Bath v Brive – The Rematch

Bath v Brive

April 1 2017


Back in the early days of the Heineken Cup it wasn’t entirely clear if all this cross-border competition was good for the game. France was the frontier town, and nowhere was more dangerous or more gilded than Brive, smack in the middle of the Limousin. This stand-alone town had already stunned the rugby world by humbling Leicester at Cardiff Arms Park in the final, only the second, of 1997.


For the third Heineken Cup campaign, the reigning champions from Brive were pooled together with Pontypridd, and the continuation of the two teams own feud. The rugby between the two clubs was brilliant, with the European champions winning 32-21 in a quite breathtaking game. Breathtaking, brilliant and brutal. The quality of the play was matched only by the quality of the fighting, a running brawl that extended way beyond the 80 minutes. After the rugby encounter in the Parc Muncipal, the teams met again, over the counter of the Bar Toulzac in the middle of Brive.

The Pontypridd players went into the Brive team’s drinking den to confront certain individuals, and in particular scrum half Philippe Carbonneau.Chairs, bottles and fists flew. By a wicked quirk of fate the two then met in what was called in those days a quarter-final play-off. Brive won at home 25-20, went on to win superbly at Loftus Road against Wasps in the quarter-final proper, and then beat Toulouse in Toulouse in the semi-final, on try count, after being tied 22-all after extra time.


Meanwhile, Bath, almost unnoticed, were in the final too, having beaten both Cardiff and Pau at the Recreation Ground. They were coached by Andy Robinson, had Jeremy Guscott and Ieuan Evans in the backs. They were considered a mature team with the best days behind them.

They were not expected to beat Brive in the 1998 final, especially not at the Parc Lescure in Bordeaux. And yet they did win, 19-18, with Jonathan Callard scoring all their points with a try, conversion and four penalties.


The reason for this trip down rugby’s memory lane is that the two teams met on Saturday at the Recreation Ground in a quarter –final of the Challenge Cup competition. 1998 had marked a European peak for both teams.

Bath’s best performance in the Heineken Cup was a semi-final appearance in 2005/06. They have been more successful in the Challenge Cup, reaching four finals since 2002/03, with one success, against Worcester in 2007.

Brive’s history since 1998 has been a rocky one, and includes two relegations to the second division, one in 2000 for financial mismanagement. Their only notable European performance was a Challenge Cup semi-final appearance in 2005.


So it is not surprising that Saturday’s match at the Recreation Ground should be the first between the two clubs for almost 20 years. Bath were on a rocky run in the Premiership with three consecutive defeats. With a lunch-time kick-off and the sun shining, there was a springtime feel to the match. Brive contributed a good deal, but were undone by some wretched defending. Bath stopped the rot with a highly entertaining victory 34-20, to set up a semi-final clash away to another French side, Stade Francais.






Mike Miles


Bath regain pride;Toulon progress

Saturday January 23,2016
Bath Rugby v Toulon
ERCC Round 6
The Recreation Ground, Bath
Dyson Stand; Block H;Row R;Seat 212;£44.00

Take two of the more nakedly ambitious clubs, two of the more controversial owners/financiers, a liberal sprinkling of some of the most talked about players in European rugby…….If additional spice were needed, throw in Steve Meehan, a former head coach at the Rec but who now runs the Toulon attack. ….
And there’s never a dull moment with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal. His latest wheeze is that his club should leave the Top14 and move to the Aviva Premiership. English club owners were not slow in throwing cold water over that idea.

This game certainly had its attractions. A year ago Bath were on a high, about to qualify for the last eight of the European Champions Cup despite losing their first two group matches. But today they were playing only for third place in their pool, the so-called “group of death” in this year’s competition. Fellow premiership members Wasps were the team expected to struggle but after big wins against Leinster, Toulon and Bath they were the ones most likely to qualify. Toulon had to win today’s game to reach the quarter-finals.
Bath have not suddenly become a bad team but the confidence that bubbled last season has evaporated. That was clear last weekend when they timidly succumbed to a Leinster side that included only a sprinkling of regulars and a number of academy players. Bath supporters have been quick to give their opinions on why they think their side is not clicking. They range from Mike Ford isn’t a head coach, he’s an assistant; Farleigh Castle (Bath’s HQ and training facility) is too nice; George Ford can’t tackle; bringing in Sam Burgess was disruptive (even though he had returned to rugby league by the time this season kicked off); and that old chestnut, the players are paid too much money.
After Bath had lost away to Newcastle (who hadn’t won a league match), Mike Ford said he thought the players needed to look at themselves, obviously hoping to get a reaction. It worked (up to a point – they still lost) for the game in Toulon, but in the following match at Leinster Bath looked flat and lacking energy.

