Shaw offers player's view

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So many of English rugby's high and mighty turned up to watch the early leaders Harlequins pass the first serious examination of their Courage League title credentials that Saturday afternoon at the Memorial Ground bore more than a passing resemblance to May Day at the Kremlin.

When Fran Cotton, the manager of next summer's Lions, accused the senior clubs of using "police state" tactics in their struggle with Twickenham, the acrid stench of power politics hung even more heavily in the air. Cotton was in formidable mood as he mounted the soap box for his latest blunt oration. "I can't believe the clubs are not learning the lessons of rugby league, where even Wigan are going broke," he said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that if 85 per cent of your income is going on players' wages, it's unsustainable in business terms."

Meanwhile in the opposite corner of the players' lounge, the Quins coach, Dick Best, was telling another audience that Epruc, the clubs' umbrella organisation, was indeed a positive force in the professional era. Thank heavens it's only a game.

The confused picture was put into poignant perspective by Simon Shaw, the 20st Bristol lock who is so close to a first cap that he can almost feel the material. "All these arguments are not only a distraction from the business of playing rugby, which is what we are actually here for when all is said and done, but also bitterly frustrating. Those of us who have yet to play for England are pretty desperate for a solution because uncertainty is the last thing we need at this stage of our careers."

Serious knee and ankle injuries have so disrupted Shaw's progress over the past two seasons that nothing short of confinement in a hospital ward was likely to prevent him staking a fresh claim in front of Jack Rowell, the England coach, on Saturday. He played with six stitches in a wound close to his right eye, and although his line-out work was untidy, his prowess around the field marked him out as a modern second-row forward.

He had the final word with a last-minute try, although Bristol were well beaten by then. They had started with a bang, rattling Quins up front with some old-fashioned West Country muscle, and by the end of the first quarter they were 10 points to the good through tries from David Corkery and Ben Breeze. However, the Londoners held all the trump cards out wide and once Rory Jenkins and Keith Wood started to up the pace in driving play, the tide turned decisively.

Jim Staples cut the deficit on 23 minutes, ushered over in the left corner by the joint craftsmanship of the Frenchmen Laurent Cabannes and Laurent Benezech. A penalty try for "wilful offside" - referee Tony Spreadbury's explanation raised an eyebrow or two in the Bristol camp - gave the visitors the lead, and when Wood galloped clear six minutes into the second half, the meaningful part of the contest was well and truly over.

Bristol: Tries Corkery, Breeze, Corry, Shaw; Conversions Tainton 2.

Harlequins: Tries Staples, penalty try, Wood, O'Leary, Connolly; Conversions Carling 4, Corcoran.

Bristol: D Bennett; D Tiueti, F Waters, M Denney, B Breeze; P Burke (M Tainton, 52), R Jones; D Henkins, M Regan, A Collins, S Shaw, P Adams, M Corry (capt), E Rollitt, D Corkery.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, G Connolly, W Carling, M Corcoran; P Challinor, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn, R Jenkins (I Pickup, 78), B Davison, L Cabannes.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).