Harlequins 'game changers' fall short in late comeback at the Stoop while Bath earn season's first victory.
By Ali Stokes
A thrilling encounter at the Stoop resulted in the first win of the season for Todd Blackadder's Bath, who triumphed over fellow 2017/18 season strugglers Harlequins on their own turf.
A nervy start for Blackadder and his charges as Harlequins seemed to be set for a runaway victory, looking to dispatch Bath as they did Sale Sharks during their season-opening 51-23 win.
Despite Jamie Roberts opening the afternoon's proceedings with his 11th-minute try, Harlequins stole ascendancy from their guests, greatly benefitting from the works of Danny Care and Joe Marchant.
Care's score came in the 15th minute following a stunning break from former Bath centre Ben Tapuai, who ripped through the centre of his former side's defence to sprint clear and offload, mid-tackle, to his scrum-half for Harlequin's first try of the day.
With Bath backpedaling, the home side drove their knife deeper, with number eight James Chisholm picking off the intercept from opposition fly-half Freddie Burns, sending a composed pass wide and over the head of the chasing defenders to send Marchant over the whitewash and extend their lead to 15-5.
Apparently sick of being on the back foot, Bath responded with a flurry of 32 unanswered points. Bath's fortunes originated from an increasingly direct approach, with centers Roberts, Jackson Willison and wings Joe Cokanasiga and Aled Brew -alongside their pack- providing Burns with front-foot ball and the opportunity to work his magic.
First, Zach Mercer crashed over from short-range after picking off diminutive Quins fly-half Marcus Smith four minutes after Marchant's score. After a direct quarter of an hour later, summer-signing Cokanasiga demonstrated outrageous finishing to dot the ball down in the corner, all while holding onto the ball with one hand and propelling his lower limbs into the air and away from the touchline.
After Burns duly slotted both conversions and each side received either commendations or a dressing down in the changing rooms, the former Gloucester and Leicester standoff found space in the wider channels early on in the second-half, offloading mid-fall to send Cokanasiga over either side of half-time.
Harlequins' defensive struggles continued well into the second 40 when Mercer registered his second and Bath's fifth try of the day, extending their lead to 18-37 once Priestland slotted the conversion, having replaced Burns two minutes earlier after the latter of the duo gave way to cramp.
This was where Harlequins admirable fightback began as Paul Gustard's 'game changers' came into their own, making the most of their fresh legs to capitalise on Bath wing Semesa Rokoduguni's yellow card for slapping the ball out of the hands of Charlie Mulchrone while off his feet at the base of a ruck.
Bullocking centre Paul Lasike, fly-half James Lang and Namibian cannon ball-backrow Renaldo Bothma joined Chisholm in dragging the home side over the line by the scruff of their necks.
Holding onto possession and hammering away at Bath's door with muscular carries profited Harlequins, with Joe Marler and Charlie Mulchrone crossing for scores in the final ten minutes.
A final energetic quarter saw Bath defend set after set, with their opponent's assault continuing until the 86th minute, until a stray boot from Marler knocked the ball out of the safety of the ruck, permitting Brew to pounce on the loose ball. The final play of the game would see England lock Charlie Ewels send a no-nonsense punt into the stands for their season's first victory, with a bonus point to sweeten the deal.