Rugby Union: Comedy of errors fails to raise a laugh

Harlequins 20 Bath 27
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The Independent Online
There is no doubt that the Allied Dunbar Premiership needs a sin-bin, but for matches such as this one a rubbish bin would have been more appropriate. The litter of unforced errors obscured any good things attempted by either side. Spilled passes, non-existent ball retention, and an unprecedented clutch of penalties, culminating in Harlequins losing the match to a penalty try for persistent offside when they had wrested back the lead from a lacklustre Bath, left coaches on both sides speechless.

"I can't explain why so many top class players made so many mistakes," Bath's Andy Robinson said. Harlequins' director of coaching, Andy Keast, added: "I have never seen a game of rugby from two good sides where so much possession ended up on the floor. We just have to hope that we never see it again."

As for the penalty try, according to the referee, Brian Campsall, it would probably not have been awarded had the sin-bin been in operation. "I would have sent a player from each side into the sin-bin very early on," Campsall said "and that would probably have been an end to it."

The Scottish Rugby Union has just introduced a 10-minute sin-bin for killing the ball for League Trophy matches played between now and 25 October. They though, followed the accepted protocol. Unfortunately, a plan to introduce a similar sin-bin for the Allied Dunbar Premiership had to be shelved because it had not been cleared by the Rugby Football Union, nor ratified by the International Rugby Football Board. However, it should be in place by the time the Premiership resumes at the end of October, after the first batch of Heineken European Cup matches.

The RFU president, Peter Brook, said yesterday: "It is not possible to introduce, arbitrarily, changes to the laws. Any such change has to go through the right channels at the RFU before being put to the IRFB. This sort of thing takes time, but I would be surprised if it weren't in place by the end of October."

It cannot come soon enough. Robinson admitted: "I feel sorry for Harlequins conceding a penalty try, but we have lost a match in similar fashion before, as well as winning the Pilkington Cup through the award of a penalty try. It is not a nice way to win or lose a match."

At least Bath scored a further try, through the only worthy player on their side, who was Rich Butland. He was the coolest and most competent player as he attempted to shepherd his dizzy flock from stand-off. He collected 22 points in all after being handed the goal-kicking responsibilities after the withdrawal with an injury of the former England full-back Jon Callard.

But the basic errors rendered what should have been a sublime display of superior rugby into a ridiculous spectacle. Full-time professionalism, which was regarded as the way forward to improve standards of play, allowing the players more time to concentrate on every aspect of their game, did not seem to have made any significant impact on players from either side at The Stoop Memorial Ground. Europe looms. So does the spectre of potential humiliation for British clubs on the evidence of this sorry match.

Harlequins: Tries Williams, Ngauamo; Conversions Lacroix 2; Penalties Lacroix 2. Bath: Tries Penalty try, Butland; Conversion Butland; Penalties Butland 5.

Harlequins: J Staples (J Keyter, 57); D O'Leary, T Lacroix, J Ngauamo, J Williams; R Liley, N Walshe; M Cuttitta, K Wood (capt), J Leonard, G Llewellyn, L Gross (G Allison, 64), R Jenkins, L Cabannes, B Davison.

Bath: M Perry; J Sleightholme (J Ewens, 75), P de Glanville (capt), M Catt, B Roche; R Butland, C Harrison (R Pellow, 50); D Hilton, M Regan, V Ubogu (K Yates 74-80), G Llanes, N Redman, R Webster (R Bryan 39-40), E Peters, D Lyle.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).