Travel in Hope: Anglo Welsh Final
By P G Tips
March 14 2018
Bath squad and fans will travel in hope but perhaps not expectation to Sunday’s Anglo Welsh Cup Final. Premiership Table topping opponents Exeter have notched up 25 tries in the Cup so far. With a settled squad and enviable depth, they seem to be in form just at the right time. Meanwhile Bath, six Premiership places behind, are enduring a frustratingly inconsistent season. The odds must favour Chiefs but in Cup Finals anything is possible. Is such a truism enough grounds for hope?
Exeter have not had it all their own way in the tournament. They lost their third round match to lowly Worcester, but gained the try bonus win needed against Saracens to top their pool and held their nerve to snatch a tight semi final from Newcastle Falcons. In all competitions they have followed the same recipe of high intensity, ball retaining continuity rugby. Their patient up field progress, going through the phases in possession is the antithesis of Bath’s game based on territory, kicking and defence.
Chiefs have mostly used squad players or returners from injury in the cup, but have still fielded strength and pedigree. If their final selection continues the trend, expect Low, Lees, Salvi and Kvesic to be among the danger men in the forwards with Townsend, Whitten, Devoto and Short the well known names in the backs. Potentially the greatest danger man though is the youngster Joe Simmonds, brother of rising England back row star Sam, who looks set for a sparkling career as a playmaker and all round scoring threat at fly half.
Bath’s selection will be more about availability than choice. Injuries and international calls will rob Bath of up to 21 players, the latest blows being concussions for Cook and Vuna. Both are grievous losses, Cook in particular having played an exemplary semi final. Charlie Ewels, who skippered the team to victory over Saints, has been retained by England, so his participation is in doubt. If released, he will have only 2 days to prepare with the match day squad. It will be a tough test of a depleted and battered group to play a derby against confident in-form opponents in the bear pit of Kingsholm, where any “neutral” home supporters among the spectators will be baying for a Bath humbling.
Stuart Hooper has named this cup a “target” for Bath’s season, so the coaches may want to strengthen the team a little. They are unlikely though to make radical changes: last Friday’s 23 coped well in appalling conditions and there are few options available to sway any argument for reinforcement over continuity. Hooper will have to rely again on the grit of Charles, Phillips, Ellis and Bayliss, the control of Lewis and Homer and the hard running of Banahan.
Bath have shown a lot of determination in this cup, often with youngsters to the fore. Several times they have come from behind to win by small margins. Confidence may be low generally, but in this competition, “all in the mind” has summarised success to date. Bath must summon up that mental fortitude, blot out the sound of the tribal chants and drums, circle the wagons and call on the self-reliance of the pioneer. Kingsholm may be the “wild west” and will be inhospitable, but it is neutral territory. Will Bath have the steel to give the tomahawk the chop?
Obano, Charles, Lahiff, Stooke, Charteris, Ellis, Bayliss, Phillips. Fotuali’I, Lewis. Banahan, Wilson, Hurrell, Brew, Homer.
Replacements: Auterac, Batty, Thomas, Douglas, Grant.
Green, Tapuai, Atkins.
Chiefs: M Low, J Innard, G Holmes; M Lees, W Van der Sluys, D Dennis (Capt.,), J Salvi, M Kvesic. Townsend, J Simmonds. T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, O Devoto, J Short. S Cordero
Replacements P Davis J Kenny, J Owlett, Salmon, Horstmann. Chudley, S Morley, T Hendrickson.
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Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2018:03:18:11:27:54 by P G Tips.
But maybe not now. Thank you for pointing that out: fixed.
And of course, both clubs will be thinking about the league game 5 days later.
Personally, I hope we field our absolutely strongest team (although that probably differs very little from PG Tips prediction due to unavailabilities) and go for broke to win a confidence boosting trophy. Exeter certainly look upon the AW Cup as a testing ground for their youngsters and first team squad players, and have gone out to win it over the past 4/5 seasons. They will be gunning for this trophy and I hope they take their foot of the pedal just a little. It is going to mean we have to be really physical and compete all over the field , especially at the breakdown where they have lost games recently. If it is wet as the weather predicts, I believe that could help us as our kicking game may be better suited to the conditions, provided we chase better than we have done recently.
It can be done and I will be cheering from the Castle Grim rooftops. C'mon you Bath.
Better news for the AP game and next few after that: