retiring to teach). The latter put in an heroic shift and left the field to thunderous applause with a few minutes to go. Bath hammered into their opponents, Olly Barkley outplayed Jonny Wilkinson at 10 and tries from Ian Balshaw, Tom Voyce and Gavin Thomas saw Bath triumph 24-12 against a Falcons team who could only register 2 Wilkinson Penalties and 2 drop goals. Bath’s win consigned Bristol to the Championship while Bath survived to contest the following campaign’s Premiership Final.
4. STUNNING IN THE SUN. BATH 47 LEICESTER 10. MAY 2015
Victories over Leicester are always sweet. Home Semi Final wins after a 10 year wait for a Twickenham final are sweeter still, especially in bright spring sunshine. When the manner of victory is like this, the post match celebration cup has the taste of the nectar of the gods. Leicester were stunned from the kick off, Banahan crossing for the first of his hat trick in the opening minute. Another from him on 24 minutes swiftly followed by one from Eastmond opened up a 21-0 lead. Yellow cards for Watson and Houston gave Tigers a glimmer of hope, Burns slotting a penalty and converting Tom Youngs score on the stroke of half time.
The second half was one way traffic, despite Leicester’s dominance of possession and territory. With George Ford pulling the strings Bath surged away, notching further tries by Stringer, Ford himself, Banahan and finally Watson, to thump the hapless visitors 47-10. The summit of the Ford years played out in glorious weather before an ecstatic crowd. A sweet memory indeed.
3. EXTRA TIME DRAMA: BATH v LEICESTER. PILKINGTON CUP FINAL 1996
Another stunner against Bath’s perennial rivals in balmy weather. This one though was much more of a nailbiter. Leicester, having enjoyed one sided Quarter and Semi wins over Harlequins and London Irish respectively were firm favourites. Bath, having struggled to derby victories in draining rounds against Bristol and Gloucester relied on their record of never having lost a cup final. That status seemed doomed to the dustbin for most of the match as Leicester dominated possession (70%) and Twickenham territory. Bath led 9-7 at half time thanks to two Jon Callard Penalties and a Mike Catt drop goal to Niall Malone’s try converted by John Liley.
Leicester edged ahead through a Liley penalty shortly after the break, sending ominous signals to the Bath supporters. Late in the match Matt Poole crashed over from a lineout to extend Tigers’ lead to 15-9. All looked lost for Bath, but Captain Phil de Glanville was not for giving up. “I told the guys we just had to stay cool, keep our discipline and get up into their half as quickly as possible,” said the skipper. A freak Twickenham breeze snatched Liley’s conversion away and Bath attacked in waves to attempt to salvage their pride. Leicester could only hold them by infringement and were repeatedly warned under their posts by referee Steve Lander. As Mike Catt inspired a series of close range snipes and drives Lander blew for six penalties and finally lost patience on the seventh, awarding a penalty try. Callard stroked over the conversion, Neil Back knocked over the referee. Tigers Captain Dean Richards and hooker Richard Cockerill complained bitterly that Bath were not going to score and did not deserve the win. The record book says otherwise. Back was banned for 6 months and victory, for Bath players and spectators alike, was all the sweeter for coming in the final act of a poor and dull game.
2. GLORIOUS AGAINST GLOUCESTER: PILKINGTON CUP FINAL 1990.
As near perfection as can be imagined in a major tournament match. Bath humbled a Gloucester side who had been fancied in advance to test their mettle –again in glorious sunshine. Kevin Withey, standing in for Jon Hall, got the ball rolling with a barnstorming surge from a lineout for the first try. Jerry Guscott glided through on the outside after slick handling from a lineout, Tony Swift picked up a brace and Jon Callard snatched his own kick ahead from under the noses of Gloucester’s defence to dot down. After Gloucester flanker John Gadd was dismissed for a stamp on Dave Egerton the forwards got in the act with Dawe, Ubogu and Redman all crossing to uproarious applause. A consolation score by Kevin Dunn was not enough to spare Gloucester’s blushes. 48-6 remains Bath’s highest score and margin in a Cup Final, a day to remember for those who were there and for the Cherry and Whites to forget.
1. BONANZA IN BORDEAUX. HEINEKEN CUP FINAL 1998.
I almost did not include this match, despite it’s huge significance. Why? Because it ought to be too well known. If all those who claim to have been there among the 5,000 Bath travelling faithful had gone, Bath would have been empty that day. French champions Brive had swatted aside a star studded Leicester Tigers to win the previous year’s final, beaten Bath in the pool stage and then despatched Wasps and Toulouse in the knockout rounds. They also had the benefit of greater support, having a shorter distance for their supporters to travel. They appeared to be an unstoppable juggernaut, but once again, Bath had other ideas. A dynasty was coming to an end at the Recreation Ground and the recent advent of professionalism had caught Bath out, but this squad had one last hurrah in them.
