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Bath in seventh heaven

After a two week break, Bath notched up their seventh consecutive Guinness Premiership win to send Quins back on a resounding 24-13 win.
Duncan Bell's exuberant celebrations began long before he reached the try-line but the tighthead prop was surely entitled to a little showboating, even if it did little for Steve Meehan's blood pressure.

Belly's score, appearing on Lee Mears' shoulder after great running by the Lions hooker, came at a crucial point in the game. Harlequins had taken advantage of Michael Claassens' 10-minute spell in the sin-bin either side of half-time to claw their way back to 10-6 but the try regained the momentum for Bath.

Joe Maddock finished off a sweeping move from a line-out almost immediately afterwards and Tom Williams' try came too late to threaten a remarkable seventh successive Guinness Premiership victory for Bath.

Although most of the plaudits fell to Olly Barkley, making an impressive first start on the Rec since his return from Gloucester, Meehan was quick to pay tribute to Bell's footballing skills.

He's a good rugby player, probably better than he gives himself credit for. That's the reality of it. I've seen him score a few tries for the club since I've been here. I was delighted for him perhaps I wasn't quite so delighted that he started to celebrate ten metres out but it was a terrific move, a great bit of rugby and great reward.

Barkley opened the scoring with a 50-metre penalty in the fourth minute but that was not the only reason that Meehan is tipping him to win a place on England's squad to tour Down Under in the summer: No, he's not in his prime yet but before the end of the season we'll start to see that. I think he has a real chance, a very strong chance of making that trip.

Quins may be battling to escape from the bottom four but they competed as strongly as ever in the loose and worked hard to deny Bath time and space to develop their off-loading game. At the cost of a few penalties, including a simple kick that Barkley should have nailed, their plan served them well for 20 minutes or so.

Eventually, however, Mike Brown cleared uncertainly to Matt Banahan whose strong run brought him just short of the line. Maddock and his supporting forwards sucked in more defenders under the posts, leaving Barkley to step his way over the line. The conversion was a straightforward task.

Quins enjoyed their best spell after Barkley failed to extend the 10-nil lead with a longer range penalty. Skipper Claassens was sin-binned for a high and early tackle on England scrum-half Danny Care and Nick Evans kicked Quins' first points on 35 minutes. Back they came again and the home side conceded another penalty to the New Zealander on the stroke of half-time.

Soon after the break referee Martin Fox adjudged Butch James to have knocked on deliberately but Evans missed an angled kick from 30 metres. At the other end, Banahan thought he had scored but it was disallowed for a seemingly innocuous push on Brown as both players went for the bouncing ball. The crowd on the Riverside terrace and under the clubhouse roared their disapproval but Bell's try soon had them roaring in delight.

No sooner had Barkley landed the conversion of that 48th minute try then Bath put the outcome beyond doubt with a peach of a try.
Peter Short won a line-out at the front; the ball was whipped out to James who sent an accurate left-handed pass to Barkley running from deep behind Banahan and Shontayne Hape. Barkley's pass found Nick Abendanon at pace and, with Brown left in no-man's land, Maddock stepped inside the final defender to score. Barkley converted from wide out.

Meehan was impressed: He has a very accurate long pass, Olly, and good speed so he can get to outside defenders and release outside attackers quite nicely. It was illustrated perfectly by Joe Maddock's try. That was just a brilliant bit of rugby. If anybody scores a better try than that this weekend, it will have to be an absolute screamer.

Abendanon ran with pace and purpose in his 100th game and, although it was an early injury to David Flatman that gave David Barnes a chance to strut his stuff, he marked his 200th appearance by ensuring the Bath scrum enjoyed the upper hand.

Quins were by no means down and out and it took a tap tackle by Banahan to deny Saracens-bound David Strettle a try on the hour. For much of the last quarter, however, it was all Bath but much of it was unstructured and the visitors broke out to create a try for Williams at the death, Evans converting.

For a moment or two, it looked as if Bath might snatch a bonus point as Quins were caught in possession under their own posts but the chance went begging.

Meehan was philosophical. While we tried to play with a great amount of speed and width we were impatient, he acknowledged. It was the first thing that the players reflected on immediately after the match which is a clear indication of the change within the squad. If we had nailed that performance in October we would have been doing laps of honour.

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