Harlequins 19 Bath 16: Quins ignore needs of the nation by sneaking past Bath into semis

Quins will now take on Saracens in next week's semi-final

Rugby Union Correspondent

If Harlequins were still the ultimate establishment team – all Queen, country and bankers’ bonuses – they would have done the proper thing and offered Bath a free pass into the Premiership play-offs, thereby guaranteeing England the services of Mike Brown, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw when they embark on the slightly awkward process of ending New Zealand’s 20-year winning streak in Auckland next month. “Least we could do, old chap,” they would have said. “There are more important things in life than club rugby, and sorting out  the colonials is one of them.”

That blue-blooded brand of Harlequinism disappeared long ago: these days, the Londoners have a very clear sense of their own standing at the top end of the domestic game and pack their side with salt-of-the-earth types willing to fight like alley cats in defence of it. They demonstrated this once again by resisting a ferocious West Country challenge in front of a full house at The Stoop, winning 19-16 to book themselves a semi-final trip to Saracens, and while the odds are still just about in favour of Robshaw and company being around for the visit to the great All Black stronghold of Eden Park in a little under a month’s time, the England hierarchy will not be banking on it.

When Stuart Lancaster, the national head coach, picks his side for the opening Test against the world champions, those players involved in the Premiership final on 31 May will not be up for selection: the flight distance will be too great, the preparation time too limited. He knows he will have one of Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell in midfield, but not both; that his first-choice threesome in the back row may be down to a onesome by the time he reaches Auckland; that the chances of him having to field an uncapped hooker are growing by the day.

Even had Bath won at the weekend – as they might well have done had Nick Aben-danon or Anthony Watson or Jonathan Joseph shown just a little more composure on the ball after ripping up their opponents in open field – Lancaster would not have rested easy in his bed: the thought of David Wilson, the only tight-head prop of international quality currently available to him, making it through to the Premiership final would have been too grim to contemplate. There again, he now faces the prospect of losing the collective heartbeat of his team (Brown, Care, Robshaw) or, still worse in numerical terms, Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers.

It is a rare old muddle, to be sure: as Bath still have to play an Amlin Challenge Cup final against Northampton and are certain to throw the kitchen sink at it – “The only way we can make sense of our season now is to win that trophy,” said Mike Ford, their head coach, after watching his side slip out of the top four at the 11th hour – it is far from certain that Wilson and his fellow international contenders, the outside-half George Ford and the lock Dave Attwood, will emerge in one piece. Only after European finals weekend will Lancaster know precisely where he stands vis-à-vis Eden Park.

Had the red rose boss spent Saturday in the south-east of the country rather than the north-east, where he was to be found casting an eye over the Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and the Newcastle prop Kieran Brookes, he would have found some reassurance amongst all the angst and uncertainty. Brown was positively bristling with aggressive intent – one of these fine days someone will give him a proper bunch of fives – while between them, Care and Robshaw found a way to push Harlequins over the line. Robshaw, in particular, turned in a mammoth shift: the Bath pack, driven along by Attwood and the ultra-abrasive Carl Fearns, were on a mission, yet they could not subdue the England captain, whose fathomless reserves of energy show no sign of diminishing.

As for Ford, the bookmakers’ favourite to face the gifted Beauden Barrett in Auckland – the All Blacks themselves are down to their third-choice playmaker, thanks to Daniel Carter’s sabbatical and Aaron Cruden’s busted thumb – there were unmistakeable signs of a class act at work. The solo slice-and-scamper try he scored early in the second quarter was startlingly good: every bit as exhilarating as the one he had put past Northampton eight days previously, but from further out. There was also much to admire in the tactical kicking, although he continues to take unnecessary chances.

The question mark, which will always be there unless he exposes himself to large amounts of gamma radiation and turns into the Incredible Hulk, is one of size: at one point during the first half, the Harlequins wing Ugo Monye propelled Ford backwards at such speed, they were both at risk of ending up in Richmond High Street. The Bath man also saw plenty of Jordan Turner-Hall, a substantial citizen who made it his business to seek out the physical mismatch at every opportunity.

Bath deserve credit for creating a defensive structure that minimises Ford’s vulnerability: it was not the outside-half’s fault that Watson allowed himself to be wrong-footed by Care’s clever floated pass to Brown, who duly scored Quins’ only try 15 minutes into the game. If Saracens prevail in the semi-final and deprive Lancaster of the services of Farrell – an outside-half who really can tackle – England will have to be every bit as cute. After all, it is not Turner-Hall who will be on Ford’s case at Eden Park. It will be someone twice as good and twice as powerful, by the name of Ma’a Nonu.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor