Balshaw brace boosts Biarritz
Balshaw brace sends Biarritz into quarters as pool winners
By Paul Higham Twitter @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 22/01/11 3:39pm
Balshaw: Two tries for Biarritz
Biarritz cruised into the Heineken Cup quarter-finals as Pool 4 winners with a bonus-point 26-19 victory over Bath at the Parc des Sports d'Aguilera.
Last season's beaten finalists dominated from the start and their fourth try just after the hour enabled them to canter into the last eight once again, with two late Bath tries a mere consolation.
Dimitri Yachvili gave the home side the perfect start as he converted his own try for a ninth-minute lead, before former England international Iain Balshaw doubled the advantage ten minutes later and added his second just after the break.
Stuart Hooper replied for Bath, but speedy winger Takudzwa Ngwenya claimed the fourth try and all-important bonus point just after the hour mark, to seal top spot in Pool 4 for the French side.
Tom Biggs grabbed two enterprising tries in the final five minutes to give Bath the final say, but Biarritz were already on cruise control as they counted down to a place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, and on course for a crucial home tie.
The home side knew a win would send them into the knockout stages, while matching Ulster's result would see them top the pool and stay in with a shout of hosting a home quarter-final.
Biarritz started off brightly and went ahead after just nine minutes when Yachvili went over, before adding the conversion himself for a perfect start to the match at 7-0.
Just ten minutes later Biarritz doubled their advantage when Balshaw celebrated the signing of a new contract with the French outfit by racing clear to score against his former club.
Balshaw swapped a one-two of passes with full-back Dane Haylett-Petty, albeit with the hint of a forward pass, before showing Bath number eight Ben Skirving a clean pair of heels to scamper over the line in the style he used to display so often back in the Premiership.
Biarritz dominated possession and forced Bath down to 14 men when prop Duncan Bell was yellow carded for not binding at the scrum close to his own line.
Bath actually improved despite being a man light, and they put together a few decent phases of possession before moving under the shadow of the posts, but Biarritz fended off the threat as the whistle blew for half time.
Bath were caught cold at the start of the second half, with Biarritz scoring a third try of the match and a second for Balshaw, with Yachvili's conversion making it 21-0 and all-but ending the contest already.
Bath however, once back to 15 men, offered up some firm resistance and Hooper crashed over from close range for a try after some concerted pressure from the Premiership side, but Olly Barkley missed the extras to make it just a five-point visit.
American international flyer Ngwenya then grabbed the all-important fourth try and bonus point as he collected Marcelo Bosch's pass following a scrum, and the muscular winger was never going to be stopped as he powered over the line.
Bath continued to press as Biarritz lifted their foot off the gas, and Nick Abendanon's clever offload from the floor allowed winger Biggs to score a second try for the visitors five minutes from time, but it was a mere afterthought as Biarritz moved into the knockout stages.