Bath 31 Harlequins 23: Stevens hits right note in comeback overture

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The Independent Online

Bath collected a precious extra point when the Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu scored their fourth try, but the real bonus was the reappearance of Matt Stevens.

The prop's grin told the story - the shoulder which underwent a complete reconstruction last spring had survived a first game in 10 months, and one which lasted 100 minutes at that.

The "singing prop" is now in Cape Town for "five days of beasting" at the hands of his travelling companion, Bath's head of fitness and conditioning, Scott Murphy.

"He's going to drive me into the ground," said Stevens, after playing a full part in a forward performance which helped Bath to a 24-3 half-time lead. "It was a bit of a baptism of fire. The cramps started to come at around 60 minutes and I felt dead on my feet. There were a lot of scrummages too."

Stevens, with his ability to play on both sides of the scrum at the highest level, is one of the "X-Factors" missing from Brian Ashton's Six Nations squad. But after the long haul back to fitness, the 24-year-old is cautious about resurrecting his Test career too quickly.

"When you are out for 10 months you can't stop thinking about the injury," he said. "You feel a bit useless because you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing. Your mates are winning - or losing - and you want to be there with them. I would love to be back but I wouldn't pick me on this performance."

With the second rows Steve Borthwick and Danny Grewcock back in harness, Bath delivered their own "beasting" to the Harlequins pack. Borthwick was driven over from a line-out early on and Joe Maddock picked an exquisite line off James Scaysbrook's pass for the second try. Olly Barkley provided a third try, for Chris Malone, on the stroke of half-time.

Quins, who had lost the No 8 Nick Easter to the sin bin, edged their way back through Adrian Jarvis's boot before their full-back, Mike Brown, scored in the corner. They should have reduced Bath's lead to five points but had a penalty reversed for a stamp and the home side took control.

After Bath had earned the bonus point, Quins came back with a try for Easter but the No 8 then saw a second yellow card - and thus a red - for dissent.

Bath: Tries Borthwick, Maddock, Malone, Fuimaono-Sapolu; Conversions Barkley 4; Penalties Barkley. Harlequins: Tries Brown, Easter; Conversions Jarvis 2; Penalties Jarvis 3.

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, O Barkley, M Stephenson; C Malone (S Berne, 47), N Walshe; D Barnes, L Mears, M Stevens, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie (P Short, 73), I Fea'unati (G Delve, 56), J Scaysbrook (M Lipman, 50).

Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, H Luscombe, S Abbott, S Keogh; A Jarvis, A Gomarsall (S So'oialo, 57); A Croall, T Fuga, M Ross (R Nebbett, 65), O Kohn (J Evans, 65), N Spanghéro, A Vos, N Easter, P Volley (capt; W Skinner, 65).

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).

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