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Bath excellent value for first Champions Cup win since January 2018

By Liam Heagney
Joe Cokanasiga scores the first of his two tries (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Bath got their Investec Champions Cup campaign off to a flyer at The Rec when a powerful second-half showing turned an 8-14 interval deficit into a deserved 37-14 bonus point win against Ulster.

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With the hosts on a 10-game losing streak in this tournament stretching back to January 2018, this victory will be seen as massively significant for a club that now has Johann van Grann in charge.

Riding high in the Gallagher Premiership this season, there would have been huge pressure on the league’s second-place team to take their domestic form into Europe and, apart from the four-minute brain fade in the first half where the conceded converted soft tries to Billy Burns and Nathan Doak, they were great value for their success.

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Sam Warburton discusses the Champions Cup format

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Sam Warburton discusses the Champions Cup format

They will be especially pleased with how their scrum played its dominant part in the triumph after they recently splashed out to get the surface stitched to make it firmer.

What did for Ulster in the end was the 65th-minute yellow card picked up by Matty Rea, a numerical advantage that helped Bath to score two tries to build on their then 18-14 lead, and they wrapped it all up with a late walk-in with Ulster disillusioned and defensively gone missing.

Attack

157
Passes
134
143
Ball Carries
94
282m
Post Contact Metres
196m
7
Line Breaks
4

The high-scoring, seven-try contest was initially one for the purists, though, with plenty of too and from but zero points. A pair of errors from Stewart Moore, as well as the concession of a free at the game’s first scrum, meant Ulster came away empty-handed from their first bout of pressure.

However, Bath lacked precision as well as Finn Russell missed his 14th-minute penalty after Will Muir’s dancing feet had them menacing the try line with a series of pick-and-go.

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The stalemate continued for another 13 minutes until the home side finally made the breakthrough. Turning down the option of a kick at the posts, they scrummed down five metres out and, off the back of it, Ben Spencer threw a monster left-to-right pass that had Joe Cokanasiga in at the corner for an unconverted lead.

Their momentum continued. A left-footed Russell chip was gathered by Cameron Redpath whose inside pass was caught and kicked ahead by Spencer, who was only narrowly beaten by Rob Baloucoune in the race to the loose ball as it rolled over the try line.

Bath settled some minutes later for penalty points from Spencer to reward one of numerous rollicking Ollie Lawrence breaks, but the impression that this contest was going all the way of the English side was shattered by two converted Ulster tries in a four-minute spell that will be a video nasty when reviewed by the hosts.

They inexplicably switched off momentarily in defence, Lawrence limply kicking a loose ball instead of diving on it and it deflected off Burns who couldn’t believe his luck as he picked up and ran in unopposed.

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Then, when a Gallagher kick was blocked by Moore, the Ulster counter from their 10-metre line was sublime, the sweep ending with James Hulme giving the assist on the 22 to Doak, who celebrated by the uprights.

The Bath chat at the break was likely to have been sharp and straight to the point and their riposte came six minutes after the resumption, Tom Dunn fastening onto the back of an unstoppable maul and Spencer adding the tricky conversion for a 15-14 lead.

A bench-busy Ulster were now on the back foot but while Spencer had the accuracy for penalty points from a ruck set up by the impressive Alfie Barbeary, he was wayward following a scrum infringement.

Not that it ultimately mattered. The Irish side were unable to dilute the pressure and with sub Rea binned with 15 minutes remaining after Lawrence was held just short of the line, a sequence of penalty-winning scrums eventually led to replacement tighthead Thomas du Toit driving over from close range on 69 minutes after Barbeary had tried to crash in off the back of the set-piece.

Spencer’s conversion stretched the gap out to a two-score margin, 25-14, and the situation quickly got bleaker for Ulster with Cokanasiga racing in for his second unconverted try after a sweet Lawrence canter and one-handed offload off scrum ball after the visitors had fluffed their restart kick.

There was still even more to come and the game was restored to 15 versus 15, Gallagher walking in for his team’s fifth try, a score excellently converted by Redpath from the touchline.

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