RUGBY UNION: Carling dispels doubts

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The Independent Online

Bristol 25 Harlequins 31

If Will Carling's days as England captain are numbered, he could have fooled anyone present at the Memorial Ground, including Kyran Bracken, whose name has been mentioned as a likely successor. Both contributed greatly to an outstanding match, but it was a big break by Carling that helped Harlequins maintain their winning streak.

Bracken, a career in the legal profession put on hold in favour of rugby's new age of professionalism, opened the door for Bristol with an early try only for Carling to virtually close it near the finish by racing 50 yards to give Spencer Bromley a clear run to the line.

All that was then left was for Carling to hold his breath after a stunning riposte by Paul Hull had pulled Bristol back to within a point. There were four minutes remaining when Mark Tainton lined up the conversion attempt, but the tension proved too much for the outside half and Quins celebrated almost immediately with an interception try from Daren O'Leary.

All of which left Quins sitting side by side with Bath at the top of the table, an exulted position for a side notorious for being slow off the mark. Once, Dick Best despaired at the lack of commitment before Christmas, but now the coach has returned to The Stoop as director of rugby he has something new to worry about.

Mind you, Best has the sort of worries others would welcome. Saturday's effort completed a hat-trick of opening victories, and forthcoming matches against West Hartlepool, Saracens and Sale could see the club equal the sum total of their success in the last campaign before Bath hove into view on 21 October.

Best, meanwhile, hit the target when he said: "This is just the sort of match we would have lost last season. If that last conversion had gone over, we'd have been dead." Maybe so, but there is a zest about these Quins that has been lacking before, an attitude summed up by Simon Halliday.

And as a former Bath stalwart, Halliday - who finished his career at Quins and has now returned to join the coaching set-up - knows all about attitude. "We're getting some boys to put their bodies on the line and to think more expansively," he said. And then, with a glint in his eye: "Nobody knows how good we can get." Too good, at any rate, for Bristol.

Bristol: Tries Bracken, Corry, Hull; Conversions Tainton 2; Penalties Tainton 2. Harlequins: Tries O'Leary 2, Greenwood, Bromley; Conversion Pears; Penalties Pears 3.

Bristol: P. Hull (capt); K Maggs, N Smith, D Wring, J Keyter; M Tainton, K Bracken; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, G Archer, R Armstrong, M Corry, I Patten.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Carling, W Greenwood, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin (capt); S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins, A Snow, P Thresher, M Russell, C Sheasby, R Jenkins.

Referee: D Gillett (France).