Bath 31 Harlequins 23: Stevens back to give Bath the X-factor

Versatile prop tunes up for return to international action as Easter sees red for Quins
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The Independent Online

Matt Stevens, also known as Bath's rarely spotted warbler, made it through 80 minutes (or the near two hours that constitutes a Premiership afternoon out nowadays) after 10 months out with injury, and celebrated a hard-fought bonus-point win on his return to the front row.

This was heartening news for England, given the captain Phil Vickery's struggles with an ankle injury, although Stevens, South African-born but capped 10 times by his adopted country, said afterwards he would like "a couple more matches for Bath" before being considered for Six Nations service. Before yesterday he was last seen in public in the final of television's Celebrity X-Factor belting out "Mac the Knife", since when his left shoulder went under the knife to repair an injury he then aggravated in an accident at home.

Bath's pack made a song and dance of their preparation for every line-out, but it worked well in the 12th minute, even if the move for the first try of the match was as uncomplicated as they come. Chris Malone punted a penalty to touch, Danny Grewcock took a catch at the front and smuggled the ball in the maul to Steve Borthwick for the score. Olly Barkley converted - as he would do for each Bath try - having seen his kicking counterpart for Quins, the fly-half Adrian Jarvis, open up with a penalty after four minutes.

Stevens can prop both sides and his other great attribute is normally a gallop or two in broken play, but he was outdone in this respect by almost every other Bath forward running straight and hard to great effect. Nick Easter and Tani Fuga were two Quins forwards flummoxed into all sorts of offside positions.

Easter was sent to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul after 19 minutes, and much later on saw red for backchat to the referee, Rob Debney, who was castigated by his fellow man of Leicestershire, Quins' director of rugby Dean Richards, for rubbing out two Harlequins "tries". In Easter's initial 10-minute absence, Bath scored 10 points to lead 17-3. Barkley kicked a penalty, then Joe Maddock carved a diagonal path from his wing to the posts, taking an inside pass from James Scaysbrook.

After Jarvis collected a second penalty, Bath finished the half with a try from Malone made by Barkley's 50-metre break. The second half began with Quins' best spell: another three points for Jarvis followed by a counter-attack try for the full-back Mike Brown.

Something had to give out of Bath's five straight home wins before this and Quins' five successive victories in all competitions; it was the latter record as Bath, pegged back to 24-16, regathered themselves with the bonus-point try after 69 minutes. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu scored it from a fine pass off his toes by the substitute fly-half, Shaun Berne.

Quins' loosehead prop, Aston Croall, may not want to see the Rec for a while; Bath would like it to look different, too, with a 15,000-seater stadium here. Their intensely private club owner, Andrew Brownsword, has broken his customary silence with a pair of articles in the local newspaper, reproduced in the Bath programme, to pledge his continued support. He said: "There are a few signs that a crane or two will feature on the skyline in the near future."

Then again, as Stevens might have pointed out, it is never over till the fat boy sings. Easter scored a converted try after 78 minutes, before his premature departure, for protesting in vain that Will Skinner had made the line. The home side cleared, then fumbled away a possible pushover try. In the end Bath joined Quins on 30 points, just below the top six in the table.

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, O Barkley, M Stephenson; C Malone (S Berne, 46), N Walshe; D Barnes, L Mears, M Stevens, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie (P Short, 79), I Fea'unati (G Delve, 57), J Scaysbrook (M Lipman, 51).

Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, H Luscombe, S Abbott, S Keogh; A Jarvis, A Gomarsall (S So'oialo, 59); A Croall, T Fuga, M Ross (R Nebbett, 71), O Kohn (J Evans, 71), N Spanghéro, A Vos, N Easter, P Volley (capt; W Skinner, 71).

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).

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