Mercer: zest and energy
By P G Tips
March 28 2017
Bath will feel a sense of déjà vu when they host Brive in the Challenge Cup on Saturday. The tie, with its famously dramatic connotations, may have a familiar feel, but which “already lived” moment will the fans experience? Will it be the nail-biting tension of 1998 in Bordeaux, the comfortable 6 try victory of the 2014 ECC Quarter Final or, heaven forbid, the lame capitulation of last weekend? Having lost their place in the Premiership top four, Bath may feel that European rugby is their best chance of silverware this season, but another showing like last Sunday, or even the defeat by Wasps a month ago will put an end to that ambition. It would also be a further reminder of how far Bath must climb to match the glory of those past days. Memories can be charming and history at times inspiring, but it is the here and now which will concern the fans. For the players too, the most recent memory will be an embarrassment, to be erased.
Brive, standing 8th in France’s Top 14, have had a typical season for a club in their position. They expect to win at home and have reliably done so, losing only to 2nd placed Clermont. Away from home they have won just once, as far back as August. Clearly away wins for Brive are not a habit, a weakness Bath will hope to exploit. The Brive squad has a cosmopolitan makeup with 10 nations represented, including Algeria and Portugal. It contains a smattering of internationals, many from Georgia or the Pacific Islands but few household names. The hard core of their pack is Georgian front rowers and South African locks. Among their back row options are Fiji’s Sisa Koyamaibole, once of Sale and William Whetton, son of famous All Black Gary. Behind the scrum principal threats could come from centre Arnaud Mignardi, capped a decade ago by France and two flying wingers in Fiji sevens star Masilevu and USA flyer Taku Ngwenya.
Bath will almost certainly use the core of the squad which lost at Allianz Park, despite the deflating impact of that result –or perhaps because of it. Those players will be smarting from the humiliation and, hopefully, desperate to take their frustrations out on their visitors. The coaches will probably wish to refresh the 23 a little and the defensive reliability of Tom Homer, the energy and zest of Zach Mercer, plus David Denton’s athleticism may be just the tonic needed.
Bath must use home advantage to the full. A flying start is needed, preferably with ball in hand to force Brive onto the back foot early. A kicking strategy is all very well, but it must be used judiciously and, above all, accurately. One of Bath’s most potent weapons this season has been the driving maul. That and close forward driving should remind the French visitors that they will face a full afternoon of graft. Bath’s attacking game has been seen only in rare flashes recently, but when it works – as for Watson’s try at Saracens - it is almost impossible to defend against. Front foot ball must be used to get Watson, Rokodoguni and Banahan (my choice for a centre slot) running at the opposition. Bath have the armoury. They now need to use it, wisely and with intensity, to inflict damage.
Blackadder has spoken of “finding more fight”. If Bath can take the fight relentlessly to the opposition from start to finish they can prove Blue, Black and White to be superior to plain Black and White. Here is a great chance to replace the doom and gloom of the last few weeks with an upbeat note for the final two months of the season.
So, by full time on Saturday, will Bath v Brive 1998 be just a distant memory? Or can this Bath squad create some new ones – equally memorable?
Possible Bath squad:
Catt, Batty, Lahiff, Ewels,Stooke , Z Mercer, Louw, Faletau. Fotuali’I, Ford. Watson, Banahan, Joseph, Rokoduguni. Homer.
Replacements: Obano, Charles, Knight, Charteris, Denton. Cook, Tapuai, Brewpqs: qs:
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:04:10:13:04:06 by Stuart Anderton.
Are other internationals due a break?
Should this be the fixture to miss, given the importance of the run in?
Possible Bath squad:
Catt, Charles, Knight, Ewels, Ellis, Z Mercer, Louw, Faletau. Fotuali’I, Priestland. Watson, Banahan, Joseph, Rokoduguni. Homer.
Replacements: Obano, Graham, Palma -Newport, Charteris, Grant. Cook, Tapuai, Brew
The season can feel like a slog in the league if results don't go your way, time for a more positive, knockout mindset.