Rugby Union: Guscott adds grace as tide favours Bath: Brough Scott sees the Courage champions open their season with victory at the Recreation Ground

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The Independent Online
COMING over Landown with Bath a distant sunlit view through the autumn leaves, there was cricket on one side of the road, soccer on the other. After 80 minutes at the Recreation Ground, Harlequins might have preferred a round ball to play with.

When the tide runs against you, rugby can be the cruellest of games. At one stage in the second half, every crooked, oblong bounce seemed intent on doing Bath a favour. If it had been cricket, Harlequins would have accused the home side of doctoring the ball.

It was bad enough when the Bath kicks jinked unerringly into touch, but it became really dreadful when every Harlequin impact seemed askew. Poor Mark Evans sliced horribly on his own

22-metre line and then the Bath mockers guffawed when Paul Challinor managed to miss a penalty in front of the posts.

If the ball was unkind, so too were the small boys supporting Bath. In truth, they didn't have a lot to shout about in the first half: technical discussion of the new laws, awe at the swathes of white bandages that tied Richard Hill's cut head together, and satisfaction that the flight of penalties was going their way.

But then came that Jeremy Guscott try. It was the way every Bath follower wanted it. A squirting break by Stuart Barnes and then Guscott coasting in with liquid grace right in front of us and, still on his knees, gave a gleaming green-gumshield smile as he clenched both fists in a salute to the faithful.

Enter small boy to drive the dagger home. As Harlequins trooped behind the posts to await Jon Webb's inevitable conversion, a piping voice came over loud and clear: 'Get your act together.' Alex Snow, large and craggy, and crumpled with exertion, looked across at his tormentor. If you could be prosecuted for thoughts, Snow would be locked away for many winters.

Bath were enjoying this. Harlequins must have been longing that the city traffic jams had done rather more than delay them. When they at last looked like driving over, the gigantic Ben Clarke came thundering clear for Bath. When they did get a run at the posts in the final minutes, Evans, and then Will Carling, got the most fearful scragging. No wonder Brian Moore's black binliner head band seemed to be turning red with fury.

Afterwards the sun shone and the victors came out to join the fans. Gareth Chilcott did his usual instant metamorphosis from terrifying caveman to genial softy. Standing beside a now bandage-less Hill, he said how the hard match with the Italian side, Treviso, had made Bath really dig deep and think about the new rules. 'The referee was terribly biased,' said Hill, the stitches a neat railway line across the top of that bristly little skull. 'The penalty count was 33-9 in their favour and we still managed to beat them. It made us ready for today.'

Hill had had a marvellous match. Chilcott had just been Chilcott. New rules may bog other teams down, but just for now Chilcott doesn't intend taking the smile from between that connoisseur's pair of cauliflower ears.

'I think the new rules worked very well,' he said happily to the television interviewer. Then, with his cigarette hidden neatly behind his back, he looked across at Bath's wonderful, sunlit regency backdrop and gave the winter lift-off. 'In fact,' Chilcott said, 'I think its going to be a very good season.'

It's a comment on the football comparison that although this was rugby's version of Liverpool v Manchester United, there were only a few hundred well-wishers.

(Photograph omitted)

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