Rugby Union: De Glanville's call to arms

COMMENTARY
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Build 'em up, knock 'em down, bury 'em before they have a chance to flourish. It seldom takes long for English sport's enthusiastic population of pot-shot snipers to emerge from the undergrowth, as Phil de Glanville is discovering to his acute discomfort. Little more than a month into his reign as national captain, he finds himself on the carpet: not quick enough, not decisive enough, hardly worth a light.

Time, then, for the ultimate Up Yours performance. If Bath were under the knife on Saturday, their chances of retaining the Courage League title almost entirely dependent on victory over a high-quality band of Harlequins, De Glanville was even more exposed. Put up or shut up, deliver or wither. His choices were stark indeed.

After 40 throbbing minutes of a compelling confrontation that had "epic" stamped all over it from the kick-off, it looked like game, set and match to the critics. Bath were 17 points adrift, having taken the biggest shellacking meted out to them on home turf in well over a decade, and had Paul Challinor kicked his goals, had Mike Catt not brought brought the rampaging Peter Mensah crashing to earth with the most desperate of tap-tackles, Quins would have been further out of sight than Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

De Glanville, head bandaged to protect a jagged ear wound, set out earning his corn. If he happened to glance skywards during the interval rollicking he dished out to his team, he would have seen the vultures circling; by the end, those vultures were looking elsewhere for their dead meat. Bath, six feet under at the break, resurrected themselves so completely that they won the second half 32-3 and the match 35-20.

Like any captain worthy of the description, De Glanville took it upon himself to make something happen. He succeeded within two minutes of the restart: a clean line-out catch and a brief but dynamic forward drive gave him a yard of space, and in an instance he was between and behind Mensah and Will Carling and offloading a scoring pass to Jeremy Guscott. No pace, eh?

Suddenly the pieces unscrambled themselves and slotted back into place. Given something to bite on by the two new faces up front, Federico Mendez and the startlingly athletic American Dan Lyle, the Bath midfield clicked into gear with stunning effect. Guscott, who underlined the folly of his omission from the England side with a second marvellous try in the last minute, made his point with loaded understatement afterwards: "If we get some ball we can run on to rather than take standing still, this back division can do a bit." Memo to Jack Rowell.

A player like De Glanville will never catch the eye as often or as dramatically as a Catt, a Guscott or a Carling; cleverly weighted passes, slide-rule lines of running and tireless tackle counts are not the stuff of which headlines are made. But then we are talking about the England rugby team here, not the Harlem Globetrotters. De Glanville displayed on Saturday the very qualities that attracted Rowell in the first place - iron strength, unshakeable resolve and a cool head under pressure.

And what pressure. Harlequins were superb early on, taking a firm grip at the line-out and packing so much "bosh" into their work in the loose that the champions were all but overrun. The two Frenchmen, Laurent Cabannes and Laurent Benezech, applied a sheen of craftsmanship to all that muscle, and after a close-range try from the combative Huw Harries on 12 minutes, the Londoners gave themselves a 14-point cushion with a score of wondrous quality at the start of the second quarter. It came with a glorious angled run from Jim Staples down the left, intelligent support from the wings Dan Luger and Spencer Bromley to keep the move alive and a class finish from Challinor, who also chipped over the conversion.

At that point Bath were relying almost entirely on Mendez to keep them afloat, although the Argentinian hooker was finding increasing support from the underrated Nathan Thomas.

Enter Lyle, whose NFL gridiron experience with the Minnesota Vikings and the Washing-ton Redskins may or may not have gone some way to preparing him for the peculiar pleasures of life in the second-row dungeon. Jon Callard's trusty right boot had brought the home side to within four points when the American Eagles captain made his first decisive contribution, 14 minutes from time. He put Bath in a prime attacking position with a powerful run upfield and completed what he started by taking a clean catch at the resulting line-out, from which Thomas was able to burrow over.

Seven minutes later the Lyle-Thomas partnership was back on the case. The American charged down Challinor's defensive clearance, the Welshman snaffled the ball on the floor and Callard plotted a careful route through the traffic to send Adedayo Adebayo over at the posts. Job done.

According to John Hall, the Bath team manager, Lyle has no intention of lingering long in the second row. "He's a No 8 by trade and no one watching him out there could have any doubt that he possesses the physical gifts to play high-class rugby in that position," he said.

"But it's no secret that we need to strengthen ourselves in the lock area and with his natural spring and handling ability Dan gives us an option there. We're still in the market for a specialist middle jumper but his performance in a game of that magnitude means we don't need to risk getting things wrong by rushing into a signing."

We will see over the next few weeks if the England selectors allow themselves to be rushed into ditching their captain. They should be wary: that old line about fools and angels has a habit of coming home to roost.

Bath: Tries: Guscott 2, Thomas, Adebayo; Conversions Callard 3; Penalties Callard 3. Harlequins: Tries Harries, Challinor; Conversions Challinor 2; Penalties Challinor 2

Bath: J Callard; J Robinson, P De Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo (C Harrison, 80); M Catt, I Sanders; D Hilton, F Mendez, J Mallett (V Ubogu, h t ), M Haag, D Lyle, E Peters, S Ojomoh, N Thomas.

Harlequins: J Staples (H Brown, 76); S Bromley (R Paul, 76), P Mensah, W Carling (capt), D Luger; P Challinor, H Harries; L Benezech, K Wood, A Mullins, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn, R Jenkins, W Davison (G Allison, 64), L Cabannes.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

Comments