Smith pulls the strings as Harlequins survive late scare against Bath

<span>Marcus Smith was a constant threat for Harlequins against Bath.</span><span>Photograph: Bob Bradford/CameraSport/Getty Images</span>
Marcus Smith was a constant threat for Harlequins against Bath.Photograph: Bob Bradford/CameraSport/Getty Images

The Bath head of rugby, Johann van Graan, lodged a complaint with the Rugby Football Union after a ­yellow-card controversy that ­arguably robbed his side of a potential victory.

The visitors were chasing the game, incredibly fighting back from 40-3 down after 50 minutes when the Harlequins lock Irné Herbst was shown a yellow card in the 64th minute. However the South African reappeared in the 71st minute, meaning he had not served enough time on the sidelines.

To rub salt into the Bath wounds, he made a crucial try-saving tackle on the wing Will Muir as soon as he returned which, it could be argued, may have cost the visitors the win.

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Van Graan has referred the matter to Paul Hull, the head of professional match officials, after the referee, Anthony Woodthorpe, failed to pick it up. Harlequins could be hit in the pocket but sanctions remain unclear. Yet it could also cost Bath, who went up to second with two bonus points, dear in the long run.

Van Graan said: “I flagged with the referee after the game but there is not a lot he can do on the pitch, he wasn’t even aware of it. We made the fourth official aware, it was a massive call in the context of the game with the player that came back on making the tackle in the corner.

“With a yellow card you are supposed to be off for 10 minutes, not seven. It is going to go to Paul Hull and I will let the process follow its course.”

Marcus Smith won a points victory over his fly-half rival Finn Russell but this game should have been over with half an hour left before Quins started to implode.

It would not be the Harlequins way to keep their foot down for 80 minutes and after delighting a packed Stoop with six tries they conceded five with the wing Muir, the back- row Alfie Barbeary, the replacement scrum-half Louis Schreuder, Elliott Stooke and Ruaridh McConnochie all scoring. Harlequins had lost Louis Lynagh and Herbst to the sin-bin and Bath took full toll to get a losing bonus point and a try bonus point. How Harlequins it all was, but the two points Bath take home could be crucial.

Smith scored one sumptuous first-half try after opting to chip and chase when a drop goal or a cross kick were on. You could almost hear his brain whirring from the stands and he proved his wellbeing after a frustrating Six Nations. His link with Danny Care gave Harlequins lift off before they nearly crashed and burned.

Their director of rugby, Billy Millard, said: “Marcus was doing what Marcus does and Danny was immense for us again today, his ­kicking was ­outstanding. It was pretty  stressful up there and one you need to have a look at and have a chat with the boys to take learnings into next week.”

It was not all front-foot razzle ­dazzle from Harlequins. The young prop Fin Baxter put in a massive defensive display, leaving his mark on several Bath players before getting a standing ovation when he was replaced on the hour, just as his side started to collapse.

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The back-rowers Will Evans, Alex Dombrandt and Stephan Lewies also gave Quins a strong platform, giving Smith the chance to shine, and the lock Joe Launchbury did the same.

Then the wheels came off. The centre André Esterhuizen, who is returning to South Africa in the summer, went over after a flat pass from Care to get Quins up and running on two minutes. Smith got the second when he hoodwinked the Bath defence and they were in control for 50 minutes.

Bath threw on Barbeary to give themselves some physicality but Esterhuizen, on his 30th birthday, was presented with his second score by his teammates as Bath were ripped open yet again.

Then Russell started to get his side going and they got the scoreboard whirring. It was nervy stuff for Quins but they got home – just. They should have been home and hosed much earlier.