Harlequins 27 Bath 41
Fans returned to the Stoop for the first time since Covid-19 tore up the world order – but they were unable to inspire their heroes to victory.
In what amounted to a test event for the RFU, about 3,500 tickets were sold and the masked ranks made enough noise for a full-house, such was their excitement and enthusiasm at being back to their favourite haunt.
It was good to see them back, though we are obviously a long way off seeing full houses again. Everyone will be keeping fingers crossed that everyone emerges unscathed and that we will have more of the same soon – strictly observed distancing protocols notwithstanding.
In a sense, the result was perhaps not as important as the significance of seeing a stadium occupied, but then again, it most certainly was for Paul Gustard’s men, who fell even further behind the top four and are now all-but out of contention for the play-offs.
It was their first home defeat since rugby restarted and they could have few real complaints.
It had looked good at the outset when the hosts seemed to feed off the ambience – an unmistakable extra spring in the step thanks to those much-missed Mighty Quin refrains coming from voices in the stands once more.
And their punchy start and territorial gains were rewarded when Danny Care improvised a lofted chip that Joe Marchant plucked out of the air before finding the line – despairing Bath hands unable to stop him, although the decision needed to be ratified upstairs.
But the West Country visitors – boasting one of the most potent back lines in the Premiership and a pack well versed in turnovers – hit back with two tries before the break, the first the result of a spill of the ball by Matt Symons from a ball hoisted up to the 22.
Ruaridh McConnochie profited by scampering through to the line, just dotting down in the corner before being thrown into touch.
Elliott Stooke then bundled over for a forwards’ try and only a great tackle from Brett Herron denied Bath another score when Cameron Redpath wrong-footed most of the home defence after cutting in from the left.
If there was one man who epitomised the momentum-shift, it was Bath’s number 10 Rhys Priestland, whose kicking and decision-making were flawless.
In the first half, he converted both tries and landed three penalties from a variety of tricky angles and helped raise the tempo which had Bath on the front foot once they had repelled the Quins overtures.
Three minutes into the second half and the 23-13 lead the visitors had eked out suddenly became a greater mountain for Quins to climb when McConnochie raced away from just inside the left touchline to bag his second try and stretch the lead to 15 points.
Two more unerring Priestland penalties kept the scoreboard moving in the wrong direction for Quins, who never looked like getting back into it.
Sub Martin Landajo did dive in under the posts with 10 minutes to go but that was just a prelude for an interception try for Lewis Boyce, which gave Bath a deserved bonus point.
James Lang bagged a late, late consolation try but it could not paper over the cracks.
Harlequins: Brown, Ashton, Marchant, Tapuai, Earle, Herron, Care, Marler, Baldwin, Kerrod, Symons, Young, Robshaw, Evans, Dombrandt. Substitues: Gray, Garcia Botta, Collier, Lewies, Lawday, Landajo, Lang, Lasike.