Lacroix targets timid Bath

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 22

Bath 6

It has been a grim week for Bath, probably the grimmest in the club's history with the departure of their esteemed coach Brian Ashton and the continuing allegations of misdemeanours off the field. And now this, the biggest League defeat suffered by the club. If this loss has not scuppered their hopes of a League title, they cannot face the future with much confidence.

Harlequins, on the other hand, after an indifferent run which had seriously damaged their credibility as title challengers, are back in business. Truth to tell, it was not a great match. Quins had enough possession in the first quarter to have won the match there and then, but they squandered countless chances by unforced errors and careless kicking.

Thierry Lacroix may, on paper, have been the match-winner with four penalties, a dropped goal and the conversion of Jim Staples' try, but his authority and influence as an outside-half have to be questioned.

The speed of the modern game demands instant decision-making aided by swift and close support. Lacroix's reflexes, given his insistence on taking the ball so flat, were not nearly quick enough. This had a baleful effect on the Quins' centres, and late in the game when Bath were pressing with every ounce of muscle to catch up, Lacroix's failure to find touch gave the opposition hope when in truth there should have been none.

But the Frenchman's problems paled into insignificance set alongside those of his opposite number, Mike Catt. He is a stricken wreck at the moment and it is sad to see a player of his quality so at odds with his own game. But then he is being asked to play in a position for which he is ill-equipped.

It was 30 minutes before Bath were able to uncork Jason Robinson from the bottleneck in midfield but, astonishingly, he was caught from behind and what appeared to be the chance of a certain try evaporated into the misty air of winter.

There was a certain symmetry to the first half, Lacroix twice equalising within three minutes of Jon Callard's penalties for Bath. With neither side possessing a dominant figure in the line-out, there was a stalemate at the set piece, hence the shortage of attacking opportunities.

But after Lacroix's third penalty for Quins two minutes into the second half, Bath, now behind for the first time in the match, raised the pace of their game. Jeremy Guscott, an anonymous figure hitherto, sprang into life with two lovely bursts of acceleration. But Bath's famed ruthlessness, which has accompanied them throughout their triumphant progress in recent years, has deserted them. Yesterday they frequently surrendered promising scoring positions. Not only that, but they even conceded a scrummage which should have sealed their fate much earlier had Will Carling held on to an admittedly dreadful pass from his scrum-half Huw Harries.

This escape, however, produced a lively response from Bath, and with Richie Butland on for the temporarily injured Phil de Glanville and Catt alongside Guscott in the centre, Bath produced their most menacing spell of the match. Callard hit the post with a penalty attempt and, with Quins making an almost farcical number of handling errors and Lacroix failing lamentably to find touch, Bath kept the pressure on.

But when Quins forced a line-out followed by a couple of scrummages a yard from the Bath line, they displayed the killer instinct so lacking in Bath's game. Lacroix, with the breath of half the Bath pack on his collar and off his weaker wing, scraped the ball over the bar with a dropped kick to give Quins a nine-point lead and six minutes to defend it.

Another spillage in the midst of another promising assault, a clearance from Harries, a charge from Laurent Cabannes and a drunken lurch for the line by the full-back Staples, and it was the end of a wretched week for Bath.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, R Paul, W Carling, D Luger; T Lacroix, H Harries; J Leonard, K Wood, L Benezech, G O Llewellyn, M Watson, R Jenkins, B Davidson, L Cabannes.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (R Butland, 55-65), J Guscott, J Robinson; M Catt, A Nicol, D Hilton, F Mendez, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, N Thomas, E Peters, S Ojomoh.

Referee: S Piercey (Yorkshire).