By P G Tips
February 14 2017
Chocolate, French Grey, Magenta, Lime Green, Sky Blue and Black. The colours of Harlequins Rugby Football Club. Or- as fabled Lions, England and Quins full back Bob Hiller used to quip: “Faded Chocolate, French Grey, Magenta, Lime Green, Sky Blue and Black are the true Harlequins colours”. He was referring to the club’s standing at the time, compared to past glories, but in recent seasons the “faded” tag has been prophetic at Six Nations time. Robbed of their “engines” in Easter, Robshaw, Care and Brown, Harlequins have often struggled during international periods. Last weekend though they showed no signs of fading, racking up forty - two points in a five try smashing of Bristol at Ashton Gate. Now placed sixth after a mixed start to the season, they may not so much be fading as hitting form at the right time.
The Harlequin character is a tease and this season’s results have certainly tested the mood of their supporters. Sound at home, they have failed away until last weekend at Bristol. There have been questions over John Kingston and his coaching regime, and over recruitment for next season- especially at fly half. These complaints will seem harsh though if Quins can cement a place in the top six over the next few weeks – which will be their best in three seasons. On the crest of a wave after their fluent triumph in Bristol, they will be targeting another win on the banks of the Avon to ignite their push for European Champions Cup qualification.
And what of Bath’s true colours? Blackadder and co have restored squad morale and winning ways this season, but the last four Premiership matches have shown a remarkable tendency to slump in the last quarter. Matches have been lost – or leads carelessly squandered, to late opposition scores. Last Friday’s match was a clear example – a thirteen point lead and pressure on the opposition line turned into a yellow card and seventeen unanswered points conceded, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Bath found ways to claw the match back, but the charge against them of “fading” late in games is real and could become epidemic if repeated this weekend. Perhaps Bath are the faded teasers having suffered three of their five losses since introducing a more open attacking approach? Is the all action attack just too romantic?
Selections for this weekend could be affected by England calls –although Eddie Jones has spoken of experimentation for the Italy match he is unlikely to release any of his 25 – which includes Anthony Watson. Jamie Roberts and Taulupe Faletau may be released from Wales duty, which would offer Bath the chance of an all international back row, but the two clubs will mostly be choosing from the same squads as last weekend.
Danger men from Quins should be Horwill and Wallace up front and Visser, Marchant and Yarde behind. These hard running finishers will be up against a strong home strike force including Rokodoguni, Wilson and Tapuai. Bath will hope to have the edge upfront, especially as Quins are likely to be missing two first choice props while Bath’s bench front row bench can make telling contributions. The home side also have an embarrassment of riches at loose forward with Ellis, the Mercers, Faletau and Denton vying for one or two places. The dynamic phases especially may work in Bath’s favour. Blackadder will want to see another controlling performance from Priestland – both with ball in hand and kicking from hand and tee – to demonstrate that, for now at least, the news of George Ford’s move to Leicester is a distraction, not a disaster. He will also hope for the sort of injection of surprise from the bench which brought Chris Cook a stunning try last Friday.
A close contest is on the cards. Will Harlequins improve on their chequered season so far? Or will they be hung, drawn and quartered by the home team? Which of the two will show their true colours? Home advantage may just see the Blue, Black and White triumph and the multi colours of Harlequins fade again.
Bath: Catt, Batty, Lahiff, Stooke, Ewels, Denton, Louw, Grant. Fotuali’I, Priestland. Wilson, Tapuai, Clark, Rokodoguni. Homer.
Replacements: Obano, Dunn, Knight , Ellis, Faletau. Cook, Hastings, Davies.
Harlequins: Evans, Buchanan, Jones, Matthews, Horwill ,Wallace, Chisholm, Luamanu. Dickson, Jackson. Visser, Hopper, Marchant, Yarde. Chisholm.
Replacements: Shields, Gray, Collier, Merrick, Naoupu, Jones, Swiel, Alofa.