Easter's try helps Quins win battle of the bad boys

Harlequins 13 Bath 11: Last-gasp try and conversion provide drama missing in rest of a grim and attritional match
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The Independent Online

There was blood – the real stuff – and gutsy glory for Harlequins deep into added time when their outstanding player Nick Easter scored the try which, with Nick Evans's conversion, gave the scandal-stained club their first win of the season. Easter had sustained a gash on the forehead in the first half which eventually needed 10 stitches, so he had a big red blotch on his bandages to go with a big grin of relief.

Quins were top of the Premiership when Leinster visited here for the notorious Heineken Cup quarter-final in mid-April which led to nothing but rancour over the fake-blood ruse which cost Dean Richards his job as director of rugby. John Kingston, head coach while the club seek Richards's successor, had refused to blame the season's three defeats and a draw before yesterday on the never-ending references to "Bloodgate". Last night after Easter burrowed to the crucial score with the countdown clock long since on zero – and victory apparently tossed away a little earlier when young substitute Rory Clegg spilled a pass – Kingston claimed a kind of vindication. "I don't think we've had a lot of luck in the last few weeks, or months," he said. "And you find yourself thinking, 'if there's any right here, we will score'. But that's not how the world works. It's life, not a fairy-tale. You know that ultimately if you're doing the right things, it will turn for you."

A match of little attacking excitement until the grippingly frantic finish was watched by Martin Johnson and Brian Smith, the England manager and attack coach, and by Tom Williams, the capsule-chewing wing, who was due to resume training last Thursday.

A series of penalties and set-pieces were coolly managed by Easter and friends, and there was a sympathetic "ooh" for Bath from Johnson when the television match official okayed the No 8's try. Evans's conversion close to the posts was as easy as they get, in the circumstances.

Bath had gone 11-6 ahead in the 76th minute when Shontayne Hape ran untouched through a Quins midfield which Clegg had joined in place of the injured Gonzalo Tiesi. The first half ended 6-3 to Bath with two penalties by Nicky Little to one by Evans, who kicked an equaliser after 72 minutes but missed on two other occasions. Easter had carried the fight across the gainline for Quins, who thought they had a try by Ugo Monye after 53 minutes only for a knock-on to be called.

The club have a board meeting on Tuesday, and a source claimed that many of the world's "top 10 coaches" had been in touch about the Richards vacancy. Ian McGeechan, late of Wasps and the Lions, said yesterday that Quins had made no contact but added: "There isn't anything like the adrenalin rush on a match day."

The man on Quins' public address who ranted about "lazy Sunday journalism" might blanch at a segue from adrenalin rushes to Bath's troubled last few months but here goes. When Julian Salvi had to go off for blood, soon to be followed by Easter dabbing a towel to his head, Bath temporarily lost one of the summer signings made to fill the gaps left by the retired or suspended (or both) Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett, Andy Higgins, Matt Stevens and Justin Harrison.

The last-named departed after the end-of-season booze-up in Fulham – when he was said to have been punched to the ground by Quins' skipper Will Skinner – which led to Bath's internal inquiry into drug-taking.

Skinner's concern here was not barroom brawling but the pace of ball at the breakdown. Quins are not alone in the Premiership at appearing to be shy of aggressive rucking and counter-rucking though they scrambled well to snuff out a break by Little on half-time. Nick Abendanon had one dangerous run for Bath but leg injuries meant Matt Banahan and his Quins counterpart Monye did not last the course.

At the end a bright new moon shone over the Stoop. The stands behind each goal, including the newly opened 4,000-seater, were half-full and the crowd was 3,000 short of capacity – or 2,000 up on the previous two Stoop matches, if you prefer.

Harlequins M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi (R Clegg, 74), T Masson, U Monye (G Camacho, 53); N Evans, D Care; C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 63), J Andress (J Johnston, 60), L Stevenson, J Evans, C Robshaw (T Guest, 63), N Easter (T Guest, 33-40), W Skinner (capt).

Bath N Abendanon; J Maddock, M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan (J Cuthbert, 64); N Little, M Claassens (capt); D Flatman (D Barnes, 55), P Dixon, D Bell, P Short (D Grewcock, 55), S Hooper, A Beattie (J Faamatuainu, 64), B Skirving, J Salvi (Faamatuainu, 29-40).

Referee: W Barnes (London).

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