Bath Rugby beaten by Harlequins in LV= Cup semi-finals
HARLEQUINS 31 BATH RUGBY 23
Bath Rugby missed out on a place in the LV= Cup final when they were humbled by a youthful Harlequins side at The Stoop.
Just had been the case when they hosted Leicester Tigers at The Rec in the last four 12 months ago, Bath were outplayed by an opponent who stuck faith with their youngsters in place of more illustrious names.
The Aviva Premiership champions cut Bath to pieces, running in four tries to the visitors’ two to book a place in the showpiece match at Sixways in a week’s time.
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Having arrived at The Stoop on the back of seven wins from their previous eight matches, forwards coach Neal Hatley said a poor defensive display was at fault for the defeat.
“We felt we had good momentum coming into the game, so we’re really disappointed with the way it panned out,” said Hatley.
“The defence let us down today. I thought it was probably as badly as we have defended the whole year.
“We gave them a 14-point headstart which is not ideal and then had to play catch up.
“We kept pegging them back but every time we got within five we gave away a penalty or gave them good field position. In fairness to them, they executed well and just kept getting away.
“It’s very frustrating that we worked hard to get back into it but couldn’t make it count.
“We’ll go back and have a long, hard look at ourselves as we are really disappointed with the way we defended.”
After a scrappy opening, Bath fell behind when their defence was torn apart by a lightning Quins attack from a lineout just outside the visitors’ 22.
After an initial break from Ben Botica, visiting full-back Nick Abendanon was outnumbered in the face of the charging Maurie Fa’asavalu and Tom Guest, and the back-rowers combined to send Guest under the posts. Botica added the extras from close range.
Bath struggled to get any momentum going but even when they did, they gifted the home side a second converted try inside 20 minutes.
After several bludgeoning phases from the visitors, Kyle Eastmond’s loose pass ten metres from the line was intercepted by Tom Williams and the Quins winger had the pitch at his mercy as he charged the length of the field to score.
It took a 14-0 deficit to kick the visitors into life and, after Tom Heathcote booted a penalty into the corner, Bath won the lineout and a driving maul powered over the whitewash, with flanker Francois Louw claiming the touchdown. Heathcote converted.
Once again, though, Bath paid for the lack of a cutting edge in Quins territory and, when the home side stole possession in their 22, another break led to a third converted try.
The visiting defence held firm for a while as Quins threatened the whitewash but they could not deny scrum-half Carl Dickson a touchdown when he spotted a gap.
Botica’s conversion was cancelled out by a penalty from Heathcote but Bath still had plenty of food for thought at half-time.
Heathcote split the posts again as the second period got under way but the home side pulled further clear when again Bath could not cope with their blistering pace.
Flanker Luke Wallace darted up the touchline before a fine offload put Williams in for his second score, converted by Botica.
The sin-binning of Sam Smith gave Bath impetus and Abendanon drove over the tryline from close range immediately afterwards.
Heathcote’s conversion and subsequent penalty brought the visitors within five points but their hopes ended when prop Nathan Catt was also shown a yellow card 15 minutes from time.
Botica’s penalty put Quins more than a converted try ahead and they could have increased their advantage in a frantic closing passage as Bath never threatened to turn the game around.
The defeat will be a bitter pill to swallow for Gold’s side, and comes as a huge disappointment considering the recent improvement of their Premiership form.
With a return to the Heineken Cup of paramount importance, those ambitions now rely on Bath maintaining that league form until the end of the season in order to secure a top-six finish.
HARLEQUINS: Chisholm, Williams, Lowe, Casson (Clegg 57), Smith, Botica, Dickson, Lambert (Mofu 63), Buchanan (Ward 48), Collier (Sinkler 59), Twomey, Matthews, Fa’asavalu (Trayfoot 48), Wallace, Guest. Replacements not used: Browne, Burns, Walker.
Tries: Guest, Williams 2, Dickson. Conversions: Botica 4. Penalties: Botica.
BATH RUGBY: Abendanon, Agulla, Banahan, Eastmond (Rokoduguni 57), Biggs, Heathcote, Stringer (Claassens 57), Catt, Batty (Guinazu 67), Perenise (Palma-Newport 72), Day (Hooper 48), Attwood, Louw (Beech 68), Fearns (Koster 55), Skirving. Replacement not used: Vesty.
Tries: Louw, Abendanon. Conversions: Heathcote 2. Penalties: Heathcote 3.
Referee: Leighton Hodges