Rugby Union: Guscott resurrects spirit of Bath

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The Independent Online
Bath 35

Harlequins 20

Contrary to popular rumour, the old king is far from dead. Bath obliterated the challenge of the bristling pretenders from London with a vigour and panache as impressive as any they have displayed over the long seasons of their dominance.

Many had said this season that their pre-eminence was waning, but it was a measure of the character of the English champions that they came back, apparently from the dead, to reclaim a game yesterday they could so easily have let slip.

A couple of scintillating tries from the discarded England centre Jeremy Guscott, a third from wing Adedayo Adebayo in full flight and a fourth, in typical Bath forward fashion, when the flanker Nathan Thomas wrestled the ball down in a maul, repelled what had seemed for the previous nail- biting hour like a dominant Harlequins side.

Three penalties and three conversions from the Bath full-back Jon Callard ensured Bath's rediscovery of verve was translated into points. After the game, John Hall, Bath's director of rugby, said: "Never write Bath off. We were galvanised when we realised we were staring down the barrel of not being able to win the league so we pulled out something special. That's the Bath spirit."

Hall has assembled a side from all corners of the globe, both hemispheres, North and South America, with even a former American Football player. He said he had chosen carefully to get people who would fit into the club atmosphere and ethos. The second-half comeback, he felt, emphasised how well the assimilation was going.

Bath have just recorded a rap music record, and its thumping beats welcomed the side on to the Recreation Ground. But they learned yesterday that the best place to do a bit of rapping is on the field of play. They will no doubt do much more of it before the season's out as they still have a firm grip on the championship.

Harlequins dominated Bath in the first half through tries by the scrum- half Huw Harries and the outside-half Paul Challinor. Challinor converted both and kicked a couple of penalties. Bath, meanwhile, displayed the odd flash of genius in the early stages but more usually looked like they were playing in slow motion compared with Quins' hyper speed.

The London side had arrived at the Recreation Ground determined to take the major spoils, and the back row of Rory Jenkins, Laurent Cabannes and Bill Davison was soon rampaging round the field. The much-trumpeted Bath hooker Federico Mendez of Argentina was outshone by his Harlequins opponent, Keith Wood, in the loose, and the Irishman also won a strike against the head in the tight.

Only in the backs did Bath look the equals, with Jason Robinson giving every impression of being one of the best wings in rugby union - or league, which nurtured him, for that matter. In a battle of the centres, only Jack Rowell can predict whether he will displace the incumbent Will Carling with Guscott when he names the England side on Monday to play Argentina next Saturday. Guscott made the big, searing breaks and scored a brace of tries, but Carling was at his astute best, ever aware of the half-chance for Quins.

The transformation in Bath came as the second half wore on. First Guscott crossed, then the pack rampaged forward near the Quins line to earn a penalty that Callard converted. Bath began to move the ball wider, and Thomas burrowed over to give Bath the lead for the first time in the match.

Bath then moved into real action, throwing everything forward. The pack found an even higher gear, freeing the ball for the flying wing Adebayo to cross. Bath's half-time transformation came not only through resurgent pride but also a shrewd substitution when John Mallett was replaced in the front row by Victor Ubogu. The loose-head prop gave the Bath pack added thrust and power in attack, and that laid the platform for Bath's ultimate victory.

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

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

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).