Bath romp home on Burgess’ debut


Published: Friday 12th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Bath marked Sam Burgess’ full rugby union debut by keeping alive their European Champions Cup quarter-final hopes at the Recreation Ground.

Former rugby league star Burgess, whose previous two Bath appearances since his high-profile switch of codes from Australian NRL champions South Sydney Rabbitohs had been as a second-half substitute, featured at inside centre for the entire game.

He was upstaged, though, by Bath wing Matt Banahan, who scored three tries as Bath prevailed 32-12, with England fly-half George Ford kicking two penalties and three conversions and Horacio Agulla claiming the vital bonus point try two minutes from time.

Montpellier managed second-half touchdowns from number eight Alex Tulou and replacement prop Mickael Ivaldi, but they never remotely threatened to upset the form-book on a night that saw Bath above Glasgow into second place in Pool Four.

After crushing Montpellier 30-5 in France last week, they are now firmly in contention prior to two further rounds of European action next month.

Bath, with Burgess displaying some impressive touches in midfield, were 17-0 up after just 14 minutes after their big-money recruit provided an assist for Banahan’s opener and then worked well with his fellow backs to allow Banahan a simple finish.

Burgess also took on a healthy workload in defence as his learning process in the union game continues. And life is not about to get any easier with Bath returning to Aviva Premiership business either side of Christmas by facing testing encounters against Gloucester, Exeter and Leicester.

Burgess’ first start was among a number of changes following last Friday’s win in Montpellier, with England forwards David Wilson and Dave Attwood returning, while South Africa back-row star Francois Louw made his first club appearance of the season since recovering from a neck injury.

Montpellier, out of the quarter-final running following three successive defeats, included Louw’s fellow South Africa Test player Wynand Olivier in a team captained by France international flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo.

And Bath carried on from where they left off in the south of France, taking just three minutes to open their account – and Burgess played a role as the ball bounced off his hip and into Banahan’s hands.

The television match official took his time before ruling there had been no forward pass, and Ford’s conversion – which was followed by a penalty just four minutes later – put Bath 10 points clear.

Attwood’s night lasted just 11 minutes before he was forced off due to a shoulder problem and was replaced by Stuart Hooper, but Montpellier could still make no headway as their miserable start was underlined through Jonathan Pelissie missing a straighforward penalty chance.

Bath, though, were in no mood to ease off the gas, and when Burgess was used brilliantly as a decoy midfield runner, England wing Semesa Rokoduguni surged through a huge gap and delivered a scoring pass to Banahan for his second try, with Ford again converting.

Montpellier were all over the place, having no obvious answer to Bath’s superior pace, power and attacking invention, and despite the home side briefly going off the boil as Montpellier belatedly found their feet, there was no doubting Bath’s dominance.

They could not add to their points tally by half-time, yet a 17-0 interval advantage meant they were well on their way to completing an emphatic demolition job on opponents whose European hopes had long since fallen apart.

Having completed the hard yards, Bath knew the game was about securing a five-point maximum, and they showed plenty of intent during the second-half’s initial flurries as Rokoduguni and centre Jonathan Joseph both ran strongly.

But it was Banahan who came up trumps once more, completing his hat-trick in the 51st-minute after Ford had kicked a penalty, while Montpellier had substitute Benoit Paillaugue sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Bath scrum-half Chris Cook.

The visitors gained a consolation try from Tulou with 17 minutes left, and they were a far tougher proposition after the break, relishing the physical battle they had previously shown little appetite for.

Ivaldi scored their second try following a spell of relentless forward pressure, converted by Paillaugue, and then it was all about whether Bath had enough time left to claim a vital fourth touchdown.

They stormed upfield from the restart, and after patiently going through the phases, Agulla pounced to send a 13,000 crowd wild.

Published: Friday 12th December 2014 by The News Editor

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