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Walker recalls unforgettable European quarter final win over Bath

First Team News | 13th August 2021

When Cardiff Rugby welcome Bath Rugby back to the capital for a mouth-watering Anglo-Welsh pre-season clash next month, it will no doubt rekindle memories of one of the truly unforgettable afternoons of rugby at Cardiff Arms Park.

Cross-border encounters between these iconic clubs date back to 1924 - where the Blue and Blacks came out on top by 22-6 - which sparked regular contests over the years, held at either Cardiff Arms Park or The Rec.

While the sides have gone head-to-head on more than a half century of occasions, the West Country outfit have only come away from the Welsh capital with one victory - a 1991 win inspired by Phil de Glanville and Stuart Barnes.


However, one of the stand-out ties between Cardiff and Bath came in 1996, as Cardiff Arms Park played host to a thrilling Heineken Cup quarter final. 

Cardiff had qualified from a strong group which included Toulouse, Wasps, Munster and Milan to reach the final eight clash. Lining up on the wing at a packed Arms Park for the hosts that day was Nigel Walker, who still has vivid memories of the special atmosphere in the air that day.

“Anglo-Welsh games are always special occasions because they’re like mini-international matches,” said the former Wales wing.

“But certainly when we played in Europe back in the 1990s, particularly in the Heineken Cup matches back then, they took on a special significance.

“In the game against Bath in 1996 we came up against a team full of internationals. They had the likes of Jason Robinson, Henry Paul, Phil de Glanville. These were real quality internationals and it really did feel like a mini international match.

“The stadium was absolutely heaving and there were people standing in places I’ve never seen people standing before. The atmosphere they generated was unbelievable.

“It was a capacity crowd, there must’ve been two or three thousands Bath supporters in that crowd, and there was so much noise there.”

While the visitors threatened with ball in hand, as the likes of Jeremy Guscott, Robinson and Adedayo Adebayo proved to be danger-men in the backline, there was very little separating the sides as the final quarter approached.

Outside halves Jonathan Davies and Mike Catt had been duelling throughout from the tee, but it became clear that it would take something special to unlock the stern defences on show.

But when Catt conceded a line-out on the edge of his own 22 following a Justin Thomas punt downfield, it presented a rare opportunity for the hosts to attack.

Mike Hall fed skipper Hemi Taylor on the inside to crash the ball up, and when Robert Howley decided to switch back to the blindside,  the opportunity came for Walker to produce a moment of magic that would remain as one of his highlights on the rugby field.


Walker recalls: “The teams had been going at it, toing and froing, with hardly anything in the game but this one opportunity came.

“I don’t remember touching the ball for the rest of the game. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.

“But I remember this important moment like it was yesterday. Jonathan Davies came across and I just hit a line. He threw a perfectly sympathetic pass inside Henry Paul, and I accelerated through the gap.

“I could see Jason Robinson coming across and thought I’d pretend to go and then, bang, off my left foot and under the posts. Jeremy Guscott was too slow coming across and I scored.

“The crowd went crazy and I thought we had an excellent chance of going on and winning that game from that point. I know there was a long penalty at the end of the game, which just put the icing on the cake.

“I think they came and scored a try towards the end through one of their flankers, Nathan Thomas, but we won the game. 

“It was a tight game, but my try was the match winner. I went into the club that night and people stood up and applauded me. It just made me think ‘wow’ to see what it meant to people.

“That was the only chance I had in the game, and to beat people like Henry Paul, Jeremy Guscott and Jason Robinson, with two of them being British and Irish Lions, meant a lot to me. I wasn’t in the Welsh team at the time.

“Kevin Bowring had left me out of the international squad and I remember the commentary from JJ Williams asking, ‘how could Nigel Walker not be in the Welsh squad?’

“To come out on top in a game like that, which meant something being a quarter final with a chance to advance to the semi final, beating a team like Bath who, if they weren’t the best team in England they certainly were in the top two or three, gave us a tremendous feeling.”

The 25th anniversary of the famous quarter final clash is approaching as the sides prepare to meet once again in the capital.

Having lost out to Toulouse in the inaugural Heineken Cup final the previous season, the Blue and Blacks were through to their second consecutive semi-final, where they would ultimately fall to eventual winners Brive.

Walker still recalls the fond memories he had of competing in the Blue and Black jersey, particularly as they made a mark in Europe.

“I was very fortunate to play in a very strong Cardiff side from, from 1992 to 1998 and playing under Alec Evans for the majority of that time,” explained the former Olympian, who scored a total of 78 tries in six seasons for the capital club.

“We were full of Welsh internationals and also had a couple of good foreign players like Grzegorz Kacala. We were exceptionally good at home and good away from home.

“Our form that season showed that we were a very difficult side to beat. We played expansive rugby and Alec was very demanding of the standard that we had to produce week-in, week-out.

“It had been a normal season - one where we expected to win games and we expected to advance in the Heineken Cup. That’s the way it proved.

“I remember going to play against Bordeaux-Bègles away from home. It was mid-week and a night time game, amateur players and we drew the game 17-all.

“I played that day against Philippe Bernat-Salles and I remember those games, and the reason I remember them is not because I’m an anorak but because they meant something.

“We were playing against the very best in France and the very best in England.

“So when I then put on the red jersey of Wales, it wasn’t such a considerable step-up because you already played against those guys.”

Cardiff: J Thomas (L Jarvis, 55); N Walker, M Hall, L Davies, S Hill; J Davies, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys, D Young, J Wakeford, D Jones, M Bennett (O Williams, 12), H Taylor, J Ringer.

Bath: J Robinson; H Paul, P De Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (I Sanders, 4); D Hilton, G French, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, N Thomas, E Peters, S Ojomoh.

Cardiff are set to go head-to-head with Bath Rugby in a mouth-watering Anglo-Welsh pre-season clash at Cardiff Arms Park. Tickets are available NOW as we are set to finally welcome YOU back to CAP!