Bath 19-16 Agen: Bath seal home tie in last eight of Amlin Cup
Bath put their Aviva Premiership blues behind them to secure a place in the Amlin Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought victory over French visitors Agen at The Rec.
Gary Gold’s side had failed to win any of their previous four league outings but the latest European victory means they cannot be overhauled at the top of Pool 4 ahead of next week’s final group game at home to Bucharest Wolves.
The two sides were evenly matched throughout as lashing rain made flowing rugby difficult but Tom Heathcote’s penalty midway through the second half proved decisive, with the home side holding on for 20 minutes to secure the spoils.
Although pleased with victory, Gold was disappointed that Bath failed to put their visitors away when in control of the contest.
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“With what’s gone on in the last couple of weeks and how disappointed we’ve been, it’s good to come away with a win and give ourselves a home qualification in the quarter-finals,” said Gold.
“I’ll take the positives but I don’t want to cover over the fact that we’ve got to set ourselves standards that are higher than that.
“I think there were opportunities in the first half when we could have closed the game out. We had more than enough opportunities and should have had better reward when we visited their 22 on a couple of occasions.
“We panicked a little bit, we just have to hold onto the ball and look after it. We needed to keep our composure and keep exerting the pressure.”
Fly-half Heathcote missed a second-minute penalty from 45 metres to put Bath ahead, but broke the deadlock when given another chance 20 metres closer soon afterwards.
Agen counterpart Raphael Lagarde levelled the scores after six minutes when Francois Louw was penalised for a high tackle. Parity did not last long, however, with Heathcote booting the hosts ahead once more.
The swirling wind and rain made kicking difficult, though, and Heathcote saw his next two attempts at goal drift wide as Bath tried to punish the visitors for repeated infringements.
It took 20 minutes for either side to get a glimpse of the tryline, with Agen’s Belisario Agulla denied a score in the corner by Bath namesake Horacio after a good move. The Top 14 side did not return empty handed, however, with Lagarde bisecting the posts to level the scores.
An error from the Frenchmen then led to the game’s first try, with Lagarde seeing his clearing kick fire straight into the midriff of scrum-half Alexis Bales and deflect towards the tryline.
Agen survived the initial charge for the ball but after sustained pressure, prop Paul James smashed over the whitewash from close range. Heathcote converted in front of the posts.
Lagarde added some atonement for his mistake, cutting the half-time deficit to four points with another penalty but the fly-half’s topsy-turvy afternoon took another twist when he was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball five minutes into the second half.
Heathcote landed the resulting penalty but they were the only points Bath were able to score when they held a numerical advantage.
Three minutes after Lagarde’s reintroduction, Agen were on level terms. Back-row star Ueleni Fono dived over the tryline after sustained pressure, with the returning fly-half’s kick ensuring nothing separated the sides with 22 minutes remaining.
The decisive moment arrived four minutes later, with Bath’s Heathcote landing his fifth kick off the day to put the hosts back ahead and they were able to survive a frenzied close which was disrupted by a flurry of substitutions.
Despite having already assured their passage into the last eight, Gold insists there will be no let-up from Bath as they bid for top seeding from the pool stages to avoid teams dropping down from the Heineken Cup.
“We definitely want to follow it up with another win,” said Gold. “It’s a big issue because obviously the teams that don’t get that top seeding play the three Heineken Cup teams that come down. We want to do as well as we can and in doing so it makes sense to make life as easy as possible for ourselves when we can.”
Bath: Abendanon (Eastmond 59), Woodburn, Hipkiss, Williams, Agulla, Heathcote (Vesty 64), McMillan (Cook 68), James (Beech 68), Mears (Dunn 74), Wilson (Perenise 78), Attwood, Caldwell (Hooper 59), Skuse, Louw, Koster (Mercer 66).
Scorers: Try – James. Con – Heathcote. Pens – Heathcote 4.
SU Agen: Bataille (Tian 60), Agulla (Tagotago 68), Roux, Petre, Edmond-Samuel, Lagarde, Bales (Dupuy 66), Schwalger (Pitton 64), Telefoni (Janaudy 59), Muller (Afatia 59), Demotte (Bastian 41), Lagrange, Erbani, Julien, Fono (Vaquin 62).
Scorers: Try – Fono Con – Lagarde Pens – Lagarde 3
Referee: Dudley Phillips.