So Toulon knew exactly what they wanted from their final pool match, and with Bath playing for pride, a comfortable win by the current European champions seemed likely. In fact they had to dig hard and deep to subdue a brave and resourceful second-half performance from Bath that almost brought them a famous victory. But in the end, a rather lame start and a clear edge in power, especially up front, proved too much. That edge was epitomised by Steffon Armitage, the man England refuse to select, who once again gave a bull-like performance.
It was somehow typical of Bath’s season that the match was decided by one big mistake. A cross-field kick from right to left by Toulon’s Quade Cooper ran loose; David Denton grabbed it but then attempted a high, looped pass which fell into the grateful arms of Bryan Habana who was over the line in a flash.
In the end Toulon just about deserved the win and a quarter-final place, but at least it was close, and Bath deprived them of the bonus point win that would have seen them top the group. And then came news that Wasps had thrashed Leinster at the Ricoh Arena to put themselves top of the pile.

Despite their side having no chance of progressing Bath fans turned up in their numbers, which probably says a lot about the attraction of a team like Toulon. But there is more than a hint about the French side of a team, if not in decline, at least in the doldrums. They progressed to the quarter finals in much the same way as they have progressed throughout this year’s pool stages – incoherently but with enough muscle and know-how to get by. Perhaps it is little wonder that their owner is wanting to move to the Aviva Premiership….

Mike Miles

Is the Premiership being devalued?

There was an interesting shot of George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell and one or two other red-rose luminaries huddled together watching the Saracens-Bath game in north London 10 days ago. Interesting because it reminded the television audience how the very grandest Premiership matches are diminished when played at the wrong point in the season. So will the elite club game in England continue to chuck bricks through its own shop window by staging a top fixture on International weekends, or will it take steps to protect its property?

If Farrell was watching from the stand because he was not fit enough to do anything more energetic, the others were there for Six Nations reasons, having just played for their country against Italy. Back in the time of Noah, they would probably have turned out in both games and drunk themselves silly after each, but top-end professionals can barely countenance two outings in six days, let alone two in 24 hours. While football has the midweek option to help it through a congested fixture list, rugby is in a very different place – and as a result, the Premiership suffers.

Mike Miles

Bath are on their way to the Arms Park

The trophy cabinet at Bath Rugby has been neglected in recent years , but the club took a big step towards silverware with a powerful victory at Adams Park on Sunday, with a 24-18 triumph over London Wasps in their Amlin Cup semi-final.

its an understatement to say Adams Park is not the most accessible of grounds,whatever your mode of transport.There always seems to be a long,slow-moving queue approaching Junction 4 of the M40 ( though clearly not for the game – the attendance was a shade over 6,000) ,and you still have to navigate the traffic in the park-and ride bus.And this on a day when said buses seemed to be breaking down do that I only made it to my seat as Andy Goode kicked the first points of the game.

But the club’s real problem is that they are ground-sharing with a football club,and there will be no long-term prosperity unless they play in their own stadium-though that prospect appears further and further away.

How much injury time Ref?

In his 1997 book “Mud,Blood and Money”,Ian Malin wrote that  “surely the referee should make an instant decision,albeit perhaps a flawed one,rather than rely on an action replay? Here is another innovation (he was commenting on a rugby league game) that alienates the paying customer.

Well,there  was a lot to talk about at the Recreation Ground last Saturday. Which is just as well because the match against Worcester lasted 18min 30sec above and beyond the usual 80,despite an absence of serious injuries. This is the latest episode of referees becoming slaves to technology. Referee Carley spent five minutes midway through the first half deciding whether Sam Betty (who eventually received a yellow card) had taken out Horacio Agulla with an inconspicuous challenge.

The sellout crowd were forced to wait for the important fourth try;forced to wait because of Worcester’s cussed defiance and forced to wait because of the officiating problem that is becoming endemic in the professional game. This was a decent content-unfortunately it was 18 minutes too long.