Bonus for Bath in thrilling victory

Three first-half tries helped Bath to a 31-23 victory against NEC Harlequins in the Guinness Premiership, giving them enough of a platform at half-time to withstand a comeback by the visitors and then clinch a fourth, bonus-point try.

The return of Matt Stevens, who played the entire match, was a boost to the whole team, and Steve Meehan acknowledged how important the forward pack was in the win: "We were nice and solid up front," the Head Coach said afterwards. "We saw in the first 40 minutes the rugby that we have been wanting to play, and you can't play like that unless your set-piece is working well.

"The other thing that Sos [Stevens] brings to the game is enthusiasm and energy," Meehan continued. "Michael Lipman is another one who does that. It changes the atmosphere and is infectious."

The first few minutes were not typical of the rest of the half. Bath had put themselves under pressure at the kick-off, when it failed to go the requisite ten metres. From the scrum, Quins' powerful No 8, Nick Easter, picked up, and a kick over the top by Andy Gomarsall was knocked on by the defence. Given a scrum in the 22-metre area, Quins then won a free kick and shortly after that a penalty near the posts, which Adrian Jarvis slotted through the uprights to give the visitors an early lead.

Four minutes later, Olly Barkley attempted to equalise from beyond halfway, but his ambitious effort was unsuccessful. However, Bath continued to make inroads into the Quins half after the drop-out, the backs showing quick hands and stretching Quins down both flanks, and they won another penalty. This, though, Chris Malone kicked to touch, and the forwards drove captain Steve Borthwick confidently over the line, and Barkley had no problem converting the try.

Not long after, the fly-half had a chance to extend the lead when Quins were penalised just outside the ten-metre line, but he just pushed it left of the posts. Bath won three penalties in succession to take themselves within range of the line again, and on both occasions opted to go for touch. The visitors were also punished with the sin-binning of Easter, and although Bath's attempt to replicate the first pushover try was repelled, another penalty followed, which this time Barkley kicked over.

For a few minutes, Quins pegged Bath back into their own half, but they patiently worked their way out, backs and forwards combining effectively, until James Scaysbrook offloaded a beautifully weighted pass to Joe Maddock, who cut through the defenders at an angle and at pace to score the side's second try.

With half-time on the horizon, Jarvis cut the lead by three points when Bath were penalized for coming offside at the ruck, but Bath sealed the half with a try when Barkley made a searing break from halfway, and although he was hauled down five metres shy of the line by the fleet-footed David Strettle, but Malone was on hand on the left wing to finish off. Barkley completed the first half with an excellent conversion from the touchline.

Having had little possession in the first half, Harlequins began the second by working their way steadily into the Bath half and forcing a penalty for offside, which Jarvis converted. Quins then cut the deficit further with a try by Simon Keogh, converted by Jarvis, as they kept up the pressure in Bath's half.

Indeed, it was the home side that struggled for possession in the middle of the period, and they had to defend stoutly for a long time, only re-entering Quins territory when they won a penalty. The lineout went astray, but only for a moment, as Borthwick happily received a pass from the opposition, and now Bath strung together a series of moves that threatened Quins for the first time since the break.

The attack fell down when the ball was truned over, but Quins' clearance kick to touch gave Bath useful lineout possession. The forwards committed the defenders with pick-and-drive tactics, allowing Fuimaono-Sapolu to dance through a gap and pick up a bonus point for scoring four tries.

But Bath could not afford to relax: they soon found themselves penned in their own half, and twice Quins got themselves up to the line. They were not to be denied a third time. Steve So'oialo took a quick penalty, and Nick Abendanon reacted to tackle him without retreating ten metres, earning the full-back a yellow card, but only after Quins' forwards had supported their scrum-half to take the ball over the line and score via Easter.

The game was well into injury time, but the drama was not over. From a scrum, So'oialo broke down the blindside and fed Andre Vos, who in turn found Will Skinner. The flanker was brought down short of the line, but put the ball over the line in a second movement, and the try was disallowed and Quins' premature joy further reigned in when Easter, unhappy with the decision, was shown a second yellow card and sent off.

Quins attacked still, but Nick Walshe intercepted the ball and raced towards halfway. He chipped the ball ahead and though Strettle got down on it, Bath won a scrum. They drove over the line, but the referee found that the ball had gone forward, giving the visitors the put-in this time. Bath turned them over, but could not quite pull off another score, despite great pressure in the forwards.

But with two weekends free of club rugby, players, coaches and fans could be very pleased with the dramatic victory.

5: Penalty Jarvis, 0-3
12: Try Borthwick, Conversion Barkley, 7-3
23: Pen Barkley, 10-3
30: Try Maddock, Con Barkley, 17-3
40+3: Pen Jarvis, 17-6
40+6: Try Malone, Con Barkley, 24-6
44: Pen Jarvis, 24-9
51: Try Keogh, Con Jarvis, 24-16
70: Try Fuimaono-Sapolu, Con Barkley, 31-16
80: Try Easter, Con Jarvis, 31-23

BATH: 15. N Abendanon (sin-bin: 80) 14. J Maddock 13. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 12. O Barkley 11. M Stephenson 10. C Malone (Berne, 47) 9. N Walshe 1. D Barnes 2. L Mears 3. M Stevens 4. S Borthwick (captain) 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie (Short, 80) 7. J Scaysbrook (Lipman, 52) 8. I Feaunati (Delve, 58)

Replacements: 16. P Dixon 17. A Jarvis 18. P Short 19. G Delve 20. M Lipman 21. A Williams 22. S Berne

NEC HARLEQUINS: 15. M Brown 14. D Strettle 13. H Luscombe 12. S Abbott 11. S Keogh 10. A Jarvis 9. A Gomarsall (So'oialo, 60) 1. A Croall 2. T Fuga 3. M Ross (Nebbett, 72) 4. O Kohn (Evans, 72) 5. N Spanghero 6. A Vos 7. P Volley (captain; Skinner, 72-80+8) 8. N Easter (sin-bin: 20-32; red card, 80+5)

Replacements: 16. J Richards 17. R Nebbett 18. J Evans 19. W Skinner 20. C Hala'Ufia 21. M Deane 22. S So'oialo

Referee: R Debney
Attendance: 10,600

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