Rugby Union: A Will, but no way

Game's former golden boy returns to his old stamping ground where his task looks colossal; Harlequins 10 Bath 30
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The Independent Online
FOR pounds 175,000 or thereabouts, a sponsor can attach its name to the Harlequins ground. It is up for grabs. If Richard Branson, for example, was interested, he could call it The Virgin Stadium, which might be apt considering the amount of decent rugby played on it.

Quins have sold Keith Wood, Thierry Lacroix and the England wing Dan Luger and, it seems, in an attempt to generate income from any source, the club is willing to sell the name of the Stoop Memorial Ground which was named after Adrian Stoop, a Quins and England hero of the early 1900s. Even memorials, apparently, have a sell-by date.

Whether anybody would want to make such an investment is another matter. Quins, captained by another former England hero, Will Carling, were awful. Compared to Bath, they seem to be living in the past, not looking to the future. There are some great names in the Quins team. The trouble is they are almost as old as Adrian Stoop. On a hot afternoon, before a crowd of 5,400, Quins were played off the Stoop.

Bath, even without six regulars, looked fitter, were clearly faster and had, Jon Callard apart, younger, fresher legs and were generally more dynamic in every phase. It may only be the first game of the Allied Dunbar Premiership for Quins, but these are already worrying days.

But for the odd mistake, Bath's victory could have been even more emphatic. Quins have been at a training camp in South Africa, but you would never have guessed it. Take the back row. Adam Leach and the veterans Zinzan Brooke and Chris Sheasby were out-played by Gavin Thomas, Dan Lyle and Nathan Thomas. Gavin Thomas looked an exceptional talent.

It was a surging run from the young Welshman and some sharp passing in midfield that created an overlap for Adedayo Adebayo to cross for the first try in the sixth minute. It looked vintage Bath except it was executed by a younger generation.

Quins, trailing 8-3 at half-time, went from bad to worse. Indeed, it could be said they went Pears-shaped but this was a collective failure not just down to an innocuous performance from the stand-off. After missing a third penalty attempt, David Pears - his kicking from the hand was not much better - was replaced but thereafter Bath began to exploit their cutting edge. Lyle, drafted into service despite the fact that he is a member of the US World Cup squad, blasted over for a try under the posts and Adebayo, profiting from the excellent work of the Australian under- 21 centre Shaun Berne, cut through for his second try midway through the second half.

Quins looked sluggish and disjointed. They started last season badly but went on to qualify for Europe and they can only pray for a similar scenario. But even at this stage, they look in need of a transfusion of younger blood. They managed to score one try five minutes from time, and a cracker it was, Jason Keyter rounding off a sweeping move to score at the posts but it was the only sustained attack they mounted. The sight of Carling being replaced near the end summed up their day.

For Bath, the only concern from a very encouraging display, was a shoulder injury to the New Zealand half-back Jon Preston, who was making a comeback after missing last season with Achilles tendon damage.

Even in the line-out, where the West Country men played the veteran Martin Haag with the hugely promising Steve Borthwick, Bath had the upper hand. This was highlighted in the 70th minute when Bath scored their fourth try from a cleverly executed move. Borthwick, as he had done for most of the match, won a line-out, Haag found some space following a dummy, and the Quins defence was opened up like a tin of sardines for the replacement hooker Andy Long to gallop over.

Before this setback, Quins had beaten Namibia and Sale in their extensive pre-season build-up. "All the summer signings have integrated well and are already providing a substantial competitive edge," Huw Morgan, the club's chief executive, said. Mr Morgan must be a man who is easily satisfied.

Harlequins: D O'Leary; J Keyter, D Officer, W Carling (capt, S McCahill, 76), B Daniel; D Pears (R Liley, 53), H Harries (P Richards, 58); D Barnes, T Murphy (C Ridgeway, 53), K Nepia (P Graham, 59), S White-Cooper, G Morgan, Z Brooke, C Sheasby (R Jenkins, 58), A Leach.

Bath: J Callard (capt; J Millett, 79); I Balshaw, M Tindall, S Berne, A Adebayo; J Preston (N Simpson, 77), G Cooper; C Boyd, M Regan (A Long, 63), C Horsman (M Filipo, 72), M Haag, S Borthwick, G Thomas, D Lyle (B Sturnham, 64), N Thomas.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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