Borthwick signs off in style

Date published: May 26 2008

Bath's long hunt for silverware is at an end! The slumbering giants of English rugby collected the European Challenge Cup on the back of a high-octane 24-16 victory over Worcester at Kingsholm on Sunday.

Bath's long hunt for silverware is at an end! The slumbering giants of English rugby collected the European Challenge Cup on the back of a high-octane 24-16 victory over Worcester at Kingsholm on Sunday.

Europe has grown accustomed to all-English cup finals, but last week's show in Moscow seemed like a whispered exchange in the library when compared to the loose-lipped offering served up in Gloucester.

Bath scored two tries in the first half through Jonny Fa'amatuainu and Nick Abendanon to leave Worcester waving if not quite drowning.

But Olly Barkley signed off his West Country career by pushing the Warriors below the waves by adding 11 points via the boot, and Butch James added a late penalty of his own.

Worcester never gave up the fight, but could only muster three penalties from Shane Drahm and a late converted try for Thinus Delport.

Bath should now expect a case of champagne from London. Had they lost, Worcester would have pinched England's sixth Heineken Cup spot from under the noses of Harlequins.

Should the booze not arrive in time for tonight's party, Bath's stars should be able to turn to their fans who will be eager to get the rounds in: their beloved club is back in silverware after a decade of hurt.

Indeed, Barkley and Steve Borthwick will not be lacking for beer for a long time to come. The 'treachery' perpetrated by the departing sons of Bath has been forgiven following their titanic double-act on Sunday, and Borthwick's copious tears at the final whistle revealed what this ancient club means to him. Saracens' gain is most definitely Bath's loss.

We had a roof to protect us from the sun during Saturday's Heineken Cup Final and we saw a game of mother-hen rugby with Munster incubating victory by sitting on the ball for long stretches of the match.

With rain falling from the wide skies of Gloucester, much the same was expected from Sunday's grand finale. But it soon became obvious that neither side had witnessed events at the Millennium Stadium.

Despite the greasy conditions, Bath and Worcester seemed intent on playing running rugby – and the handling held up brilliantly.

As the raids poured forth, so did the tackles. This was a match of the utmost intensity, and it didn't let up for one moment. If anything, it rose as the game progressed, with both sides stoking the fires of their own making.

Admittedly, the Warriors were done no favours by some hesitant officiating, with Bath escaping three potential sin-binnings with no more than a smack on the wrist.

In fact, Worcester captain Pat Sanderson came closest to seeing yellow thanks to his persistent yelps of injustice.

Things reached a comical nadir after Shane Drahm was held back by Lee Mears in the wake of a dangerous charge-down, and the touch-judge was unable to pick out the unique physique of the England hooker from an impromptu identity parade.

But law-bending aside, Bath discovered a ruthless streak just when they needed it, scoring two tries in five minutes before the break, although there was also an element of good fortune about the first.

Matt Banahan got the move going in his own inimitable style, brushing off four tacklers before delivering the ball via the back door to Mears. The hooker found James in support and the South African delivered a sublime inside-pass that set Fa'amatuainu on his way. It was a beautiful try, although sullied slightly by a hint of a forward pass from Mears to James.

Barkley's conversion dropped over the bar via a kind rebound off the upright, but when he hit the other post with a penalty attempt shortly afterwards, it allowed Bath an attacking platform from which they prospered.

Slick midfield passing sent wing Joe Maddock past the on-rushing Delport, and his deft inside-pass was collected by Abendanon who claimed a well-taken try in the right corner.

Barkley missed the touchline conversion, but Worcester stuck to their task through a Drahm penalty that narrowed the gap to 15-6 at half-time.

Drahm completed his penalty hat-trick shortly after the restart – courtesy of the pull-back from 'Mr X' – to keep Worcester firmly in contention.

But Barkley nailed a superb 50-metre kick approaching the end of a ferocious third quarter, allowing his team some breathing space at nine points clear.

Worcester boss Mike Ruddock summoned three replacements in his battered pack – flanker Netani Talei and props Matt Mullan and Chris Horsman – in quick succession in an attempt to give his side momentum.

With the officiating lacking authority, it was hardly a surprise that tempers began to fray on both sides, and Horsman was lucky to avoid seeing yellow at a scrum. Could it have been that hosts Gloucester had packed up their sin-bin for the summer?

Bath went up a gear during the stamina-sapping closing stages, with Barkley booting a drop-goal that thwarted any realistic threat of a Worcester fightback.

James then delivered the clincher three minutes from time, slotting a penalty after Barkley had gone off, before Delport's consolation effort in the corner.

Man of the match: Shane Drahm was unlucky to end on the losing side, but this award must go to one of the boys in blue. To a man they were brave and brilliant, but two men stood out – and not only for sentimental reasons. Olly Barkley marshalled his back-line superbly, summoning up running when it seemed there was none to be had. But our man of the match is the man of the moment: Steve Borthwick, England's new captain and the enigma-decoding machine of flesh and seeping blood. How Bath will miss his cerebral steel.

Moment of the match: Plenty of flash points, but we'll opt for the sight of Steve Borthwick breaking down in tears in front of the appreciative Shed resplendent with blue flags. The Gloucester faithful are sure to have the cleaners in quick sharp. The indignity of it all!

Villian of the match: Singling out the myopic touch-judge would be against the spirit of the game, so we'll pick Chris Horsman who marred a brilliant piece of Worcester scrummaging by dropping a knee and an elbow on a prone David Flatman. Steve Borthwick took grave offence to the incident, and so do we – waggling a stern finger from well behind the big England lock.

The scorers:

For Bath:
Tries: Fa'amatuainu, Abendanon
Con: Barkley
Pens: Barkley 2, James
Drop: Barkley

For Worcester Warriors:
Try: Delport
Con: Carlisle
Pens: Drahm 3

The teams:

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Joe Maddock, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel Browne, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jonny Fa'amatuainu, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Peter Short, 19 Zak Feaunati, 20 Nick Walshe