SAINTS RESURRECTED? BATH v NORTHAMPTON
By P G Tips
February 6 2018
Bath face a revitalised Northampton Saints when Premiership action resumes at the Rec on Friday. It may be too early to claim they are resurrected, but Saints have certainly come alive since Alan Gaffney took over at the turn of the year. In that short time they have shrugged off their mid –season lethargy and won four of five fixtures in all competitions, including a surprise victory over European giants Clermont. Should we therefore expect them to descend on Bath in a blaze of glory?
Since winning the premiership in 2014 Northampton’s fortunes have slumped. They lost their home Semi to Saracens the following season, and finished the last two in 5th and 7th places respectively. That was hard to take for a club that had come to expect a Top Four finish as of right. Worse was to follow this season with the style of play becoming stale, performances predictable and wins rare. By December, with the team languishing in tenth and only spared the dread threat of relegation by woeful Worcester and lacklustre London Irish, their Board decided they had had enough. They sacked the architect of their recent success, DOR Jim Mallinder, after 10 seasons in charge. Gaffney is their short-term remedy; the longer-term saviour will be Chris Boyd, current Head Coach of 2016 Super Rugby Champions Wellington Hurricanes.
One tarnish to the halo of the past month was a seven-try demolition by Saracens in the Champions Cup. Bath should not though expect the Saints to arrive humble and humiliated, rather full of missionary zeal and a desire to proclaim their glory. Old fashioned virtues have been restored and the squad clearly trust in the righteousness of the path chosen by their interim coaching team of Dickens, West and Dowson. Unsurprisingly, given their fall from grace, Northampton are les troubled by international call ups than a few seasons ago, but they will still lose Hartley and Lawes to England, North to Wales. They can however, call on the services of internationals Wood, Harrison, Burrell, Foden and southern hemisphere pedigree from Ribbans, Groom and Horne. They will be direct, confrontational and energetic, a style which has proven too much for Gloucester, Sale and most recently Harlequins.
As ever this season Bath’s coaches find their selection hampered by injury absences. No doubt relieved that England will not require Thomas, Dunn and probably Mercer, it seems they must still manage without internationals Perenise, Faletau, Priestland, Rokodoguni and Louw, plus a range of other likely first choices. The biggest challenge will be in midfield where Max Clark’s return seems overdue. If he is not yet ready perhaps Will Hurrell will get a further outing to put the attack on the front foot. Shorn of their first choice cutting edge without Rokodoguni, Watson and Joseph, Bath will look to Freddie Burns to control the game as he did in Treviso. Canny kicking and game management will be needed to turn the defence, seize territory and pressure the visitors into error.
With nine premiership rounds remaining Bath lie just outside the Top four. In the matches to come they will face the runaway top pairing of Exeter and Saracens, plus two away trips to sides who have triumphed this campaign at the Rec. To stand any chance of a place in the Playoffs they need to glean as many points as possible from the four league matches during the Six Nations. These, in order are: Saints, Falcons, Sale and Quins, where Bath must seek at least three wins and bonus points where possible – a tough ask.
The season to date has been frustrating for Bath-players, coaches and supporters alike. Inconsistency and the predations of injuries have undermined the continuity the Blackadder game plan depends on. In such a season every game can appear to have a defining significance. This though is a potential moment of redemption. Shorn of 6 Nations stars the squad must find its’ inner belief, trust in squad depth and that inner cohesion which turns the tight games. Saints may be revived, but Bath have their season’s salvation in their own hands. Their form against Worcester, Benetton and Ospreys shows what is possible. Those wins were achieved in a variety of ways and each showed impressive mental mettle. More will be needed on Friday. It is time to halt the march of the Saints.
Obano, Dunn, Thomas, Stooke, Ewels, Garvey (Capt.), Mercer, Grant. Fotuali’i, Burns. Banahan, Tapuai, Clark, Brew. Atkins
Replacements: Auterac, Batty, Knight, Charteris, Bayliss. Cook, Lewis, Wilson.
Ma’afu, Haywood, Ford-Robinson, Ratuniyarawa, Day, Wood, Gibson, T Harrison. Groom, Mallinder. Pisi, Horne, Burrell, Foden, Tuala.
Replacements: Marshall, Van Wyk, Brookes, Ribbans, Brussow, Reinach, Myler, Stephenson
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:02:13:16:06:04 by CoochieCoo.