England wing Matt Banahan ran in four tries as Bath scored a Heineken Cup bonus point 55-16 victory over Pool Four bottom club Aironi.
Left wing Tom Biggs and skipper Luke Watson weighed in with two tries apiece as Bath exposed a leaky Aironi defence. Bath have collected bonus points from each of their five games but unfortunately, three have been losing bonus points, leaving Ulster and Biarritz to fight it out at the top of the table.
Bath, who travel to Biarritz next week for their final pool game, lost Springbok fly-half Butch James who limped off early in the second half. Aironi, resting some of their regulars, allowed Banahan to collect Barkley’s kick-off with barely a hand laid on him. The momentum gave Barkley the chance to open the scoring with a second-minute penalty but Aironi replied immediately with a successful kick from an even shorter distance by Kiwi fly-half James Marshall.
Banahan was just as prominent in defence, downing centre Gabriel Pizarro with a heavy tackle, before Bath returned to the attack, urged on by the strong-running Watson. It was his rampaging run, ball tucked under one arm, that led to the first try.
The move seemed to have broken down before left wing Biggs picked up the loose ball and rounded his opposite number to score on eight minutes. Barkley’s conversion was wide.
Marshall pulled the scores back to 8-6 with his second penalty when James was pulled up for obstruction. Watson got the scoreboard moving again on 20 minutes, picking a good line from Michael Claassens’ pass to score at the posts, Barkley adding the conversion.
Poor concentration nearly cost Bath from the restart but they regrouped to add another try through Biggs, finishing off excellent work on the right by Banahan and Abendanon. No sooner had Barkley added the conversion than Banahan earned the bonus point, racing 60 metres through weak tackling after a sublime offload by Shontayne Hape.
The Italians launched a spirited assault on the home line to pull back a try through flanker Josh Sole on 35 minutes, converted by Marshall. But their defensive failings surfaced again moments later when the cover parted in front of Banahan and Barkley’s conversion gave Bath a 36-13 interval lead.
A yellow card for Hape, seemingly for persistent team infringements, rekindled hope for Aironi early in the second half and Marshall kicked a penalty, but Banahan collected his hat-trick on 52 minutes, stretching through a tackle to score. Barkley added the conversion.
No sooner had Hape returned than the visitors lost former Gloucester lock Marco Bortolami to the sin-bin. Bath camped on the Aironi line and just when it seemed Bath must score, former Saracens centre Rod Penney intercepted the final pass. Ignacio Fernandez-Lobbe spilled the ball in a tackle under the posts and then Bath were penalised at the scrum.
Aironi welcomed Bortolami back on the field having not conceded any points in his absence. But almost immediately Banahan kicked ahead and won the race to the touchdown. Barkley could not land the difficult conversion. Skirving was denied another try by an obstruction call but man-of-the-match Watson rounded things off with an eighth try three minutes from time.