Having fought so valiantly last week, Bath put their bodies on the line again at the Rec to beat Toulon and what a mammoth effort it was, with the last action of the match lasting a mind-blowing thirty eight phases that had everyone clinging to the edge of their seats willing Bath to keep tackling and hold on.
The game had worrying parallels of last weeks narrow defeat, as Bath stormed out of the blocks with Aled Brew a man on a mission at the moment, bludgeoning his way over his tackler and Chris Cook fed a steaming Beno Obano to score the first try in forty seven seconds as the Rec erupted in the glowing floodlights!
Bath made plenty of ground in the first twenty minutes, with clever breaks and some thunderous runs, they were patient and enticed the errors from their French opponents which were forthcoming and fly half Rhys Priestland was more than happy to accept, and took the score to 13-0. Then some cheeky French menace got Toulon back into the contest courtesy of Florian Fresia sneakily holding onto Max Lahiff’s shirt allowing Alby Mathewson to race over the try line which referee Nigel Owens will rue missing.
The game ebbed and flowed and took a wonderful moment of brilliance from Anthony Watson to step inside and slice his way through the red wall of Toulon defenders and crash over the try line to give Bath a bit of breathing space again, taking the scoreline to 18-10 as Priestland narrowly missed the conversion. As the clock edged its way to the halfway mark, Watson once again showed his magical talent as he twinkle toed his way around the Toulon defence showing speed a Tasmanian devil would be proud of, to score his second try of the evening and take Bath into a 23-13 lead at half time.
After the pain of last week, Bath would have expected a backlash from Toulon in the second half and if not they were given a rude awakening within the first minute of the restart, as Ma’a Nonu showing phenomenal skill he blitzed his way through the Bath defence and the move was finished off with an exquisite pickup from second row Samu Manoa after holding off pressure from Bath captain Matt Garvey.
The tension in the Rec was eased slightly as Priestland kicked over a penalty in the 55th minute and took the lead to 8 points, but with every minute Toulon had the ball in their hand the crowd knew anything could happen. Bath were penalised in the ruck for holding onto the attacker and Francois Trinh-Duc placed the penalty with composure and narrowed the lead back to 5 points as the PA announcer tried to rally the Bath supporters to get behind the team and make even more noise!
The last ten minutes of rugby may have been scoreless but it was gripping, tense, edge of your seat rugby that took you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions that left you gasping for breath and in awe of some of the challenges and the high standard of performance that was on show for the rugby world to revel in. This was backed up in the last action of the match as Toulon pushed, marched and advanced their bodies towards the Bath try line, slowly but surely they gained metres as the Rec held its breathe as it looked as if Toulon might break Bath hearts again.
The defence was heroic and after every collision the defenders rallied, got behind the ball ready to tackle again, phase after phase of attacks Bath finally made the pressure tell, in the thirty eighth phase Toulon knocked the ball on to give Bath a historic win that will be remembered for a long time to come having been so close on a number of previous encounters.
With one match left in the pool against the Scarlets, Bath will be ready and primed for their Welsh opponents when they play them on the weekend of the 12-14 January. But that will be put on the back burner for the moment as they must now turn their immediate attention back to the Aviva Premiership as they travel up north next Saturday to face Sale Sharks!