For all their pedigree, dominance of possession and sweeping attack, Brive could not breach Bath’s defence. The Blue, Black and White lived dangerously throughout but Brive had to rely on Lamaison penalties and a Penaud dropped goal for their points, which earned them a 18-12 lead late into the second half. Bath, having relied on last ditch defence to keep themselves in the game, got a rare chance from a scrum near the Brive line. Dan Lyle picked up from the base, Nicol fed Guscott who found Callard on the outside to slide over for the only try. Callard’s conversion gave Bath a one point lead but they then had to endure six minutes of goal line siege as Brive laid down scrum after 5 metre scrum. Hilton, Mendez and Ubogu stood firm, Lamaison missed a penalty and Arbizu a drop goal. Bath held out for the win 19-18. At the final whistle the players rushed towards their supporters arms waving and yelling like kids high on pop at a party. This was the first English European Cup victory and the only time Bath have won it. Truly an iconic day.
As I say, there is a rich collection to chose from. So – what would be your choices?
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2020:04:14:15:11:09 by P G Tips.
[Adoptee: Tom Doughty - dynamic hooker born in Brighton, made at Team Bath. Record for BUCS top try scorer within a season]
Okay, so the Newcastle game actually secured our place in the top flight. But without the momentum from the Irish (and I think Sarries) victories we'd have been gone long before that.
One point from the Falcons game: second half, result still uncertain, Wilkinson has a penalty opportunity to put his forwards 5 yards from our try-line, with a pushover try from a line-out there for the taking... instead he fires it too long, out of play, we get a line-out on the half-way line, and the pressure is lifted.
I still want to ask him whether he was doing us a favour. Hell of a let-off either way.
I sat in pretty good disbelief throughout and, despite us being on the back foot for much of the first half, our precision in attack was as sharp as I've seen and our ferocity in defence simply awesome. It was so exciting. Stunning. Eastmond's try from Ford's long pass and Roko's step, chip and chase is one of my all-time highlights.
There was magic in the air that day and, if it hadn't been for Farrell's high tackle on Watson, I really do think we would have got much closer to Saracens at HQ a week later.
Because the first time is always special.
My introduction to 'modern' rugby, having last played at school.
Sat about 5 rows back in the South stand, as Bath were coming towards us, in injury time, when Steve Lander awarded Bath a penalty try, converted by Jon Callard - I was hooked!!
Adopted player 20/21: Will Spencer - welcome home
I recall taking my neighbour to the Bath v Irish game which was a rollercoaster of emotion with Bath eventually winning.
I turned up home the next day and there was a large bottle of some very special beer, with a video tape (remember those) and a card.
He thanked me for the evening and then I read the instructions on the card.
1. Open and pour beer
2. Insert video and press play (yes it is at the right point)
3. Drink beer
4. Repeat 1, 2 and 3 until a pleasant glow comes over you
It still brings me out in goose bumps thinking about it!
On the Newcastle match my son had said in the January that he wanted a birthday party at the Rec for the last match inviting 8 of his mates, which was just before his real birthday
Obviously the season then unfolded and I was thinking on the morning of the game this could be easily the worst birthday party for a nine year old ever!
As it turned out he still talks fondly of it today as a 25 year old!
Bath Rugby Newcastle Falcons
Tries Balshaw, N Thomas, Voyce Tries none
Cons Barkley 3 Cons none
Pens Barkley Pens Wilkinson 2
Drops none Drops Wilkinson 2
Danny Grewcock (c)
I think when Balshaw scored his try it was from an effective flyhalf position............that's what I got confused with. It was from the left hand side at the Club House end and he just ran through so presumably OB ran another line drawing the defence leaving a gap for Balshaw.
What a wonderful player Balshaw was! Such terrific to watch him in full flight. We got to enjoy watching him, followed by Bendy, now Watson. Incredible talents and Balshaw may well have been the best.
My No. 3 - Surely the 1992 Bath v Harlequins Cup Final with Stuart Barnes 'never in doubt' drop goal in the last seconds of the last minute of extra time.
Watch and smile
Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 2020:04:10:21:13:29 by Stranded up North.
Never in doubt as you say. One of a few I left out most reluctantly!
Ollie Fox - England U20 international scrum half, youngest of our four 9's. If you are good enough, you're old enough!