CRITICAL CLASH: BATH V LEICESTER
By P G Tips
April 3 2018
Bath face a critical “Clash” against Leicester Tigers at Twickenham this weekend. The big cats from Welford Road have clawed their way up the table from a disappointing start and are braced for a cataclysmic collision. Bath, beset by injury, seemingly low on confidence and short of attacking invention look like easy prey. Tigers have won their last 4 Premiership matches while Bath have stuttered in two competitions. Will Bath find celebration, crisis or catastrophe?
Time was when a Bath v Leicester clash, especially at Twickenham, was a clash of rugby styles and cultures. In three Cup Finals, Leicester dominated possession and territory, yet Bath’s inner belief and flair won the day. In 1989 it was an inspired late strike by Stuart Barnes, in 1994 the superior handling in the wet of Barnes, De Glanville and Catt brought the tries needed to break the deadlock. The third meeting in 1996 saw Tigers monopolise ball and territory yet their 2 tries were not enough. A flurry of late Bath attacks could only be withstood by infringement. After 7 penalty offences within 5 metres of the line, referee Steve Lander had had enough and awarded Bath the match -winning penalty try. For his pains he was bundled off his feet by Neil Back- which brought a 6-month ban for the flanker.
These memories are less about past glories than illustration of the significance of the fixture. Twickenham should be the ideal setting for one of the iconic rivalries of the modern club game. Many Bath fans though will travel in trepidation –or at least more in hope than expectation. A playoff place is a distant hope and even Champions Cup qualification seems unlikely but a decent showing could at least usher in a brighter end to the season. Recent results mean the bookmakers fancy Leicester- the best possible motivation to prove them wrong .
The arrival of Mark Bakewell has stiffened Tigers’ forward efforts in all phases, restoring much of their traditional stern reputation up front. Genge, Youngs and Cole are a gnarled, All England front row, well supported by hard grafting workhorses in the back five. Leicester will expect to gain the edge at both scrum and breakdown and Bath will have their work cut out to best them in the lineout. Today’s Tigers also boast pace and invention behind the scrum. Toomua, Veianu, May and Tait all know how to find and exploit gaps and if George Ford has not yet matched for Tigers his stellar season of 2015, he has ample motivation to pull out the magic on this occasion. Manu Tuilagi may be missing with his latest injury, but May is likely to be fit: Leicester have experience and threats in every unit.
Bath will, as usual this season, be hoping for good news on the injury front. With the first choice strike force of Rokodoguni and Watson missing, the return to health of Louw and possibly Mercer are a welcome boost to options for breakdown work and support play. Dunn’s fitness is good news too, but Thomas and Perenise are unlikely to make it, so Knight and Delmas will carry the task of anchoring the front row..
Whatever selection is available and chosen, Bath must address a number of issues, both technical and emotional if they are to win. Tactically they have to win more of the turnovers and protect their hard won ball better. More accurate kicking and a better-organised kick-chase can help in this, as well as reducing the pressure which forced 10 penalties conceded in last week’s Anglo Welsh Final. The lineout is an area of strength which can be used as a platform for first phase attack – well worth a go given Bath’s struggles at the second phase. Recent matches have seen improvement in possession and territory stats, as well as progress with ball in hand. At Kingsholm Bath beat 3 times the number of defenders Exeter did, but slim support play failed to capitalise on the breaks. They made more metres too- one and a half times those made by the Chiefs, but clearly to less effect. If those faults can be ironed out, hope can be translated into success.
Bath have not lost a home fixture to Leicester for 7 seasons. Fans will worry that this proud record is vulnerable this week as the club have surrendered true “home” location for the “cup final” atmosphere of a day out in the capital, but if the travelling support can turn Twickenham Blue, Black and White, as last year, Bath can take the win. Supporters will be desperately hoping that Joseph, Vuna, Homer or even Obano can conjure up the moment of magic to spark a victory and what better send off could there be for Matt Banahan than a Twickenham try?
Charlie Ewels has spoken of controlling the “emotional” aspects of a game- by this he means not getting hung up on the negatives of a losing streak. It is essential though that the team are “up for it”. In the charged atmosphere of a “cup final” anything is possible, especially if inner frustration is channelled into denying the opposition a sniff of momentum. If they can call on the “never in doubt’ attitude of their illustrious predecessors they can spring a surprise. Bath must clip the claws of their opponents, produce a roar of their own and pounce on the predators to answer their critics.
Obano, Dunn, Knight, Stooke, Ewels, Garvey (Capt.), Louw, Faletau. Cook, Burns. Banahan, Wilson, Joseph, Vuna. Homer.
Replacements: Noguera, Walker, Thomas, Charteris, Ellis. Fotuali’i, Priestland, Brew.
Genge, Youngs, Cole, Kitchener, Fitzgerald, Mapapalangi, Hamilton, Kalamafoni. Harrison , Ford. May, Toomua, Tait, Smith. Veianu.
Bateman, Polota- Nau, Mulipola, Wells, Evans. Simmons, Ford, Malouf.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:04:11:07:47:39 by P G Tips.