James jogs in to keep Harlequins' hopes alive

Bath 15 - Harlequins 17
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The Independent Online

If Harlequins avoid relegation, and the way they played in the first half that is by no means guaranteed, then the victory they struggled for yesterday will prove crucial.

If Harlequins avoid relegation, and the way they played in the first half that is by no means guaranteed, then the victory they struggled for yesterday will prove crucial.

With Worcester winning and Leeds losing on Friday evening, it was imperative that the London club took full advantage of a Bath side shorn of 23 players; something they failed to do, because they did not get the bonus point. But considering they were trailing 15-3 at the interval, it was a fine and timely recovery. However, it did little to dispel the suspicions about their resilience.

In fact, the vital score that gave them the lead in the 64th minute was a gift, as Joe Maddock kicked straight into George Harder's stomach and the Quins winger hung on to the ball to allow Daffyd James an easy run-in.

Not that Quins lacked generosity themselves, and the reason they were second best on the scoreboard as well as the pitch after the first half was the nine penalties they conceded, forcing Mark Evans, their head coach, to admit: "The penalties were killing us".

And, it must be added, so was invention from a Bath team who were barely recognisable. Steve Booth and Hugo Perrett were signed midweek as emergency cover and both started, while the excellent Ryan Davis flew in early in the morning after playing almost a full match on Friday evening in England Under-21's win over their Irish counterparts.

With David Flatman on the bench a full month ahead of schedule, it showed the threadbare resources available to the management team, and when the England prop joined the match in the 59th minute it was his first competitive appearance in 10 months. It was two of his grunt-and-groan partners, though, who teased the 10,500 crowd with the possibility of a Bath win. Rob Fidler celebrated his 150th Premiership appearance with a try in the 28th minute, and Lee Mears extended the lead just before half-time.

Chris Malone, so often maligned for lacking subtlety, essayed a sublime touch-pass to Geraint Lewis, who sent Maddock on a 40-yard run. When the ball was recycled and funnelled towards the backs it was Mears, a burly hooker, who snatched it and charged at a good angle, breaking the scrambling Quins defence.

At this stage it appeared that the news that Mike Foley, the Bath forwards coach, was staying with the club would be celebrated with the unlikeliest of victories. The head coach, John Connolly, is rumoured to also be considering staying, but as director of rugby if Jack Rowell does get elected as chairman of the RFU management board.

What was certain, though, was Quins' discipline in the second half, and when Ugo Monye completed a classic overlap move on the touchline in the 45th minute, it was time for a desperate rearguard action by the home side. They ultimately failed, and although Bath can take great comfort from such a spirited effort, it was Quins who got what they needed most, a win.

Bath: J Maddock (R Pez, 83); S Booth, A Higgins, R Davis, A Williams; C Malone, M Wood; H Kok (D Flatman, 59), L Mears, C Loader, J Hudson, R Fidler, G Lewis (G Delve, 73), Z Feaunati (capt), J Scaysbrook.

Harlequins: T Williams (G Duffy, 41); G Harder, D James, M Deane, U Monye (S Keogh, 70); J Staunton, S So'oialo; M Worsley, T Fuga (J Hayter, 65), C Jones (J Dawson, 65), J Evans (S Miall, 84), S Maling, N Easter, T Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).