Semesa Rokoduguni’s impression of Billy Whizz enabled Bath to clinch their place in the last four of the European Challenge Cup with a victory which was more jittery than it should have been.
Bath were 21 points clear with 30 minutes remaining but they then switched off, as they have so often this season, and allowed Brive to pull within seven points with two close range tries in six minutes from their powerful No 8 Fabien Sanconnie.
Bath were fortunate to escape when Italian referee Marius Mitrea ruled that Brive had collapsed an attacking five metre scrum on their own put-in and it was left to Rokoduguni to calm their nerves with his second try three minutes from time.
It appeared that Rokoduguni had been smothered by Arnaud Mignardi’s tackle when he received the ball on the 10-metre line. But the Brive centre released his grip and allowed Rokoduguni to wriggle free and leave nine tacklers trailing in his wake on a devastating run to the line.
The win should have given Bath a much-needed confidence boost after a run of three consecutive Premiership defeats – including a drubbing at Saracens last week - saw them drop out of the top four. They face Leicester at Twickenham next Saturday in a match which may well determine whether they make the play-offs.
“I am really pleased with the response from last week. These are always big weeks when you have to turn things round quickly and there are a lot of things to fix,” said Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder.
“I felt we are definitely on the right track. I am so pleased for the players that we started out with intent.
“I am pleased we the result, but we had so many opportunities close to their 22 where we could have kept the ball and we can be so much better than we were in the second half.”
Bath committed themselves to playing a fast and open game to avoid being drawn into an uneven contest with Brive’s hefty pack. With Anthony Watson, capped 26 times by England on the wing, at full-back, Bath gave themselves an additional attacking option and Brive looked uncomfortable whenever Watson, Rokoduguni or Jonathan Joseph ran at them.
Taulupe Falatau crossed for the opening try after a break from Rhys Priestland was supported by Kahn Fotuali’i, soon followed by one from Tom Homer after Rokoduguni made the initial break and Bath moved the ball left where Watson delivered the scoring pass.
Joseph then set up Rokoduguni after a patient and sustained attack and the match appeared over as a contest when Matt Banahan put Faletau in for his second try, a score that was partly obscured by thick smoke billowing from a building fire on the other side of the River Avon.
But Bath’s performance also became fuggy when Brive started to play a more direct game based around the strength of Sanconnie, who played in France’s last two Six Nations matches, and their influential captain Said Hireche.
Sanconnie crossed from the back of five metre scrum and was then shunted over from a driving maul with Gaeten Germain, the competition’s leading points scorer this season, converting both to Brive within another converted try.
But Rokoduguni’s superb finish deflated Brive and booked Bath, who beat them in the 1998 Heineken Cup final, a trip to either Ospreys or Stade Francais in three weeks’ time.
Scores 3-0 Priestland pen; 3-3 Germain pen; 3-6 Germain pen; 8-6 Faletau try; 10-6 Priestland con: 15-6 Homer try; 20-6 Rokoduguni try; 25-6 Falettau try; 27-6 Priestland con; 27-11 Sanconnie try; 27-13 Germain con; 27-18 Sanconnie try; 27-20 Germain con; 32-20 Rokoduguni try; 34-20 Priestland con;
Bath A Watson; S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, M Banahan B Tapuai 73), T Homer; R Priestland (A Hastings 79), K Fotuali’i (C Cook 70); N Catt (B Obano 57), N Charles (J Graham 70), K Palma-Newport (S Knight 51), C Ewels (captain), L Charteris (L Douglas 73), Z Mercer, T Ellis (P Grant 70), T Faletau.
Brive G Germain; T Ngwenya, A Mignardi, S Burotu (S Galala 41), B Masilevu; M Ugalde T Laranjeira 49), T Ibaren (V Lobzhanidze 60); V Devisme (K Asieshvili 55), F Da Ros (T Acquier 41), K Buys (S Bekoshvili 41), J Snyman, A Mela (J Le Devedec 41), S Hireche (captain), P Luafutu, F Sanconnie.
Referee M Mitrea (Italy)