Toulouse experience the difference
They not be the force they once were in Europe, but Toulouse still know how to win close games when it matters, and they seem determined to wrestle back their mantle of Europe’s best from the noisy rouge et noir mob on the Côte d’Azur. It helps, of course, that they boast Vincent Clerc, the European Cup’s all-time leading try-scorer, and can pair him on the wings with Yoann Huget, another French danger man. The rest of the team isn’t too shabby either with over 600 caps in total, and a back row accounting for 181 of those through Louis Picamoles, Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinordoquy, all experienced campaigners made even more dangerous as Bath again had to pack their back row with squad locks to make up the numbers. Unsurprisingly, Clerc found his way through the Bath defence for European try number 36. Their victory, a first on the road this season. could have been easier had former England outside-half Toby Flood not missed two easy penalty goal attempts in the first half, but the try-scoring bonus point rarely looked on the cards after Maxime Médard went over for the third on 65 minutes as Bath upped their intensity in search of at least a losing bonus point, which soon turned into an all-out battle for all four points, but Luke McAlister controlled the remainder of the game as Toulouse ran down the clock. The double header between Glasgow Warriors and Toulouse in December will now determine which club makes it out of the group and Guy Novès and his team will fancy their chances as their impressive away form in Europe continues.
Second defeat pulls plug on Bath’s challenge
The margin of defeat at home wasn’t quite the 27-point mauling it was at Glasgow Warriors last week, but two defeats from their opening two matches sees the 1998 European champions staring at an early exit, despite picking up a losing bonus point. In all likelihood, they’d need to win their final four matches to have a chance of going through, but with two visits to France to come, and the Warriors heading to The Rec in Janaury, that seems even more unlikely. It was a much stronger performance from Mike Ford’s team, surprisingly dominating the set-scum in the first half, and another impressive second-half showing as they kept fighting to the end, but the French behemoths had too much for a depleted English team. There was certainly hope of a famous home win in the closing stages after Ross Batty’s try with six minutes remaining, but it was ruthlessly snuffed out, such is the French way when they’re in the mood on the big stage, as Bath coughed up possession at the breakdown in the final play of the match. Tipped by many to top Pool 4 to reachthe quarter-finals, exit at the first hurdle now seems likely. In the circumstances, they can’t ask for too much more against clubs with bigger squads, packed full of internationals, but they could still cause some surprises and finishing in the top four of the Aviva Premiership may become their focus as the LV=Cup and league fixtures filter back into the schedule in the coming weeks.
Still plenty of promise for Bath
England outside-half hopeful George Ford was somewhat hit and miss despite kicking 14 points, including a first-half drop goal. Unlike Flood, his kicking game was strong, save for an effort that went dead. He probably hasn’t done enough to displace Owen Farrell as England’s first-choice 10, but is certainly in a battle with Northampton’s Stephen Myler for the understudy role. Wing contender Semesa Rokodoguni again showed why he is highly-coveted by the England coaches with his ball carrying, and could find himself starting against New Zealand in two weeks, as could centre Jonathan Joseph as his stock continues to rise, while the versatile Anthony Watson looked comfortable playing at full-back as he took the attack to the visitors and can definitely count himself unlucky not to have made the initial call-up to the England squad. Up front, young lock Charlie Ewels, who was part of the England squad that won the Junior World Championship in New Zealand this summer, put in another solid shift out of position in the back row. It’s far from a perfect fix, but needs must. Despite another loss, Ford Snr can again be proud of his team’s effort – there will always be the curiosity as to what they could have done in Europe with a full-strength squad and, of course, the impending arrival of Sam Burgess could lift their spirits ahead of his arrival next week, even though it could be December at the earliest before he sees any game time.
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