Rugby Union: Quintet's loss is Quins' gain

Harlequins 43 Bath 31
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DESPITE WHAT some of the qualifying results may suggest, the World Cup really is a great leveller. It is in the Premiership, anyway, where Bath became the latest big names to find themselves caught short by international calls.

Instead of taking advantage of Leicester's slip a week ago to join them at the top of the table, the West Countrymen - missing five senior internationals - became Harlequins' sixth successive victims as the Londoners stepped into the hunting party now breathing down the Tigers' necks.

Not that Quins enjoyed the full complement themselves but they coped far better with the loss of their leading try scorer Dan Luger and the front row linchpins, Keith Wood and Jason Leonard, than Bath ever threatened to do with their absent quintet.

With Phil de Glanville and Ben Sturnham surplus to England requirements, Bath looked solid enough, but they turned over possession too readily and lacked authority, confidence and conviction. After 26 minutes they also lacked a stand-off as John Preston's league debut was curtailed by Achilles tendon damage. His replacement, Jon Callard, blamed his inexperience in the role for Bath's subsequent problems, but, in truth, his entire side got little change out of a well-drilled Harlequins XV. As Callard himself put it: "You can see who has had an influence on them."

He meant, of course, Zinzan Brooke. But it was another former All Black, John Schuster, who exerted the decisive influence in adding two smart tries. Quins' other hero was Luger's deputy, Jason Keyter, who flew past Ieuan Evans for two well-worked tries.

Harlequins: Tries Keyter 2, Schuster 2, Morgan; Conversions Schuster 3; Penalties Schuster 4. Bath: Tries Regan, Nicol, Balshaw; Conversions Callard 2; Penalties Preston, Callard 3.

Harlequins: S Stewart; D O'Leary, D Officer (P Mensah, 68), J Schuster, J Keyter; T Lacroix, H Harries (C Wright, 68); D Barnes, C Ridgway (T Murphy, 43-48, 76), G Halpin (A Yates, 60), G Llewellyn (B Davison, 68), G Morgan, Z Brooke, C Sheasby, R Jenkins (A Leach, 56).

Bath: I Balshaw; I Evans (J Fallon, 64), M Tindall, P de Glanville, A Adebayo; J Preston (J Callard, 26), A Nicol; K Yates, A Long (M Regan, 42), V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman (D Jones, 33), R Earnshaw, B Sturnham, R Webster (R Bryan, 46).

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).