We have our semi-finalists – but we so nearly didn’t. The record will state that Quins took the bonus-point win that takes them beyond the reach of the chasing pack, but they did their best to keep the door open, Bath registering two bonus points of their own and holding the lead against all odds up to the hour.
Truth be told, 尽管, Quins could afford to be lax. That pack stopped chasing a while ago. Now the race, bar that for Europe, or the top eight, in which Bath are very much invested, narrows to one for the two home semi-final spots.
Bristol are one win away from securing one of those, but Sale and Quins will be lurking for the other, should Exeter slip up in the final couple of rounds. Quins will relish their six tries – and rightly so – Jack Kenningham setting them on their way in the fifth minute, and further scores, most breathless and brilliant, by Danny Care, Joe Marchant, Luke Morthmore, Stephan Lewies and Martin Landajo.
But there is a fault line that runs through them. Marcus Smith, superb as ever with ball in hand, missed six kicks at goal, including three simple penalties in the second half that might have sealed the win before Landajo’s try late on.
Bath’s tries were fabulous too, Josh McNally’s opener showcasing outrageous athleticism for a lock. They came back twice to take the lead midway through each half. This felt like a typically wild occasion at the Stoop. If ever a club were made for this sort of assignment, it is Quins.
The sun was out, the opposition game, and – glory be – enough adoring fans were present to make some proper noise. Quins capitalised and held a 32-18 lead at the break, benefiting from the visitors’ generosity every bit as much as the other way round.
Bath were far too lax as well. Any time Quins were threatened, they were soon presented with an opportunity to respond, which they expertly seized. If only they could tighten up, they might become serious contenders.
Despite that 14-point buffer at the start of the second half, they coughed up 15 points within 12 minutes of the resumption – and Bath enjoyed another eight minutes in the lead, Will Muir finishing his second, a fabulous team try, and Josh Bayliss scoring Bath’s fourth, another, even better.
Bayliss’s was scored with Quins down to 14, Joe Marchant shown yellow, just as Max Ojomoh spilled the ball going over the line. Bath missed another in similar fashion, before a fine Alex Dombrandt break, brilliantly sparked by Smith, put Stephan Lewies over to regain his team’s lead.
Quins had steadied themselves, with their scrum taking over for the last quarter, coughing up two of those penalties for Smith to miss. But Smith’s wizadry with ball in hand played its part in one final try, for Martin Landajo at the death. It summed up Quins all round. Brilliant, but you wouldn’t want to have to rely on them.