Saturday, 15th September 2018 @ 18:30
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Head of Rugby Paul Gustard said he was “hugely disappointed” that his Harlequins side never got started as Joe Cokanasiga-inspired Bath Rugby won 32-37 at The Stoop. Despite picking up two bonus points with a late rally Gustard said his side let themselves down in all areas of the field.
“We are gutted we did not play well for the first 40 or 50 minutes of the game and we were second best in every aspect of the match. We felt we lacked energy in the warm-up and we have to put our finger on why that was.”
With Freddie Burns pulling the strings at fly-half and Cokanasiga and Semesa Rokoduguni providing power and incredible handling skills on the wings Harlequins left the field “shellshocked” at half-time with the score at 15-25.
Quins were under pressure from the start with Bath breaking the gainline repeatedly and Cokanasiga always threatening. But it was former Harlequins favourite Jamie Roberts who finally went over the line for a try when the ball bounced kindly to Cokanasiga who offloaded to Roberts to score in the 11th minute.
Marcus Smith kept Quins in touch with a penalty and a minute later a typical burst of Danny Care magic got the hosts back into the game when his box-kick was brilliantly collected by Nathan Earle which allowed Ben Tapuai to break and charge for the line. When he was held up, he shipped it to Care who had to juggle the ball to control it and touch down. Smith converted to make it 10-5.
Joe Marchant then gave Harlequins the lead after a mis-placed Burns pass allowed James Chisholm to intercept and run through the middle. He offloaded to Marchant who made no mistake. 15-5.
The rest of the half belonged to Bath, though, and when Quins conceded a sloppy penalty close to the line, the visitors took full advantage and Zach Mercer completed another powerful Bath attack in the 26th minute. Burns converted Mercer’s try and then two minutes later the fly-half was gifted a penalty and the scores were level at 15-15.
Just when Quins looked like some exerting some pressure of their own Bath put them on the back foot and Burns tried a cheeky drop-goal in the 34th minute that limped its way over but put the visitors ahead again.
Then it really did become the Cokanasiga show when he performed a miraculous juggling act from a Rokoduguni offload to score in a try in the left-hand corner. Burns converted this one and Bath had transformed a 10-point deficit into a 10-point advantage.
Quins were on the back-foot now and Cokanasiga almost repeated the act moments later with another fantastic display of strength and handling. This time he was denied and Quins were grateful to hear the half-time whistle blow.
Joe Marler and Dave Ward came on for the second half to try to add some ballast up front but still careless penalties and loose play allowed Bath to keep up their pressure and gain easy metres. It was Cokanasiga who scored his second try of the game and gave Bath a bonus point after just 46 minutes when he finished another move fashioned by the impressive Burns.
With the score at 15-30 Paul Lasike came on for Charlie Walker and made an immediate impact with his charges. Quins won a penalty which Smith converted to make it 18-30 and the hosts appeared to be forcing their way back into the game.
James Lang and Charlie Mulchrone then came on for Marcus Smith and Care as Gustard looked to find a way to change the game but it was Bath who got the next score and with it the game appeared to be over. Mercer again charging over after eluding a Mulchrone tackle. Rhys Priestland completed the conversion and at 18-37 down with 23 minutes the situation looked bleak for Harlequins.
Then came the most controversial moment of the match when Bath thought they had scored another try after Chris Cook broke free on the half-way line and charged down the field to touch down. Nathan Earle’s pursuit of Cook, however, had seen to be impeded by Aled Brew and while the players and supporters were adamant they spotted it, the referee Matthew Carley had not initially referred it to the TMO. Eventually he did and the try was disallowed.
The moment appeared to give the crowd and the players a new energy and Harlequins came at Bath with everything they had in the remaining 10 minutes. A great break from Lang followed by strong breaks from Lasike and Chisholm finally gave way to Marler who scored and when Lang converted to make it 25-37 there were still five minutes left on the clock.
Moments later Quins were back on the Bath line and this time multiple drives ended with Mulchrone piling his way over the line. A fourth try and when Lang converted Quins had a second bonus point in what was ultimately a disappointing afternoon.
“We are all involved in this and players and coaches will look at ourselves this week and we go again against Bristol next week,” said Gustard.
Harlequis now face trips to Bristol Bears and Gloucester Rugby in the Gallagher Premiership before returning to The Stoop to take on Saracens on Saturday 6th October (kick-off 19:30). You can purchase your tickets online or by calling the Ticket Office on 020 8410 6010.