Callard faces scrum-half crisis at Bath

Bath 18 Harlequins 9
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The Independent Online

If the Bath coach, Jon Callard, appears to get a bit jumpy when the words club and country are mentioned in the same breath he probably feels he has good reason. A couple of weeks ago the club had a £5,000 fine – suspended until the end of the season – slapped on them by the Rugby Football Union for refusing to release players for an England get-together.

Last week Wales moved in on Callard's players. And they were far more successful in getting their men. The Wales management contacted the scrum-half Gareth Cooper and the flanker Gavin Thomas by telephone late on Wednesday evening, congratulating them on their selection to the senior squad for next weekend's match against France in Cardiff, that was followed closely by the instruction to get themselves to the training centre for the next two days.

An unhappy Callard did not find out about the call-up until Cooper phoned him on Thursday afternoon. "That is the club's day off, so it was not a problem then," explained Callard, "but we had a session on Friday and needed them for that. But by the time they returned at lunchtime the session was over."

The upshot is that Wales have promised to supply clubs with a schedule of their training programme and then the likes of Callard will not be left in the dark. As things turned out, Cooper's call was in vain because he lasted all of 68 minutes against Harlequins, before hobbling off to hospital with an ankle injury and returning on crutches and, although nothing was broken, it could be a week or 10 days before he recovers.

Since his understudy, Andy Williams, is expected to undergo a knee operation shortly that is likely to keep him out for six weeks, Callard has a crisis at No 9 and has already begun making inquiries about the availability of a loan scrum-half, insisting it will be someone from the Northern Hemisphere.

Harlequins have also been in the player market in search of cover for fly-half and fullback and the Fijian Norm Ligairi is expected shortly at The Stoop. It is doubtful that, had he been there, Ligairi would have been able to do anything to help Quins in the opening quarter of an hour when Bath gave the Londoners an emphatic lesson in finishing. An astute pass in the opening minutes by Cooper opened an angle for Mike Catt to make a trademark break for a blistering try.

Five minutes later Catt delivered another of his trademarks – a misspass, this one a double that cut out the centres Kevin Maggs and Ollie Barkley – to the incoming Matt Perry, then on to Iain Balshaw, Tom Voyce, before Dan Lyle popped up to thump the ball into the turf.

That effectively sealed Quins' fate. No matter that they then kept Bath's backs at bay, the problem was they could not mount an attack. This was their seventh Premiership loss on the trot and having played more games than anyone around them in the table, it may just be too late to avoid relegation.

Bath: Tries Catt, Lyle; Conversion Barkley; Penalty Barkley; DG Perry. Harlequins: Penalties Burke 2; DG Burke.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, O Barkley, T Voyce; M Catt, G Cooper (R Chrystie, 68); D Barnes, M Regan (A Long, 38-h-t), S Emms, S Borthwick (J Scaysbrook, 80+5), D Grewcock, G Thomas, D Lyle (capt; M Gabey, 50), N Thomas.

Harlequins: D Slemen; M Moore, W Greenwood, N Burrows (C Bell, 58), R Jewell; P Burke, N Duncombe; J Leonard, A Tiatia, A Olver (B Douglas, 70), G Morgan (capt), S White-Cooper, R Winters (A Codling, 58), T Diprose, L Sherriff (J Roddam, 40-46).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).