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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 21:56 GMT
Bath win but Pau go through
Bath 38-10 Newport
Bath finished five tries short of securing a Heineken Cup quarter-final place on Tuesday night as they became the fourth English club to make their European exit.
The 1998 European champions followed Northampton, Wasps and Saracens into Heineken Cup oblivion, although Bath's failure was an heroic one in appalling conditions.
"Some of the rugby we played tonight defied belief," said Bath coach John Callard.
"The conditions were terrible, but the players did their utmost to overcome them and we have kept our momentum of the last few games going."
They needed 11 tries to steal a final runners-up spot, knocking Pau out of contention and clinching a last-eight clash against French champions Stade Francais in Paris next Saturday.
It predictably proved beyond them, yet they could hardly have given much more as Ben Clarke and company trudged through ankle-deep mud that sapped stamina from an early stage.
However, Leicester and Gloucester are left to fly the English flag - Tigers hosting Welsh-Scottish League leaders Swansea and Gloucester entertaining Cardiff.
A pre-match thunderstorm left large areas of the Recreation Ground under water, while lightning also caused a brief partial floodlight failure.
With the pool four clash having already twice been postponed in controversial circumstances due to a frozen pitch, French referee Daniel Gillet clearly felt that this third attempt had to go ahead.
Despite the downpour, he made no pitch inspection, and Bath simply got on with their job, wading through huge puddles against a Newport combination minus seven first team regulars.
Both sides played their part in producing a match of high quality against all odds, but the home side's task ultimately proved insurmountable, punished for their lack of tries during home and away games against Munster last October.
Scrum-half Gareth Cooper claimed Bath's opening try inside six minutes, skating clear through a blindside break that took him 35 metres to Newport's line.
Flanker Gareth Thomas rounded off Mike Catt's searing break for a second touchdown just three minutes later, full-back Matt Perry converting, and Bath were on their way.
Newport, already out of Heineken Cup contention this season, manned the barricades well after such a one-sided opening, although Bath's cause was seriously hindered when Cooper limped off nursing a leg injury.
It upset their early rhythm, and Newport sensed a chance to get themselves back into contention, which wing Martyn Llewellyn confirmed through an impressive 30th-minute score that Shane Howarth miraculously converted from a touchline flood.
Bath acknowledged their wake-up call though, and Cooper's replacement - New Zealander Jon Preston - notched a 38th-minute score, converted by Perry, after Newport flanker David Gray was sin-binned for killing possession.
But still the fates conspired against Bath, underlined just before the break when Catt limped off - just 11 days prior to England launching their Six Nations campaign against Wales in Cardiff - and Australian Shaun Berne went on.
Berne needed less than five minutes of the second period to make his mark, charging down Howarth's sloppy attempted clearance and grabbing a gift try that he also converted.
The clock ticked relentlessly against Bath's quarter-final hopes, but after Howarth kicked a short-range penalty, home hooker Mark Regan ploughed over to give an enthralled crowd renewed hope.
Bath subsequently laid siege to the Newport 22 - Berne adding his second touchdown, and converting - but that was that.
Scorers - Bath: Tries: Cooper, G. Thomas, Preston, Berne 2, Regan. Cons: Perry 2, Berne, Lyle.
Newport: Tries: M. Llewellyn. Cons: Howarth. Pens: Howarth.
Teams - Bath: Perry, Balshaw, Maggs, Tindall, Voyce, Catt, Cooper,
Emms, Regan, Mallett, Haag, Borthwick, G Thomas, Clarke, Lyle.
Newport: Pini, M Llewellyn, Howarth, Pritchard, Breeze,
Mitchell, Edwards, C Jones, Young, Garvey, Raiwalui, Gough,
Popham, D Gray, Teichmann.
Referee: Didier Mene (France).
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