To Catch a Saint: Northampton v Bath
Fotuali'i: key man
By P G Tips
September 13 2017
“For all the Saints, who from their labours rest.” So says the hymn, but there is unlikely to be much rest for either Northampton or Bath this week preparing for Friday’s Premiership encounter. Both clubs had to dig deep for character in last week’s unenviably tough fixtures. The two DORs having seen their teams win bruising battles through such character and heart, have said they wanted even more. The tie is shaping to be a most un-saintly confrontation.
Following a limp capitulation to Saracens in round one, Jim Mallinder accused his charges of being “soft.” The response? A brutal and direct assault that muffled the Tigers’ roar in last weekend’s derby. Bath, two wins from two against Tigers and Saracens, have forged those wins on impressive physicality themselves, plus bags of character. With a six-day turnaround (in Bath’s case the second in succession) and inevitable knocks from attritional clashes, both clubs have their work cut out to prepare for a third challenging fixture in a row.
Saints will be looking for a better return from the set scrum. With a choice of Brookes and Hill as the cornerstone, you would expect that phase to be strong, but it was one of the few areas where Leicester bested them last Saturday. They will keep fingers crossed that Bath’s increasingly threadbare front row resources prove a leveller. Handling is another focus of attention. For all the dominance generated by their direct approach work, they were seldom able to manoeuvre George North into space. It was late in the game when a lovely set move sprang Tom Collins free to score. Several high balls were spilled by the back three (the weather as much a culprit here as the players) which will also be a cause for concern against Bath’s concentration on a territorial kicking duel.
To balance these weaknesses, Saints can comfort themselves with several strengths. They were dominant at the lineout, where their backrowers had a field day and the pick and drive of the whole pack was potent – bringing try number one for Dylan Hartley. Lawes however was the standout forward – at lineout, on the drive and in defence. Saints will look to him, Hartley and Jamie Gibson to inspire another blitzkrieg effort from the pack. Behind them, they boast the direct power of Luther Burrell, the pace and finishing of Collins and North and the game management of Nic Groom. The scrum half could be the key danger man, with the potential to restore to Saints back play some of the zip that has been missing for the past two seasons.
Blackadder’s Bath will want to maintain eighty-minute intensity, a task they have struggled with in the past two ties, cut down the number of late penalties conceded and improve on their exit strategy. Overall they won the breakdown battle against Saracens –no mean feat, so Todd was disappointed that the focus and accuracy of this phase faded in the second half last Saturday. Mental strength and Thinking Clearly Under Pressure are likely to be primary areas for homework in the next few days.
Between them these two teams provided 13 players named in various broadsheet teams of the week for the last round. If saints generally are sometimes defined as “the sinners who keep on going”, Northampton can expect to be pushed all the way by a Bath squad that has shown both defensive and attacking resilience in the closing stages these past two weeks. Heroes abound in the current Rec squad and fans will hope for further standout performances from Banahan, Rokodoguni, Louw, Faletau and Garvey. Todd Blackadder will be keeping a fretful eye out for midweek news on the head injuries to Cook, Perenise and Charteris, plus the latest on Anthony Watson’s shoulder.
Shakespeare wrote of a “cunning enemy, that to catch a Saint, with saints dost bait thy hook”. Bath have their own such bait in Khan Fotuali’i, who certainly baited Saracens with his sly gamesmanship last week. He could prove a trump card, with his insights into Saints’ mentality, in what is likely to be a feisty showdown. The great Bard also wrote “Great men may jest with Saints”. If Bath can pull a joker at the Gardens, it would not only be a perfect season start, but also give departing Head Coach Tabai Matson a great send off. Todd will want Bath to deliver for him.
Obano, Dunn, Andrews, Stooke, Phillips, Garvey (Capt.), Louw, Faletau. Fotuali’i, Priestland. Banahan, Tapuai, Clark, Rokodoguni. Homer
Replacements: Auterac, Walker, Nixon, Douglas, Grant. Allinson, Burns, Joseph
Waller,Hartley (capt), Hill, Paterson, Day, Lawes, Gibson, T Harrison. Groom, Mallinder. North, Horne, Burrell, Collins. Tuala.
Replacements: Haywood, Ma'afu, Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Ludlam, Reinach, Grayson, Foden.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:09:21:09:23:19 by CoochieCoo.
Watson & Perenise both OK to play. Charteris & Cook out, but Ewels is available. Underhill due to start at 7 apparently.
Revised speculative squad is therefore:
Obano, Dunn, Perenise, Stooke, Phillips, Garvey (Capt.), Underhill, Faletau. Fotuali’i, Priestland. Banahan, Tapuai, Clark, Rokodoguni. Watson.
Replacements: Auterac, Walker, Andrews, Ewels Grant. Allinson, Burns, Joseph
Adopted Player 2017-18, Paul Grant.
I hope we do indeed stick with a side close to the revised above with few changes. Given Burrells recent improved form I'd keep JJ in personally to ensure he is sufficiently shackled and that Rob Horne(sp?) doesn't start running things.
Lovely to be deciding on a backrow out of Garvey, Flo, Toby F and Underhill as Big Dog said on the Saints Injuries thread!
Lovely review, great read PG.
Waller, Haywood, Hill, Paterson, Ribbans, Lawes (Capt), Gibson, T Harrison. Groom, Mallinder. Collins, Burrell, Horne, North. Tuala.
Marshall, Ma'afu, Brookes, Day, Ludlam, Reinach, Grayson, Foden.
Fab preview PG.
Agree, excellent preview