On a bitterly cold night in south west London on Monday, Bath United were left ruing missed opportunities in a titanic game against Harlequins in the Premiership Rugby Shield.
Both teams came out making their intentions clear from the off, with penalty kicks at goal being spurned in favour of finding touch and searching for early hammer blows.
It was the home side who struck first, after Bath failed to find touch with a clearing kick from their own 22, Quins captain Niall Saunders, who was in sparkling form all night, was able to jink his way past three Bath defenders to race in for the opening try. Fly half James Dixon slotted the conversion to give Quins a perfect start. [7-0]
The Bath forwards were edging the contest up front, however, despite providing the platform the backs couldn’t quite find the crucial key to unlock the Quins defence.
Harlequins were running everything back and were in no mood to provide any sniff of an opening to Bath. After 26 minutes Bath were finally able to get a decent foothold in the Quins 22 and after a terrific set piece, the backs went into overdrive, some beautiful hands and deft touches moved the ball from left to right, with the ball moving through the hands at a rapid rate, Bath were able to release winger, Frankie Smith who raced over the line to bring
Quins into the game. Alex Davies missed the conversion from wide-out but Bath were back in the game. [7-5]
From the restart, Quins were able to reclaim possession and immediately put Bath under pressure. The tide turned, significantly in Quins favour, in the space of 4 minutes as half time drew close.
First, off the back of a furious set of phases from both forwards and backs, Quins number 7, Jack Kenningham was able to drive over the line to extend Quins’ lead.
James Dixon had an easy conversion to make it 14 – 5. A few moments later, with the clock closing on the 40th minute, that man, Niall Saunders picked up the ball in his own half, side stepped as if it was going out of fashion, exploded through a gap and kept going.
It was a stunning score that broke Bath hearts after a tough opening 40. James Dixon made the conversion look easy as the half time whistle sounded. [21-5]
HALF-TIME Harlequins 21-5 Bath United
Bath United came flying out of the blocks in the second half, their forwards marauding with the words of Luke Charteris ringing in their ears.
They continued to have the edge up front, and after squeezing the Quins scrum early in the second half they were able to earn a series of penalties.
Again, they went for touch, Alex Davies finding a touch with a deep clearing kick to provide Bath with the stage to attack from. The forwards answered the siren call, and after some stunning work at the rolling maul, they were able to drive over the line and Jack Davies was on hand to bring Bath back into the game. Alex Davies found his kicking boots to convert and close the gap to nine points. [21-12]
The Bath try sparked Quins immediately into life, their forwards and backs combining to immediately put the pressure back on Bath.
Niall Saunders was again in the thick of the action, Bath were able to manage his attack effectively but from the next phase of play some more fast hands, sent Quins winger Ollie Brown over in the corner to re-establish the home team’s lead.
James Dixon was unable to make the conversion from wide out but once again Quins had the upper hand. [26-12]
In the 63rd minute, the Bath forwards once more were able to keep the pressure on their opponents, after turning over the Quins scrum to earn another penalty, from the resulting lineout, the forwards combined to great effect to allow hooker, Kieran Ward to score, in an almost identical way to Jack Davies. Alex Davies converts from wide out to put the game within Bath’s grasp. [26-19]
Like the senior team at the weekend against Ulster, the game was being played at a breathless, end to end pace. Both teams new they had a chance to claim a crucial victory and nine minutes later it looked like Quins had found the killer touch to put the game to bed.
Bath, after soaking up another barrage of big running and smart hands, earned themselves a scrum in their own 22. Crucially however Jack Kenningham was able to get a giant hand in front of the ball to charge down the clearing kick, he reacted quickest to the bouncing ball and was able to touchdown with Bath defenders looking on.
James Dixon, on a fine night for him nailed his fourth kick out of five to give Quins a healthy lead with eight minutes to play. [33-19]
This Bath team though weren’t ready to give up the fight. After more phases of possession, Quins tried one pass too many and substitute scrum half, Jordan Martin, was able to intercept and race in from 50m out to secure Bath a try bonus point, and after, another successful Alex Davies conversion Bath were with seven points with 90 seconds left on the clock. [33-26]
The action didn’t stop there, with the clock in the red, Bath were throwing everything at their opponents. Quins were penalized for not releasing at the tackle, that gave Bath one final shot to go for the draw.
They kicked to touch, went through multiple phases of play, a combination of big ball carriers and lovely hands from the backs gave the team hope of a claiming a dramatic draw.
Unfortunately, though a wayward pass went into touch and the referee blew the final whistle. The cheers from the home fans and the Quins team told the story of just how close Bath had come.
Bath were left frustrated after strong second half performance. The two scores at the end of the first half proving crucial for giving Quins the platform to claim victory.
Bath left the Twickenham Stoop with two bonus points in their hands and still very much in the hunt to make progress in the Premiership Rugby Shield.