Rugby Union: Bath rely on bright Butland
Sunday 31 August 1997
It was the poor wretch who had to adjudicate on the man of the match award I felt sorry for. I was sitting next to the fellow and as this sorry excuse for a match entered its final minutes with Harlequins leading 20-15 he plumped in desperation for Thierry Lacroix who earlier in the game had with a subtle touch set up Quins' opening score. Personally I would have given it to the third cheerleader from the left whose agility in the pre-match entertainment was far superior to anything we saw in the subsequent 80 minutes.
No sooner had my companion made his selection, however, than the wheels came off. Brian Campsall, the referee, awarded a controversial penalty try to Bath as a result of Quins' persistent infringements. After conceding a series of penalties close to their line the referee finally ran out of patience and awarded Bath a try. Now behind by two points and with three minutes of injury time played, Harlequins in desperation attempted to break free from behind their own line. As they had failed lamentably in the previous 83 minutes to cover more than half a dozen yards without error this was always going to prove beyond them. The ball went lose and Richie Butland crossed for Bath's second try in almost as many minutes. This gave Butland 22 points for the game and unquestionably therefore made him the man of the match. But all of this came too late for the man from the Telegraph to change his mind. The magnum of champagne therefore went to Lacroix.
It is some time since Bath were able to intimidate opponents by merely turning up. Nowadays they are a pale imitation of the great sides of the past and at the Stoop yesterday they played a game with which those of us who have followed their progress over the years are unfamiliar.
Their running lacked imagination and intuition. It was all lateral movement, with the angles of running so predictable as to be easily stifled by the opposition defence.
It was not until the final 10 minutes of the match, and after sundry replacements had rejuvenated Bath's pack, that they played with any conviction although Dan Lyle at No 8 worked harder than anyone to give them some momentum and purpose. Butland, with five penalties, a try and a conversion was obviously the most influential figure on the field and played tidily enough, but Matt Perry's burgeoning talent was mostly ignored at full- back.
Harlequins doubtless will feel aggrieved that the crucial refereeing decisions went against them but they had only themselves to blame. For most of the match they had looked the sharper and more positive side and after an opening quarter in which the play had been confined to the midfield they broke the tedious mould with a well-worked try, Lacroix providing the opportunity for Jamie Williams to cross the Bath line. Lacroix converted and then kicked a penalty to stretch Quins' lead to seven points.
But then their game fell apart. They surrendered to indiscipline and conceded a stream of penalties, four of which Butland converted to restore the lead he had given them as early as the seventh minute.
Even so, with Bath failing utterly to string more than a couple of passes together and recklessly giving away hard-won possession, they were providing Quins with all manner of enticing attacking options. Taking matters into his own hands the Quins skipper, Keith Wood, put his head down just outside his own 22 and set off on a charge which carried him through the first and second strands of the Bath cover. Darren O'Leary was involved in the movement and so was Williams before Johnny Ngauamo flopped over the line for a try which Lacroix converted.
There were now 14 minutes of the match remaining but instead of consolidating on their lead Harlequins persisted in over-elaboration, thereby allowing the opposition back into the game. Bath may not be the force of old but they still managed to draw on past experience and their formidable power up front was enough to carry them through.
Harlequins: J Staples (J Keyter, 63); D O'Leary, T Lacroix, J Nguaumo, J Williams; R Liley, N Walshe; M Cuttitta, K Wood (capt), J Leonard, G Llewellyn, L Gross (G Allison, 72), R Jenkins, B Davison, L Cabannes.
Bath: M Perry; J Sleightholme (J Ewens, 73), P de Glanville (capt), M Catt, B Roche; R Butland, C Harrison (R Pellow, 57); D Hilton, M Regan, V Ubogu (K Yates, 63-79), G Llanes, N Redman, R Webster (R Bryan 37-40), E Peters, D Lyle.
Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).
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