Best in the West? Bath v Exeter
Burns: fit again
By P G Tips
March 20 2018
Will the “Beast from the East” abate in time to permit a contest for “best of the West”? Exeter Chiefs, Bath’s Premiership visitors on Friday evening, used the tagline last season “The West Country’s Premier Rugby Club” much to the annoyance of longer established Premiership rivals. This season though, their claim is indisputable as Champions and current leaders of the table by 7 points. They will arrive hopeful and confident: can Bath’s depleted squad summon up a shock result and reclaim bragging rights?
While the weather seems to be on the turn and the risk of a second Bath v Exeter postponement reducing daily, the prospect of a fully fired up Exeter will be send a chill through the less optimistic Bath supporters. It is not only relative positions in the table that separate Exeter and Bath. Chiefs’ approach is based on possession and continuity, going through the phases to tire opponents and force defensive errors. They have done the double over close rivals Saracens and enjoy better away form than their hosts. They also have an enviable ability to win tight games, the latest being the Anglo Welsh Cup Semi final which they snatched late from Newcastle. Their game is built on a dynamic pack of ball carriers who are also stern defenders and ball winners. Key men for them up front are Cowan –Dickie, Williams, Lees and the newly capped England loose forwards Armand and Simmonds. Behind the scrum they boast the mercurial talents of Slade and Turner, the control of Steenson and the finishing of Woodburn, Short and Dollman.
If the end of the 6 Nations has brought Bath good news in returning players, it has also signalled the end of Anthony Watson’s season – yet another disruptive loss in a campaign ravaged by injury. Selection will be heavily influenced by availability again although Freddie Burns is fit again and there is hope that Garvey and Dunn may be ready to join him. With The Clash at Twickenham on the horizon, the coaches may prefer to rest those two. They will though welcome the clean bill of health of Chris Cook, whose performance against Saints, until concussed in the final seconds, was one of his best in the Blue, Black and White.
Whatever squad is chosen, much will depend on the loose forwards. Ellis and Bayliss were among the brighter lights of the win over Saints in the Anglo Welsh semi final, coping well not just with the conditions but also more celebrated opposite numbers. Without the strike power of Watson, Rokodoguni and possibly Brew, Bath will look to the back row not only for defence but go forward and wide support play.
Eddie Jones’ deliberations over the England squad to tour South Africa this summer will add spice to this encounter. There are some obvious candidates such as Exeter front rowers, Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie and Williams and Bath’s Thomas for him to check, but could he also be looking for bolters? With clear issues to resolve at back row, scrum half and midfield might he wish to check out Ellis, Townsend and Devoto?
International ambitions apart, Bath will need to find something special if they are to prevent more chill winds blowing in- this time from the west. Exeter have been defeated on the road this season- at Gloucester, Newcastle and Worcester so they are not invulnerable. All three of those teams kept up the intensity of their game for the full 80 plus minutes. Bath must give of their best to claim to be best in the west.
Obano, Batty, Lahiff, Ewels (Capt.). Stooke, Ellis, Bayliss, Faletau. Fotuali’I, Burns. Banahan, James Wilson, Joseph, Vuna. Homer.
Replacements: Auterac, Charles, Thomas, Charteris, Phillips. Grant. Cook, Priestland. Tapuai.
Exeter: Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Lees, Hill, Armand, Kvesic, Simmonds. Townsend, Steenson, Turner, Hill, Slade, Woodburn; Dollman
Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Low, Salmon, Waldrom. Chudley, Simmonds, Short.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:03:26:12:45:22 by P G Tips.
If Bath continue to kick away hard earned possession with little effective chase, Exeter will run the ball back and just add to the pressure they love to build on teams. Similarly, if all our players do not front up physically, particularly at the breakdown where Exeter love to counter ruck, we will be under immense pressure and likely to leak tries and penalties. Any kicking to Exeter must be away from their back 3 as all are rock solid under the high ball.
They are likely to start young Joe Simmonds at 10 who is a very capable kicker and much better playmaker than Steenson and no doubt the full range of footballing skills will be on display from Slade. We need to try and rattle Simmonds and put him off his stride. Similarly. White is not the best starter and can be got at, so must be attacked and knocked back regularly and hard. IMV young Townsend is a much better and dangerous player as is Chudley.
Sides that have beaten them have matched them physically, particularly in the front 5, and kept up the effort for 80 minutes. Tackles cannot be afford to be missed but allowing for there never say die running, they do lack an out and out speedster. It is a real shame AW is out as his raw pace could have caused them some problems.
Forget rolling mauls and lineout drives Bath, we must take them on physically and kick every point at every chance to stand any chance. I think you will find, Exeter have conceded the fewest number of tries this season.
This is a real test Bath, but I and the faithful will be urging you on to glory and will travel in hope.
C'mon you Bath.
Recreation Ground, 7.45pm – Live on BT Sport
Referee: Wayne Barnes (196th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley & Paul Dix.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.
Citing Officer: Buster White.