Louw: impose leadership
By P G Tips
April 25 2017
Bath have a chance to do a Premiership double over old rivals Gloucester at the Rec this Sunday. This derby fixture, usually a tense and fiery encounter, is given extra spice by respective league positions and comparative form. Gloucester have won 4 of their last 6 matches, picking up 12 precious league points against Bath’s paltry 4 in the same period. They have also forced their way to their third Challenge Cup Final, by stealing the first away win this season at La Rochelle. Bath, despite playing some highly entertaining rugby lost out to Stade Francais in the other Semi Final when composure deserted them in the final 4 minutes. So, Gloucester, with an outside chance of scrapping their way into the Premiership Top 6 seem in the ascendant, while Bath, having only recently slipped out of the Playoff places, look to be hanging on in hope. For all the sparkle of their attack when they get it right, Bath have been frail of late – both in defence and mentality. So – will the frustration of Paris give way to more disappointment and despair? Or do Bath have it in them to win in style as at Twickenham 3 weeks ago?
Inconsistency, underachievement, frustration and internal strife have dogged Gloucester’s season as much as Bath’s. In their case the issues were evident early on with 4 defeats and 2 draws in their first 7 AP fixtures. The opening 2 months yielded not a single home league win and while the November and 6 Nations international periods brought some respite, worse was to come. The lame surrender of a 12 -point lead against Harlequins so disenchanted Head Coach Laurie Fisher that he publicly and emotionally resigned on Twitter. His sacrifice seems to have lanced the boil and restored the winning touch: 6 try triumphs against Cardiff Blues and Sale are evidence of that, as was the doughty rear-guard action, which saw them sneak through against la Rochelle.
For some seasons Gloucester have amounted to less than the sum of their parts, averaging 8th in the league and, despite a number of big names in their squad, a declining number of international call-ups. This summer they will field one Lion and one with England in Argentina. They do not lack pedigree though: four recent Lions still available (Hibbard, Moriarty, Hook, Twelvetrees) to Bath’s three and a host of other internationals to call on. Their recent travails seem to have been due to a difficult transition from the traditional 10 man game built on a fearsome pack and kicking halfbacks to a more open, fluid style to suit the talents of Hook, Twelvetrees, Sharples and May. In Hibbard, Afoa, Galarza, Moriarty and Morgan they still have plenty of forward beef- men who can carry as well as simply maul. The return to fitness of Laidlaw gives them canny game management from scrum half, plus nerveless goal kicking and leadership. He will want to make the most of the counter attack skill of Marshall and the pace of May to produce another high scoring performance.
Bath’s derby form this season has been varied and frustrating. The most difficult one, Exeter away, was won with patience and verve at the last gasp. Gloucester, in a dogfight at Kingsholm, were similarly dispatched with two late tries while the Bristol matches, both close, yielded a competent home win and the most disappointing defeat of the season- a single point reverse at Ashton Gate. A healthy half time lead against Exeter at home was blown – a metaphor for much of Bath’s campaign. A win is essential to get the derby balance in credit: so how to do it? First: self-belief. Bath have the better of recent clashes with the Cherry and White, winning seven of the last nine AP ties. Second: defence – especially against their heavy- duty ball carriers. This does not require much detective work to analyse – Sherlock Holmes would advise “Stop the villainous Moriarty at all costs!” he and henchmen Galarza, Savage and Afoa need not only to be stopped, but also knocked back with venom. Third –play the territory with accurate kicking, better chasing by finding touch deep in Gloucester’s half. Pressure is vital: the euphoria of the Cherry and Whites triumph in La Rochelle cannot mask the fact that they made heavy weather of the win, failing to exploit the press defence after the initial dent and tending to give away silly penalties. If these aggressive basics are right, Bath will get the home crowd behind them and all the pressure will be on the visitors. Then, in late April sunshine, Bath can play their preferred, open end-of season game.
Despite concerns over decision-making in Paris, I suspect the coaches will want to make few changes to the match squad. Rokodoguni will be on Army duty at Twickenham, so opening a place for Tom Homer whose goal kicking could be a useful reserve option. There might be starts too for Garvey and Fruean to use their heavyweight tackling and gainline thrust.
Bath’s attacking potential has been seen only fitfully this season. Nine minutes in Paris last week and twelve in Twickenham earlier this month show what can be done – but more is needed. Sunday though is a home derby with Champions Cup qualification hanging on it- and time for the end of term uplift, which has become de rigeur in recent years at the Rec- even in troubled seasons the faithful have come to expect it. Francois Louw must impose himself on the team and the occasion with some firm leadership and the backline needs to execute with precision to finish off the chances they create. It is time to cut loose.
Catt, Batty, Palma-Newport, Attwood, Charteris, Garvey, Louw, Faletau. Fotuali’i, Ford., Banahan, Fruean, Joseph, Watson. Homer
Replacements: Obano, Charles, Knight, Stooke, Ellis. Cook, Priestland, Tapuai.
Hohneck, Hibbard, Afoa, Savage, Galarza, Moriarty, Ludlow, Morgan. Laidlaw, Burns, Sharples, Twelvetrees, Atkinson, May. Marshall
Replacements: Dawidiuk, Thomas, ,Doran-Jones, Thrush, Evans,. Heinz, Hook, Halaifonua
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:05:03:07:33:52 by CoochieCoo.
Just spotted that Mr Carley has been confirmed as the referee...
I guess the optimism is that we've only lost twice at home this season - and they were against the top 2 teams in the league. We even beat Saracens at home.
Yeah, up and at 'em.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:04:30:18:17:03 by CoochieCoo.