Cardiff miss out to Bath in Champions Cup thriller
Bath took a major step towards the Investec Champions Cup knockout phase by beating Cardiff 39-32 in an Arms Park thriller.
They made it 10 points out of 10, backing up a dominant victory over Ulster by scoring six tries on the road.
Cardiff pushed them every inch of the way, though, leading until South African forward Jaco Coetzee touched down twice during the final quarter.
England wing Joe Cokanasiga continued his rich vein of form by also touching down, along with centre Ollie Lawrence, hooker Tom Dunn and number eight Alfie Barbeary, while Finn Russell kicked three conversions and a penalty.
Cardiff collected two losing bonus-points for their efforts, as Wales wing Josh Adams scored twice and centre Ben Thomas and wing Gabe Hamer-Webb also breached Bath’s defence, while fly-half Tinus de Beer added two penalties and three conversions.
Cardiff, crushed 52-7 by Toulouse in their tournament opener, made a flying start and were ahead after just five minutes.
De Beer broke impressively from just inside Bath’s half, before kicking into space, and Adams pounced for a score that the fly-half converted.
But Bath showed no sign of being rocked by Adams’ score, and they cut open the Cardiff defence just three minutes later when Barbeary set up an attacking platform and Russell’s pass sent Cokanasiga over for his third try of the Champions Cup campaign.
The game’s blistering pace showed no sign of letting up, and Bath went ahead following some trademark Russell magic.
He ghosted through Cardiff’s defence from deep, freed wing Will Muir, and his inside ball was taken by Lawrence to score a try that showcased rich attacking quality.
But any prospect of Bath hammering home an advantage was dispelled instantly as Adams underlined world-class finishing ability to claim his second try in opportunist fashion.
De Beer converted, yet Bath stormed upfield and Cardiff could not repel their power-runners, with Barbeary touching down and Russell converting to tie a pulsating encounter at 17-17.
A De Beer penalty then nudged Cardiff ahead, only for Bath to post a bonus-point try through Dunn 10 minutes before half-time, converted by Russell, after Adams went off nursing what appeared to be a knee injury.
Cardiff, though, had the final say of a spectacular first half after lock Teddy Williams’ strong-running assist to Adams’ replacement Hamer-Webb to cross against his former club to secure a 25-24 interval advantage.
And the Welsh side extended that lead in the 44th minute when scrum-half Tomos Williams caused uncertainty in Bath’s defence, allowing centre Rey Lee-Lo to send his midfield partner Thomas over.
De Beer’s conversion left Bath eight points adrift before a Russell penalty brought his team back to within range in pursuit of a second successive Champions Cup bonus-point win.
Cardiff found themselves having to absorb escalating Bath pressure, but they could not stop Coetzee crashing over from close range.
Russell’s conversion hit the post, and a thrilling clash headed into the final 10 minutes level, although Bath had shown signs of moving up a gear.
And that momentum shift was confirmed by Coetzee’s second try in five minutes after powerful approach work by Cokanasiga.
Russell converted, and Bath had done enough, continuing their impressive season and enhancing a burgeoning reputation as great entertainers.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.