Malone rides luck as Bath make best of a messy feast

Bath 33 - Harlequins 7

With those in and out of the know wondering how to ease the number of fixtures and help players' bodies recover, the Powergen Cup can be seen as unnecessary. The Bath public certainly thought so, with great banks of seats stubbornly empty and after a derisory match it was clear that festive shopping probably had been the right choice.

But this tournament is not without merit, the most important being that the winner qualifies for the Heineken Cup. Some prize and one worth competing for over the four fixtures. Certainly it provides an easier route than the long, hard slog of the Zurich Premiership.

However, these two sides are already struggling in this year's Heineken and although Bath have an injury list to scare the most hard-working sawbones - Martyn Wood the latest casualty when he failed a late fitness test - and Quins have problems in the league, they provided a pantomime of a match.

Dropped passes, knock-ons, enough fumbles to keep a drunken lecher happy and two tries gifted in true seasonal spirit - and that was just the first half. Quins gratefully received the first in the 17th minute, Jeremy Staunton neatly intercepting Chris Malone's pass. Bath use the move frequently and the pace with which Staunton hit the line suggested he knew it was coming.

Tom Williams reciprocated in the 35th minute with a bout of dithering that allowed Andy Higgins to chase a long, hopeful Olly Barkley kick to the corner. Such was the paucity of quality rugby that it was Bath's third attack, the previous one bringing a kicked penalty in the 33rd minute and the first a missed drop goal in the 29th.

Quins were little better. Andre Vos was his usual niggardly self, stealing and slowing Bath ball and receiving some fancy footwork for it, and former All Black Simon Maling pilfered plenty from the line-out, but there was precious little thrust or invention.

They never looked like scoring again and their best chances came from Malone passes that were nearly picked off. When Steve So'oialo was sent to the sin-bin in the 63rd minute it was the end. Barkley added a third penalty and Lee Mears and Tom Cheeseman ended matters with two tries.

John Connolly, Bath's director of rugby, though highlighted the problem facing the competition afterwards.

"We approach the season in blocks," he said, "Heineken Cup and Zurich Premiership. But this game didn't seem to fit into either of those blocks. It was the kind of match where you want to get in, play the game and get out." Without further injury he could have added, but Lee Best has tweaked his groin again and Higgins has a sore knee. Bath are fast struggling to field a side, something that will cost them during the next six matches,which could define their season in both the League and Heineken Cup.

If they struggle they might want the Powergen trophy and its passport.

Bath: R Davis (L Best, 72); A Higgins (T Cheeseman, 72 ), F Welsh, O Barkley, B Daniel; C Malone, M Baxter (S Alford, 79); M Stevens (D Barnes, 69), J Humphreys (capt) (L Mears, 34), D Bell, S Borthwick, R Fidler (D Grewcock, 54), J Scaysbrook, I Feaunati, M Lipman (G Lewis, 79).

Harlequins: T Wlliams; D James, W Greenwood (G Duffy, 63), M Deane, S Keogh; J Staunton (A Jarvis, 57), S So'oialo; M Worsley (J Dawson, 69), T Fuga (A Tiatia, 49), C Jones, R Winters (S Miall, 79), S Maling, N Easter, T Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Referee: N Owen (WRFU).

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