Marcus Smith kicks Harlequins to scrappy victory against Bath

After the couple of weeks Harlequins have just endured, any old win would do for them. And any old win is what they got. At least they can come away from this claiming a lingering interest in the competition but it is a tenuous hope if they harbour it at all. The English contingent in this pool remain in the bottom half. Ulster and Clermont Auvergne will not be unduly worried.

Quins almost denied Bath even the consolation of a bonus point with a penalty from nearly 50 minutes out by James Lang. It hung high in the drizzle, before creeping over, a rare moment of suspense in a miserable match for the neutral – and surely for many of the partisan.

By then the Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith had opened up a 12-0 lead, but a try would have been a luxury too far on such a night.

Europe is supposed to inspire another level of performance, but there was a worrying pall hanging over the Stoop. Both sides were already as out of the running as out can be after just one game, and with Saracens breathing down their necks at the bottom of the Premiership table, well might they be focused on matters elsewhere.

The rain did not help. It does not seem to have let up in these parts for weeks. On the back of a dominant scrum – or at least one the referee preferred the look of – Quins set about building an early lead and, unlike against Worcester here a fortnight ago, defending it successfully. Not that that was hard. Bath could make nothing work. Their star backline might as well have been watching in the stands.

If teams are made in the image of their coaches, the transition from the flamboyant Conor O’Shea era to the earthier culture of Paul Gustard is complete at the Stoop.

There was one nice piece of interplay around about the 20-minute mark between Smith and Matt Symons, but it merely highlighted the dearth on offer otherwise. Smith had landed three penalties by then for a 9-0 lead that Quins maintained to the break.

As the drizzle sat heavy in the air, so did the rest of us in our seats. Quins, stung no doubt by their humiliation in the Auvergne last weekend, not to mention that home defeat to Worcester the week before, certainly played with more intensity and were well worth that half-time lead, but the first half will not linger in the memory. Not many have here of late.

Another “moment” from Smith at the start of the second pricked our hopes, but Bath held out. Quins settled for a fourth penalty and a 12-0 lead, the very same as they surrendered to Worcester.

Sure enough, Bath replaced four of their front five – the fifth, captain Charlie Ewels, hobbled off a few minutes later too – and their game noticeably improved.

Which is to say, they boshed a little more effectively. Their first penalty of the match followed, and then their second. Freddie Burns kicked both to pull them back to within a score as the game entered its final quarter and his late penalty rescued a bonus point.

No chance of a cliff-hanger. Lang had stepped up after another nothing penalty in a nothing area of the field. His kick was good, though.


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