FAN’S VIEW: Cup stumble at final hurdle becoming familiar tale for Bath Rugby
Bath Rugby supporter Glyn Edwards gives his take on events at The Rec...
Losing badly to well-below full-strength sides representing Premiership clubs whom they aspire to rival for league honours has now become something of an unwanted habit for Bath.
Having stormed through their pool games in last season’s LV= Cup, Bath proceeded to produce one of their most limp home performances of 2012 to allow what was effectively a Leicester 2nd XV – superbly marshalled by a young George Ford at fly-half – to dump them out of last year’s competition without much of a whimper.
This time around their progress from the convoluted group stage was far less certain, but an outstanding performance at Kingsholm – and assistance from Exeter Chiefs in beating Northampton – saw Bath deservedly sneak in to the semi-finals.
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Harlequins’ young side had already defeated Bath at the Twickenham Stoop in the earlier rounds and Conor O’Shea kept his promise to stick with his reserve and fringe squad players for Saturday’s game.
Bath fielded a much-more experienced team, as expected, but early mistakes gifted the home side a 14-point lead. Although Bath pegged them back to only five ahead just after the hour mark, that was as close as it got.
The visitors’ set-piece went quite well but Harlequins’ territorial kicking was better and when they broke through tackles they made Bath pay with skilful improvisation and clinical finishing.
While the LV= Cup was not necessarily the easiest route to Heineken qualification next season, it was certainly the shortest before last weekend’s disappointment. In this column last week I said that “Bath must travel to the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday without fear of failure if they are to reach the final at Sixways.”
In the event, a former Bath stalwart told me afterwards that it appeared to him that they were “playing the occasion and not the game itself”, which could well be said to equate to a fear of losing on the day.
Quins certainly played with ambition and a great deal of invention and on the whole probably deserved the win, but there was no lack of effort from the Bath players.
That degree of effort – and probably more – will be required in the five remaining Premiership fixtures, including the toughest of run-ins with the last three against Quins, Leicester and Saracens, if Bath are to gatecrash the top six places.
The alternative route up the Amlin Cup mountain sees a home quarter-final with Stade Francais followed by a potential semi-final in France against Perpignan or Toulouse and, if successful, a possible final against Leinster in their own backyard at the RDS.