Cardiff Rugby 32 - 39 Bath Rugby
HT 25-24
Sat 16 December 20:00 Cardiff Arms Park Ref: Sam Grove-White Investec Champions Cup

Cardiff 32-39 Bath

Sat 16 Dec 2023 21:51 Cardiff 32-39 Bath

Cardiff Rugby produced a heroic display in a ten-try Investec Champions Cup Christmas cracker at a packed Arms Park before ultimately just coming up short.

It was one of the great European nights at the famous old ground as a 10,158 crowd were kept enthralled by a rollercoaster ride of a game.

Matt Sherratt’s men led 32-24 midway through the second half and looked on course for a victory to stand alongside the famous 1996 quarter-final triumph over Bath.

Wales wing Josh Adams had crossed twice in an exhilarating first half, with his replacement Gabe Hamer-Webb and centre Ben Thomas also going over.

But two final quarter touchdowns from super sub Jaco Coetzee earned Bath the spoils as they took the try count 6-4.

However, Cardiff do pick up two losing bonus points and that’s the least they deserved having contributed so much to a compelling contest.

So where to begin? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

It was to prove a remarkable and thoroughly thrilling first half featuring no fewer than seven tries as play swung one way, then the other and back again.

There was to be a dream start for Cardiff as they opened the scoring after just five minutes.

Tinus De Beer was the man at the launchpad, breaking away on an arcing run and chipping ahead with the bouncing ball being gathered and recycled for an attack down the narrow side.

That saw centres Ben Thomas and Rey Lee Lo combine to release Adams who crossed out on the left, with De Beer adding the touchline conversion.

Bath swiftly responded through an international wing of their own with Joe Cokanisaga going over to add to his double in last weekend’s victory over Ulster following a surging run from impressive No 8 Alfie Barbeary.

It was clear both sides were intent on attack, with the hosts running from their own line at one point, making some 65 metres as Mason Grady surged down the left and flanker Lucas de la Rua burst away only for his pass to go to ground.

That was soon followed by a clinical counter-attacking strike from Bath with Player of the Match Finn Russell slicing through off a turnover in his own half and sending a long pass out to wing Will Muir who gave the scoring offload to centre Ollie Lawrence.

A De Beer penalty levelled the scores before the predatory Adams claimed his second, kneeing the ball ahead and plucking it out of the air to score after Tomos Williams had twice kicked on.

In the process, Adams was to pick up an injury which was to ultimately force him off, with Hamer-Webb coming off the bench.

Bath again responded with the powerful Barbeary ploughing over following a close range tap penalty to tie things up before De Beer restored the lead.

Then back came the visitors to score their bonus point try on the half hour, as hooker Tom Dunn broke away from a well co-ordinated lineout drive.

But Cardiff were to have the final word in the half - with arguably the try of the half.

With the referee playing advantage, the ball went through multiple pairs of hands before a delightful double whammy from Teddy Williams.

The second row first handed off flanker Miles Reid and then gave a one-handed pass out of the side door to feed Hamer-Webb who showed excellent pace and strength to reach the line and get the ball down despite the attentions of three defenders.

De Beer added the conversion to make it 25-24 at half-time.

And breathe!

There was to be no let up in the scoring as the second half got underway, with Cardiff soon extending their lead with their own bonus point try.

It came off a Bath lineout that went awry, with Tomos Williams looping around hooker Liam Belcher in midfield and drawing in a couple of tacklers before giving his own one-handed side-door scoring offload to Ben Thomas who raced under the posts, with De Beer converting.

Russell reduced the deficit to 32-27 with a penalty as the try-rush finally slowed for a spell before the visitors notched their fifth to tie things up again with replacement Coetzee burrowing over off another lineout drive.

Then, ten minutes from time, the South African back rower burst across the whitewash for his second and for what proved to be the decisive score.