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Bath top table at Christmas with hard-fought victory against Harlequins

By PA

Bath top the Gallagher Premiership at Christmas after winning an absorbing battle with fellow title contenders Harlequins 25-17 at the Rec.

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England wing Joe Cokanasiga scored twice, with his second try clinching an important bonus point late on.

Other Bath tries went to lock Elliott Stooke and flanker Miles Reid, while the Londoners stayed in contention with tries from fly-half Marcus Smith, hooker Jack Walker and flanker James Chisholm.

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Bath took the lead within two minutes. Will Muir leapt high to tap back Ben Spencer’s lofted kick and Finn Russell somehow found space on the right to release Ollie Lawrence.

Cokanasiga was on his shoulder to steam through Tyrone Green’s attempted tackle but Russell’s conversion attempt was wide.

There was hardly time for the sell-out crowd to savour that score before Smith danced through the home defence to score at the other end, although he hooked his kick against a post.

The swirling wind and rain made handling difficult and Bath looked particularly vulnerable in defence. Quins, enjoying a territorial advantage, looked smarter on both sides of the ball throughout the first quarter.

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However, their indiscipline cost them prime attacking positions and a fumble by Alex Dombrandt brought a prolonged assault on the Bath line to a halt.

The home side suddenly burst into life on the half-hour as Will Muir galloped away from his 22, eventually finding Spencer in support.

The scrum-half had to catch the offload behind his back but the ball came back at a ruck under the posts and Max Ojomoh scored on the left – or so it seemed.

Instead referee Luke Pearce brought play back, yellow-carded Danny Care for falling on the tackled player and Russell put his side ahead 8-3 with a penalty.

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There was still time before the break for Reid to save Bath at the other end with a turnover penalty.

Bath struck quickly after the restart with a catch-and-drive try by Stooke and followed up in the 48th minute with another spectacular effort by Cokanasiga, steamrollering over Smith’s attempted tackle. Russell’s conversion, the first of the game, took Bath 20-5 ahead.

Yet the visitors were not about to lie down and Smith’s penalty to the corner led to a catch-and-drive for Walker on his 50th appearance since joining from Bath.

Smith converted but Bath were gaining the upper hand and Russell’s inch-perfect tactical kicking set up a line-out in the corner. This time it was Reid who profited, leaving the home side with an 11-point lead and just six minutes to defend it.

Unfortunately for Quins, Chisholm’s last-minute score came too late.

They might have claimed a losing bonus point but Smith again hooked his conversion against a post.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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