Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Bath power into last four

Horacio Agulla goes over for Bath's fifth try

Bath ensured that this season's Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals will be an exclusively English concern after they brushed aside Brive at the Recreation Ground.

With Northampton and Harlequins already through to meet each other at Franklin's Gardens on April 25, Bath secured an away clash against Wasps or Gloucester in three weeks' time.

Wing Horacio Agulla led Bath's try spree by collecting a hat-trick in a 39-7 victory, while he was followed across the Brive line by Nick Abendanon, Semesa Rokoduguni and Micky Young, with fly-half George Ford kicking three conversions and a penalty.

Brive managed a second-half touchdown for number eight Keiran Murphy, with centre Thomas Laranjeira booting a touchline conversion, yet Bath had the game wrapped up by the halfway point.

It proved little more than a points procession for Bath as Brive arrived in the west country with a second team, opting to rest key players before tackling French Top 14 opponents Toulouse next weekend.

But that should not detract from a thoroughly professional performance by Bath as they warmed up impressively for important Aviva Premiership appointments with Gloucester and Worcester during the next fortnight.

England lock Dave Attwood captained Bath, with regular skipper Stuart Hooper on the bench, while there was a start for centre Gavin Henson alongside Matt Banahan in midfield.

Brive, beaten by Bath in the 1998 Heineken Cup final, showed 14 changes from thr side that defeated domestic league opponents Clermont Auvergne last time out, with only lock Julien Le Devedec retained.

Henson was immediately involved, breaking free inside the Brive half and setting up a slick move that almost resulted in Abendanon slicing through the visiting defence, but some last-ditch defence hauled him down.

But it took Bath just nine minutes to open their account when Agulla applied an accomplished finishing touch under pressure, before Ford's conversion attempt was halted short of its intended target by the strong breeze.

Ford, though, made no mistake with a 14th-minute penalty after Murphy blatantly killed Bath possession and was fortunate to avoid a yellow card from referee John Lacey.

Brive showed plenty of fight for the battle up front, yet Bath had too much pace and panache with ball in hand, and Young's quick thinking created a second try 11 minutes before half-time.

Young took a quick penalty, running deep into Brive territory, and with the visiting defence playing catch-up, Young's inside ball found an unmarked Abendanon, who strolled over and allowed Ford an easy conversion.

And matters deteriorated for Brive as Bath stung them with two tries in three minutes by Rokoduguni and Agulla.

Rokodoguni, despite having little space to work in, powered over from 25 metres, then Bath launched a thrilling counter-attack that ended with Agulla completing a 50-metre run by cutting inside Brive's last line of defence.

Ford failed with both conversions, yet it hardly mattered, as Bath approached the interval 25-0 ahead, having scored four tries and leaving Brive in disarray.

Despite holding a comprehensive lead, Bath had no intention of shutting up shop and Young pounced from close range for a fifth try just three minutes into the second period.

Brive could not compete with Bath's intensity, and Agulla completed his hat-trick before Ford added another conversion, making it 39-0 halfway through the third quarter.

It was the cue for Brive to belatedly tighten up, helped by bench reinforcements, and Murphy claimed a consolation try 13 minutes from time that Laranjeira converted.

Bath substitutes Kyle Eastmond and Anthony Watson looked to nudge their team closer to the half-century mark by running hard at Brive's defence, but the closing stages fizzled out as Brive ended the game a man down following a yellow card for replacement Hugues Briatte.

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