Rugby Union: Barnes' one-leg act is a hit

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The Independent Online
Harlequins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

Bath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

AS Stuart Barnes plays better on one leg than most stand-offs on two, Bath were just able to collect the points that keep them in the clear at the top of the league. But they creaked a little like the Barnes knee and, as everyone predicted, this is going to be a punishing winter for the game's leading players.

Better to quit, then, while you are ahead. 'We've all got to get old,' Gareth Chilcott said. The prop is 37 and obviously feeling his age. Which means he is trading in his jar of Vaseline for a dab of greasepaint in time for the Christmas pantomime season. Time was when 'Look out, he's behind you' had to be taken seriously.

'The lads wanted to give me a send-off and they did just that,' Chilcott said. Like the rest, though, he was indebted to Barnes, who was the real class act at The Stoop. Indeed without him you would have to say that the champions might well have faltered for the second time running in the championship, which is almost unthinkable.

On Saturday, Harlequins were tacky as they come in a sticking-to- the-task sense made difficult for both sides by the withdrawal of key performers. Their own Will Carling cried off late with flu and Jason Leonard had decided to give his neck a rest. Two of Bath's England men also gave this one a miss, Victor Ubogu with an elbow injury and Jonathan Callard after making the trip only to feel unwell.

The main concern then for Bath was whether Barnes would last out after twice being clattered. 'My poor old knee,' he said, as he limped into the bar. It was the left one which had had to be heavily strapped and if he makes the starting line at home to London Irish next weekend it will be a minor miracle.

He went the distance here, though, and made all the difference. A superb touch-finder down the left led to a close-range scrum, Bath getting the shove on and Andy Robinson scoring from Ben Clarke's pick- up. Barnes, who was forced to pass on some of the goal-kicking duties to Mike Catt, also landed two penalties, one a stunner from the touchline early in the second half.

What kept Quins in contact was four penalties from Kent Bray. Enter Chilcott, stage right. 'I'm burning my boots,' he said, 'so I can now say that the referee was definitely a bugger. Seriously, though, we've got to look at our penalty count.' A Puss-in-Boots? 'No, I've always been a hard-nosed player.' But a character, always.

Harlequins: Penalties Bray 4. Bath: Try Robinson; Penalties Barnes 2, Catt.

Harlequins: K Bray; D O'Leary, J Keyter, G Thompson, J Alexander; P Challinor, R Glenister; M Hobley, B Moore, A Mullins (capt), T Coker, S Dear, M Russell, C Sheasby, M Pepper (D Thresher, 30).

Bath: A Lumsden; R Stuart, P de Glanville, M Catt, M Lloyd; S Barnes, R Hill; G Chilcott, G Dawe, J Mallett, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, B Clarke, J Hall.

Referee: S Piercy (Goole).