Harlequins 27-41 Bath: Quins play-off dreams end in front of 2,700 fans at the Stoop as Rhys Priestland leads the charge in ‘outstanding’ display from visitors
- Harlesquins suffered a 27-41 defeat to Bath as their fans returned to the stands
- 2,700 of the Quins faithful watched their side’s play-off dream end at the Stoop
- Rhys Priestland kicked 21 points as Ruaridh McConnochie scored two tries
Typical sport – just when you want to be uplifted it ruins your day.
There was a crackle and a joy to English rugby’s first trial event for fans in grounds, as Harlequins season-ticket holders finally had the chance to watch their side in the flesh.
But most of the 2,700 in, while enjoying the novelty, would have trudged home £50 lighter and somewhat depressed again after their side were well beaten and now will not make the Premiership playoffs.
Harlequins suffered 27-41 loss to Bath as play-off dream ends in front of their fans for first time
Bath were excellent with tries from Ruaridh McConnochie, Elliott Stooke and Lewis Boyce
By contrast if any Bath fans did manage to sneak in they would have seen their new ferocious outfit that has propelled themselves up the table to within striking distance of their first playoff appearance for five years.
The visitors were excellent, scored through Ruaridh McConnochie, twice, Elliott Stooke and Lewis Boyce as Rhys Priestland kicked 21 points, and look finally to have released themselves from the shackles of annual mediocrity.
Priestland said: ‘The fact they had a crowd in didn’t make a difference – it was all about how we could bring energy ourselves.’
Stuart Hooper, the Bath boss, sees his side in fifth with four to go and was delighted.
2,700 Harlequins season-ticket holders finally had the chance to watch their side at the Stoop
‘The boys were outstanding today,’ he said.
‘There is such a massive swing on team selection at the moment it’s tough to predict. We’ve got to win as many as we can.’
And he was keen to see more games like this.
‘It’s imperative we get them back in as soon as possible,’ he added.
‘I thought it was a huge step forward for the sport. It felt exciting to see, hear and speak to supporters. As soon as we can get that done safely round the country let’s get it done as it’s definitely been missed.’
Paul Gustard was distraught at the result. ‘I’m sad for the board, the club, the fans, but ultimately the players after that performance.
‘We’ve fallen further behind and the top four are pulling away.’
As an occasion all felt so wonderfully normal.
Ruaridh McConnochie scored two tries for the visitors as Bath boss labelled them ‘outstanding’
Harlequins members queued up outside for their temperature checks before and eventually 3,500 – including broadcasters, caterers and media – made it in for the first English rugby event with fans since March.
Perhaps because we have all become accustomed to the dreadful sounds of silence, but these merry few made it seem louder and busier than ever before.
There was the usual unnecessary roaring over the microphone, and the dialled up music but for now it was less annoying and a more heart-warming regression to normality.
A different normality of course. Supporters sat in all four stands a few seats apart, they wore masks – lots branded with Quins colours – and had their food and drink delivered to their seats.
It did not all run smoothly, mind, as one of the caterers managed to drop two full pints up the stairs which gave the first half a familiar stench of ale. Some complained their beers came too late, but at least they came at all.
All at The Stoop revelled in the newness of it. Before kick-off they played ‘guess who’s behind the mask’ via the big screen, with Anthony Joshua one of the incredibly obvious picks.
Welsh fly-half Rhys Priestland kicked 21 points and said the crowd made no difference
And then the game. As the sun shone and the teams emerged from opposite ends of the ground the partisan crowd roared, sang and clapped – a release of sorts, having missed this for so long.
It was refreshing at least then to not know whether it was the red-cheeked blazered brigade or angry coaches shouting ‘OFFSIDE!’ at every breakdown to no one in particular.
By half-time, most Quins fans might have wished they had not bothered. Desperate shouts of ‘the lines on the pitch are a clue ref!’ and intermittent booing betrayed their true feelings.
They and their team were frustrated. After an energetic start where Danny Care chipped over the Bath defence to Joe Marchant who scored under a pile between the posts, Harlequins had seemingly spent all their excitement.
Brett Herron kicked the conversion and another penalty but that was it, with Bath dominating.
Priestland kicked two penalties before the tries came. First McConnochie capitalised after Quins missed Bath’s kick-off. He beat Chris Ashton to the bouncing ball and managed to score spectacularly in the left corner with one hand.
Both Harlequins fans and their team were frustrated with the performance on the pitch
Next Stooke went over on the right and Priestland kicked both conversions and a further penalty to extend Bath’s lead to 10 points at half-time.
After the resumption McConnochie scored again. Priestland missed this conversion but made up for it just before the hour mark with his third penalty of the afternoon.
When Priestland kicked another three points the home fans were reminded they had to stay in their seats to be filed out in order afterwards – it was going to be a long wait.
They had a try to cheer at least, with Martin Landajo touching down and Herron converting, when prop and former-Quin Lewis Boyce caught an intercept and ran in for Bath’s bonus-point try some fans decided to leave through the Jason Leonard gate.
Joe Bracher, a Quins fan from Reigate, said: ‘Whilst Quins were poor on the pitch, the club did a brilliant job off it. A few left near us but I think it was to beat people traffic and probably because of the performance!’
And Gavin Dutton from Guildford added: ‘I would certainly do it week in, week out as I never felt unsafe at all. The less said about Quins the better, though!’
Both Bath hookers Jack Walker and Tom Dunn were sin-binned late on, which confused things somewhat. As no one could play hooker for Bath, and there had to be uncontested scrums, rugby’s weird laws meant the visitors had to sub off Cameron Redpath and Taulupe Faletau and end with 12.
It meant Quins took a consolation from James Lang, which Herron converted but by the end the Bath coaching staff were making more noise than anyone in quarters.
At least Quins had made a precious six-figure sum from the day, but there is nothing like getting battered at home as a ‘welcome back’.
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