Two late Harlequins tries weren’t enough to prevent Bath from leaving South-west London with all five points, as Todd Blackadder’s side won 32-37.
In truth, it was a disappointing performance from Paul Gustard’s team, whose opening day victory over Sale promised so much for the season ahead.
Though Jamie Roberts – playing against his former team for the first time since joining Bath over the summer – opened the scoring, it was his replacement whose try assist caught the eye in the early exchanges.
Picking the ball up in midfield, Ben Tapuai escaped the clutches of Max Green and then Anthony Perenise with sparkling footwork, before sprinting towards the line. The Australian international was able to offload to Danny Care despite the best efforts of Freddie Burns, and the scrum-half juggled before diving over.
After Joe Marchant sprinted in for Quins’ second, Zach Mercer went some way to answering the critics who suggest he lacks the ball carrying power to play international rugby. The back-rower – starting ahead of Taulupe Faletau – battered his way over the try line despite the best efforts of numerous Harlequins tacklers.
Mercer would later sprint through for a second, offering the stadium a glimpse of his dazzling footwork having already shown them his power.
Bath possess two of the most powerful wingers the Premiership has ever seen, and they combined to extend their side’s lead. Joe Cokanasiga – whose opportunism led to Bath’s first try – utilised his 18 stone physique wondrously to batter his way over Luke Wallace and score brilliantly.
In similar fashion to the last time Cokanasiga was at the Stoop (his London Irish side won 35-5), the Fijian born man was running riot. This time, Freddie Burns’ sumptuous offload set up the winger for an easy finish.
Paul Gustard has billed his substitutes as ‘Game Changers’, and with a 15 point deficit early in the second half, the game certainly needed changing.
But when Mercer crossed for Bath’s fifth, Quins’ hopes looked damaged beyond repair, even with the introduction of Gustard’s own Cokanasiga – former NFL running back Paul Lasike.
When Chris Cook was sprinting clear to score a try which would’ve opened up a 24 point deficit inside the last ten minutes, it looked as if Bath’s first victory of the season was guaranteed.
But referee Matthew Carley, influenced by a cacophony of boos from the Harlequins faithful, ruled out Cook’s try, adjudging Aled Brew to have obstructed Nathan Earle in the build up.
Carley’s decision looked all the more vital when Marler crossed only minutes later, before James Lang’s try brought the deficit to within one score just seconds from time.
The replacement fly-half’s score set up a tense finish for the travelling Bath fans, but Harlequins’ laboured efforts were eventually to no avail.
After a week where a string of Bath first-team players denied rumours that Todd Blackadder’s job was at risk after a substandard start to the season, this victory was a welcome relief for the Kiwi.
The Stoop is a notoriously difficult place to leave with full points, and Bath’s energetic performance served as a much-needed reminder of their top-six credentials.
But Gustard would’ve been bitterly disappointed with his team’s showing, and they have looked worryingly short of defensive quality in the opening rounds – all the more so here.
Next week’s trip to Ashton Gate will be an interesting measure of Harlequins’ progress as a team against a Bristol side reeling from two encouraging defeats against Saracens and Gloucester.