Swift makes sure for holders

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The Independent Online
IT HAS become axiomatic that Bath don't lose Cup semi- finals. They have now won all nine they have reached - every one of them played away from their desirable riverside home. That includes the identical draw last season when, having thrown away an early 19-0 lead, they needed every point they could squeeze out of a try by Tony Swift and a conversion from Jon Callard three minutes from the end to beat Harlequins 26-25.

That is remembered as one of the competition's great nail-biters. This one will not be. Although Harlequins, who have not beaten Bath since December 1986, made a contest of it for the first 40 minutes, they did not have the basic team-play or the place-kicking skills to back up their individual spirit. Rumours that Bath were suffering from celebrity fatigue after their defeat by Wasps a week ago proved greatly exaggerated. The will to win is still intact.

To accommodate Sky Television, and to hell with the rest of the rugby followers, this semi- final kicked off an hour later than the one at Leicester so that the second half could be broadcast live. So it was perhaps poetic justice that viewers missed the meaningful and often exciting opening moves, and had to be content with Bath's triumphal flourishes.

Although the shadows were long by the time the game started, at least there was sun to cast them, and a hard pitch if anyone cared to run on it. And the first to pick up that challenge, after Callard had kicked a third-minute penalty for Bath, was the Quins pack. First, Jason Leonard and then, with even more commitment, the flanker, Rory Jenkins; and when he was brought down, the ball was spun to the left where Jim Staples scored a try near the corner. Only five minutes had gone and Quins had already demonstrated that they were far more effective in the sudden shoot-out of the Cup than under the sustained pressures of the Courage League.

Bath, though, had an answer to both, and after fending off the sporadic attacks of Quins, they worked their way back up the field where Mike Catt made the initial breach to give an inside scoring pass to Philip De Glanville. Callard converted and at 5-10 something like the anticipated order was restored. Even then Staples, who kicked one penalty, might have have put Quins back in the lead with a second attempt. But successful home place- kicks are as rare as holes-in-one at the Stoop, and a minute into first- half injury time, Callard restored the balance to 8-13 with his second penalty.

The teams now had the television to themselves and Quins had the incentive of an all- London final, but their cause was not helped by a third penalty by Callard followed immediately by a fifth place-kick miss from Staples. And in the 11th minute of the half, it was fatally undermined by a typical sniping try from the veteran Tony Swift, his 159th for Bath. Callard converted, and Catt followed up with an outrageously extravagant drop goal.

It was, unfortunately, Catt's last significant action, for he was shortly helped from the field with a minor knee injury. This drew none of Bath's fire, for there was still a second Swift try to come, scored in the chase for a lazy-looking but precise punt towards the dead-ball line by Jeremy Guscott. Paul Challinor, who had also come on as a replacement for Staples, was able to stretch forward for a try for Quins from a tapped penalty. But by now it was really no contest.

Harlequins: J Staples (P Challinor, 70); P Mensah, W Carling, W Greenwood, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin; J Leonard, B Moore (capt), A Mullins, A Snow, P Thresher, M Watson, R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, P De Glanville, J Guscott, J Sleightholme; M Catt (R Butland, 62), I Sanders; K Yates, G Adams, J Mallett, M Haag, N Redman, S Ojomoh, J Hall (capt), B Clarke.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).