European Challenge Cup Final (at Kingsholm)
Bath 24 Worcester 16

Worcester's dream of playing in next year's Heineken Cup is over.

Defeat to Bath in the final of the European Challenge Cup at Kingsholm means Warriors miss out. But Warriors will feel aggrieved that referee Christophe Berdos did not reach for a yellow card on at least three occasions when Bath blatantly infringed.

Shane Drahm kicked three penalties for the Warriors and full-back Thinus Delport scored a late try which substitute Joe Carlisle converted.

But it was all to no avail. Harlequins will now take England's sixth Heineken Cup place, joining Bath, Gloucester, Leicester, Wasps and Sale Sharks.

Bath were ecstatic, however, after winning their first trophy for 10 years to give departing England internationals Steve Borthwick and Olly Barkley a dream send-off.

England and Bath captain Borthwick held aloft the European Challenge Cup following a fascinating final highlighted by its punishing physical nature.

An erratic refereeing display from French official Berdos did take some of the gloss of the victory, but Bath probably did do enough to deny Worcester.

Bath, having lost four successive finals in three different competitions since winning the Heineken Cup in 1998, scored tries through flanker Jonny Faamatuainu and full-back Nick Abendanon.

And Barkley, who joins Gloucester next season, kept Bath ahead by landing a drop-goal, two penalties and a conversion.

The two sides traded penalties before Bath discovered a ruthless streak just when they needed it, scoring two tries in five minutes before the break.

There was an element of good fortune about the first though, as Berdos missed Mears' forward pass to fly-half James during a flowing move that ended with Faamatuainu crossing.

Barkley's conversion dropped over via a kind rebound off the post, but when he hit the post with a penalty attempt shortly afterwards, it allowed Bath an attacking platform from which they prospered.

Saracens-bound Borthwick ended his Bath career with the silverware he craved so much, providing some sort of compensation for re-cent defeats at the hands of Gloucester and Wasps that destroyed the west country club's Guinness Premiership title hopes.

Worcester, contesting their first major final, handed starts to Japan-bound trio Drahm, Delport and Drew Hickey, while 39-year-old prop Tony Windo made his final appearance before retirement.

Bath boss Steve Meehan made three changes from the side beaten by Wasps in last Sunday's Premiership play-off, with Abendanon, prop David Flatman and hooker Lee Mears - fit again following a shoulder injury - all featuring.

Barkley missed an early chance to put Bath ahead when he sent a long-range penalty wide, but he made amends after 16 minutes to reward an extended spell of pressure.

Driving rain made conditions difficult, yet Worcester gave as good as they got, drawing level through a Drahm penalty eight minutes later.

Drahm's strike came after Bath lock Danny Grewcock infringed and was fortunate to avoid a yellow card, with Berdos adopting a some-what lenient approach.

Slick midfield passing sent wing Joe Maddock clear, and his deft inside pass was col-lected by Abendanon who claimed a try quite stunning in its execution. Barkley missed the touchline conversion, but Worcester stuck to their task through a Drahm penalty that nar-rowed the gap to 15-6 at half-time.

Drahm completed his penalty hat-trick shortly after the restart - Mears amazingly escaped a sin-binning for blatantly pulling back Drahm off the ball - to keep Worcester firmly in contention.

Barkley though, nailed a superb 50-metre kick approaching the end of a ferocious third quarter, allowing his team some breathing space at nine points clear.

Warriors boss Mike Ruddock summoned three substitutes up-front - flanker Netani Talei, prop Matt Mullan and his fellow front-row forward Chris Horsman - in quick succession in an attempt to give his side momentum.

With Berdos' officiating lacking authority, it was hardly a surprise that tempers began to fray on both sides.

But Bath noticeably went up a gear during the stamina-sapping closing stages, with Barkley booting a drop-goal that thwarted any realistic threat of a Worcester fightback.

And fly-half Butch James delivered the clincher three minutes from time, slotting a penalty after Barkley had gone off, before Delport's consolation effort in the corner.

Bath (15) 24.
Tries: Faamatuainu, Abendanon. Cons: Barkley.
Pens: Barkley 2, James. Drop Goals: Barkley.
Worcester (6) 16.
Tries: Delport. Cons: Drahm. Pens: Drahm 3.
Att: 16,500