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Marcus Smith inspires as Harlequins win 76-point thriller against Bath

Marcus Smith – After narrowly surviving epic Bath comeback, will the real Harlequins please stand up?
Marcus Smith pulled the strings and scored one of the hosts' six tries - PA/Ben Whitley

Harlequins 40 Bath 36

Marcus Smith’s Harlequins showed the best and worst of their character in an extraordinary Premiership clash which almost resulted in a comeback for the ages for Bath.

Smith had led the Londoners to a 40-3 lead after 50 minutes as they played some of the best rugby of the season and left Bath trailing in their slipstream.

And then, typical Quins, they nearly threw the game away after scoring six unanswered tries of their own they conceded five as Bath, inspired by Finn Russell nearly pulled off a massive coup.

Finn Russell – After narrowly surviving epic Bath comeback, will the real Harlequins please stand up?
Finn Russell's performance in the second half gave Bath hope of an unlikely comeback - PA/Ben Whitley

The Harlequins defence, which had been so robust for the first parts of the match, with prop Fin Baxter and centre Andre Esterhuizen making some huge hits went missing as Russell picked them open.

Throw in the yellow card controversy for Irne Herbst, when he did not serve 10 minutes on the sidelines and one for wing Louis Lynagh and it was complete carnage at the Stoop and Quins nearly blew it.

Jerry Flannery, the defensive coach, has moved to the Springboks and Jordan Turner-Hall the former Harlequins centre is now in charge. But Quins have been linked with a move for Kevin Sinfield, who is leaving England, and supporters could be heard chuntering his name as they headed for the exit at the final whistle.

Will the real Harlequins stand up?

Last week they were battered 52-7 by an Owen Farrell-inspired Saracens in Tottenham when they did not land a blow for 80 minutes. That one stung and they had a harsh team meeting on Monday at their Guildford base when a few home truths were spoken. And for 50 minutes it seemed to work with Smith pulling the strings expertly and Quins seemingly scoring at will.

Then everything they touched turned to dust as Russell found his Midas touch and Bath scored through wing Will Muir to get the ball rolling then Alfie Barbeary, Louis Schreder, Ruaridh McConnochie and Elliott Stooke got in on the act. And when it was all over Bath headed back home with a try bonus point, a losing bonus point and back in second spot having overtaken Saracens whilst Quins are up to fourth.

Smith and half-back partner Danny Care had run the show after last week’s pasting and the fly-half made his mark after an up and down Six Nations and his lack of impact against Saracens.

Bit is no good for the heart rates of the spectators or the coaching staff watching their side implode after playing so imperiously.

“It was pretty stressful up there,” said director of rugby Billy Millard. “And one you need to have a look at and have a chat with the boys to take learnings into next week.

“When guys come back from the Six Nations you can’t underestimate how hard it is even though they know the club and love the club. Marcus and Danny really drove things, spoke in meetings and the big boys up the front made their job easier because they were winning collisions. Marcus was doing what Marcus does and Danny was immense for us again today, his kicking was outstanding.”

Andre Esterhuizen, 30 yesterday, scored Quins first after two minutes when he ran a hard line off a Care flat pass and through a big hole.

Smith made it two on 14 minutes when he gathered his own chip over the tryline after he had fooled the Bath defence into thinking he was going to drop a goal and Lynagh got on the end of a move after Care quick tap. It was rugby from the gods at times and it continued right up to the minute they got 37 points in front.

Then came the Bath fightback and Quins were a different team. They were not winning the collisions and Russell got the visitors on the front foot after Barbeary and co got them over the gain line.

By the end Harlequins were hanging on with Bath looking favourites and they were grateful for Smith’s short kick into touch to push Russell’s side back into the corner at the death. It was like watching two versions of Quins in 80 minutes. They play Glasgow in the Champions Cup last 16 on Friday night. The big question is which version which turn up?

Match details

Harlequins: Tries: Estheruizen (2mins, 48), Smith (14), Lynagh (23), Dombrandt (29), Evans (38); Cons: Smith (3,14,25, 40, 49)
Bath: Tries: Muir (51), Barbeary (63), Schreuder (67), McConnochie (71),Stooke (75); Cons: Russell (64, 67, 71, 76); Pen: Russell (11)
Harlequins: T.Green; L.Lynagh (sin-bin 71), O.Beard, A.Esterhuizen (L,Anywanu 71), C.Murley; M.Smith, D.Care (M.Green 75); F.Baxter (J.Marler 59), J.Walker (S.Riley 51), D.Lewis (W.Collier 50), J.Launchbury (I.Herbst 56, sin-bin 64), G.Hammond, S.Lewies (capt), W.Evans (W.Trenholm 50), A.Dombrandt
Bath: M.Gallagher; R.McConnochie, O.Lawrence, M.Ojomoh (O.Bailey 66), W.Muir; F.Russell, B.Spencer (capt, L.Schreuder 60)); B.Obano (J.Schoeman 53), T.Dunn (N.Annett 53), T.Du Toit (W.Stuart 53), J. Du Plessis, C.Ewels (E.Stooke 53), T.Hill (J.Bayliss 68), M.Reid, J.Coetzee (A.Barbeary 47)
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe (RFU)
Attendance: 14,800

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