By P G Tips
February 27 2018

Mercer: key man.

Both teams will have a “patched up” look about them when Harlequins host Bath on Friday evening.  Injuries have hit both squads hard this season, as have international calls. Unsurprisingly both clubs have found their performance and results impacted. Quins season has been as chequered as their traditional shirts while Bath have struggled to build consistent form and style.  Bath’s patchwork backline did snatch a win last weekend, while Quins lost, but is that a reliable omen?  

Quins form of late has been more “Comedy of Errors” than Commedia dell‘arte. Since they walloped Northampton at the end of December they have lost all four Premiership matches in 2018. The best they have managed was a single point loss to Sale, suggesting that Friday’s encounter may be as close and tense as Bath’s own encounter with the Mancunians. Form has been an unreliable guide to results though this year and home advantage has smiled on relatively few teams.


The harlequin character is light hearted, nimble and astute, a cheeky antidote to the expected turn of events that delights in thwarting the plans of the respectable and conventional. This he does with agility and trickery and the current crop of multi coloured west Londoners can call on some exciting and promising young players who offer both. The flair of Marcus Smith, supported by the pace of Joe Marchant and Aaron Morris can unstitch the best defences. Quins like to work the ball wide to these 2 early in the match. They do though need the foundation of good ball and “hard yards” approach work. Matthews, Horwill and Sinckler up front are the key men for these, plus Jamie Roberts to bust the gainline at centre. Their firmest foundations though are likely to be missing as Eddie Jones, preparing to rescue England’s 6 Nations season after the shock of the Calcutta Cup, will be reluctant to risk releasing Marler, Robshaw, Care and Brown to a club game.


Bath have a tricky selection choice: stick with a winning team or restore returners from injury? Leading the debate will be fly half, where James Wilson kept a cool head and demonstrated winning qualities with his kicking (both tactical and at goal) and general direction of play. Matt Banahan is fit again and fans would evidently like to see him return to the line-up, while Tom Homer’s energy and thrust against Sale may earn him a recall. The makeshift back five did well on Saturday, the 2 young flankers playing a strong role in improving the turnover count and securing 78% possession in the second half. It may be that Blackadder chooses them again alongside Taulupe Faletau, although if Paul Grant – one of Bath’s most consistent forwards - is fit again, he will press hard for a place.


Zach Mercer is likely to be a key player for Bath. His 21 carries and 2 tries made a huge contribution to Bath’s momentum and the scoreboard. As Faletau’s return to full match fitness continues Bath will not lack quality at loose forward –but they will need to cut out the defensive errors of last weekend and improve their tackle rate. What were impressive against Sale were Bath’s high tempo start and the patience and grit with which they built the final score. Let us hope we see the same on Friday and that both of these are signs that the squad is turning a corner for the final season run-in.


To that determination and tempo Bath need to add agility and trickery of their own. The harlequin bested simply becomes a clown. Bath need to repeat the spirit of Saturday. They have a chance to seize the stage, run the show and steal the limelight: to have the last laugh on their hosts.




Possible Teams:


Obano, Batty, Thomas, Stooke, Charteris, Garvey, (Capt.), Mercer, Faletau. Fotuali’i, Wilson. Banahan, Tapuai, Hurrell, Brew. Homer

Replacements: Auterac, Van Vuuren, Lahiff, Phillips, Grant, Bayliss. Cook, Atkins, Vuna.


Lambert, Gray, Sinckler, Matthews, Horwill (Capt.), Wallace, Ward, Chisholm,
Kitto, Smith. Alofa, Roberts, Marchant, Walker. Morris
Replacements: Piper, Boyce, Collier Glynn, White. Prior, Ibitoye, Visser.