BUBBLE OR QUITS? BENETTON V BATH
By P G Tips
January 17 2018
Bath’s European hopes hang by a slender thread as they prepare to play Benetton on Saturday. Last week’s shock defeat by Scarlets has handed Bath the steepest of challenges. Knockout qualification is mathematically possible but will require one of their pool rivals to hammer the other and a number of improbable results in other pools to go their way. Whether they make the knockout rounds or not, the squads response will set the tone for the rest of the season.
In one dramatic encounter, defeat last Friday plummeted Bath from 5th placed qualifier (with real hopes of a home semi) to 12th in line. Their hopes of progress now depend on climbing the ranks of the second placed teams. For that to happen Bath will hope that Scarlets can shred the Toulon defence as readily as they showed at the Rec, leaving Toulon pointless from the tie and that other English clubs, with no hope of qualifying, will rouse themselves to shock performances. Wasps must beat Ulster, and Saints triumph at Saracens to make certain of Bath’s passage: a Quins win away at La Rochelle would help too.
So what of the match itself? Benetton started the tournament determined to belie the “whipping boy” tag usually associated with Italian clubs. Their resistance proved futile against Bath in Round One, but they were desperately unlucky to lose at home to Toulon and then at Parc y Scarlets, having led both matches until the final minutes and played some excellent rugby. Their performances have tailed off in the last two rounds however, conceding over sixty points in two lame defeats. Now, with nothing to play for in Europe this season will they aim for a morale boosting win at home or focus on slim hopes of sufficient Pro 15 progress to make next season’s tournament?
Although not dominating the Italy squad as they traditionally have, Benetton boast a number of seasoned campaigners. Up front De Marchi, Fuser, Negri, Barbieri and Zanni are notable and tough forwards. Behind them there is the control of Gori or Tebaldi, McKinley or Allan at half back and the running threat of Benvenuti, Sgarbi, Esposito and Tagicakibau. Should they gird themselves for a last act of defiance, Bath will have a fight on their hands.
Bath have to get 5 points from this game to stand any chance. Encouragingly, they enjoyed the majority of both possession and territory against Scarlets – the first time that has been the case this season. Scarlets gave Bath a lesson in what to do with that possession, attacking from all parts of the pitch and setting a tempo Bath could not live with. It would be unwise to copy that style in every detail: Bath should play their own game, but imposing themselves on their opponents and playing at pace, as they did against Toulon and Worcester is surely the way to win.
The work –ons for this match are clear from the failure of the last. Too many turnovers were conceded, the usually reliable scrum gave disappointing returns, as did the lineout. Once again, the opposition profited from ball kicked away: it was not the frequency of kicks that punished Bath, rather the inaccuracy and lack of potent chase. All these failings can be corrected and if they are, the attacking brio of the Toulon and Worcester matches can easily be restored.
Bath’s fate may not be entirely in their own hands, but control of this match is. Knockout hopes aside, there is ample motivation. Comprehensive defeat last week demands an unequivocal riposte. The remainder of the season could well rest on an early reassertion of squad pride and morale – a strong performance is needed to ensure that. Then there are the individual motivations – 6 nations places and Bath’s own domestic pecking order. It may be too early for England call ups for Underhill and Mercer, but Eddie Jones’ back row options are currently thin. So too at loose head prop where, barring a change of heart or switching a tight head to the left, he must surely be considering Beno Obano to bench against Italy. Jonathon Joseph must show enough form to win his tussle with Slade for the 13 spot and Anthony Watson will want to erase one costly missed tackle in Eddie’s mind and his. Then there is Freddie Burns. Injury and Priestland’s form have forced him into second fiddle since he arrived from Tigers: Rhys’s hamstring issue affords him a prodigal’s chance to shine and gain preference.
In the preview for the home fixture I referred to Treviso’s significance in Prosecco production. Bath will want to start like a cork exploding from the bottle. There are many reasons why they will want to bubble and sparkle. Is that what we can expect – or will they just fizzle out?
Possible Bath Team:
Obano, Dunn, Thomas, Phillips, Stooke, Garvey (Capt.), Underhill, Grant. Fotuali’I, Burns. Brew, Tapuai, Joseph, Banahan. Watson.
Replacements: Noguera, V Vuuren, Lahiff, Charteris, Mercer. Allinson, Lewis, James Wilson.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:01:24:11:18:18 by CoochieCoo.
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