Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper admitted his team’s chances of progression in the Champions Cup were faint after their defeat to Clermont on Friday.
The Top 14 outfit claimed a deserved 34-17 bonus point win at the Recreation Ground which means that Bath are firmly rooted to the bottom of the Pool 3 table.
The west country side have scored just three tries in three pool games, with two losing bonus points to their name. Their task gets even tougher next weekend with a visit to Clermont’s Stade Michelin.
Veteran Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw came off the replacements bench to kick Clermont into the lead with two penalties early in the second half before the French side’s backs let rip.
“History would suggest it’s a forgone conclusion from now,” said Hooper. “We’ve obviously got an opportunity next week to go out there and develop our game again, try to knit together all the bits we didn’t quite get right today.
“Next week is an exciting challenge. The boys are already talking about it. There will be supporters there to see us so we’ll be doing absolutely everything we can to go there and get a win.”
Asked why Bath have found it so difficult to make an impact in the pool stages in recent years, he said: “It’s a really, really tough competition. We just haven’t been able to get the wins to get out of the pool.
“But now we’ve got a group of young men who are absolutely giving their all for the jersey every time they take the field, as we saw tonight. There’s nobody easing off. That’s the base level of what you need.”
Lethal Clermont pull away to seal bonus-point win at Bath. #BATvASM
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) December 6, 2019
On the performance, he said: “Today was frustrating because we let the game get away, with the mistakes we made. We had the ball – we turned it over twice. They scored 14 points in 90 seconds.
“In the first half the players applied great pressure to them. We kept the ball, got it to the wide channels, got some momentum and we were in the contest at 13-10.”
Right wing Samuel Ezeala crossed twice on his Champions Cup debut and also laid on a try for flanker Alexandre Lapandry, with Laidlaw adding the extras for all three.
Clermont’s other try came from Kiwi centre George Moala in the first half, while Bath – who both started and finished the scoring – crossed through Rhys Priestland and Jonathan Joseph.
It was a triumphant return to the Rec for full-back Nick Abendanon, who clocked up 207 appearances for Bath over eight years before joining Clermont in 2014.
He said: “We needed that win. Those tries were a result of our defensive effort tonight. We showed a really good mentality in terms of our defence. That was most pleasing for me.
“We talked at half-time about maintaining good field position. They thought it was probably us that was going to get tired but it was them, and we capitalised on some great kicks behind plus a bit of luck too.
“We expected the game to be more attritional and the rain to come down but the conditions were pretty good to play. They were a lot more adventurous than we thought they would be.
“They had good moments when they stretched us out wide a bit and made a few good line breaks but couldn’t capitalise.”