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.

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape