East Meets West: Saracens v Bath
By P G Tips
September 26 2018
East meets West this Saturday when Bath travel to Allianz Park to face Saracens. A few years ago this fixture would have been seen as a clash of cultures: the defence and pragmatism of Saracens versus the all out attack and romanticism of Bath. Those stereotypes have mellowed in the past two seasons. Bath under Blackadder now kick more while Saracens attack from anywhere. One thing though remains the same: the size of the task facing the visitors.
Champions in three of the past four seasons, Saracens have flourished and transformed themselves since beating Bath in the 2015 final. A game plan initially based on “wolf pack” aggression and territorial kicking has blossomed to the extent that it was they, not opponents Exeter whose play had the greater spark and creativity in last year’s Twickenham finale. As their rout of Gloucester last weekend showed, they now possess the most broadly based attack in the league. Tries came from lineout drive, pick and drive, kick and chase, sweeping attack or counter attack. All executed at a pace and intensity that Gloucester could not cope with.
As with most successful sides, the pack is the foundation of their threat. The fact that seven Saracens forwards were named in the latest England training squad should ring alarm bells at the Rec this week. Bath cannot expect to do the demolition job they did on their last visit to London when they reduced Quins eight to a rabble for much of the match. At lock alone Saracens depth is impressive – in addition to the giant Australian Skelton, there are three Englishmen barring Dave Attwood’s way into Eddie Jones’ squad: Kruis, Itoje and Isiekwe. Behind the scrum Owen Farrell is in commanding form, as are the evergreen Wigglesworth and Strettle. Maitland, Lozowski and Williams offer pace and balance to complement the strength of Barritt and guile of Goode.
Bath, currently fourth in the table, seem to be improving since their disappointing opening at Bristol. However, consistency remains elusive, defence patchy and finishing imprecise. All these areas need a lot of work this week as Saracens will exploit any weakness ruthlessly.
Blackadder will need to think hard about selection for this match and not just due to the impact of injuries. Youth has had its head in the back row in the past two games and shone, but against a pack as strong and attack as potent as Saracens, the experience of Faletau and Louw may be needed. Sam Underhill’s injury looks to have cleared but with Louw available it may be between him and Ellis to take a rest this week. Luke Charteris has a knock to the knee but would probably not have been risked on the artificial Allianz surface anyway – cue Attwood and Stooke in the engine room with Ewels on the bench. The main injury loss is Aled Brew who broke his wrist against Saints and will be out for a while. It will be quite a test for the tyro Max Wright, but I expect him to hold the 13 shirt for continuity.
Bath’s forwards have fronted up well in the last two matches destroying Quins scrum and Saints lineout. The front row in particular excelled last Saturday, taking the battle to Saints into the 75th minute. Another gear needs to be found this week though, even to gain parity up front. The loose forwards will have their work cut out- in defence, winning turnovers and support of breaks.. This is where Faletau and Louw need to hit the heights we know they are capable of.
Having started against four teams they bettered last year, Bath now find themselves up against the two league leaders in succession. The three sides trailing Bath in the table have all scored more tries and are ready to overtake should the Blue, Black and White falter. It may be too much to expect a win and given the last two results at Allianz Park, even a losing bonus point could be a stretch. What Bath need, win, lose or draw is a performance to show their intent and to give encouragement going into the Premiership autumn break.
Catt, Dunn, Thomas, Attwood, Stooke, Mercer, Louw, Faletau. Green, Burns. Cokanasiga, Willison, Wright, Rokodoguni. Homer
Replacements: Van Rooyen, Walker, Perenise, Ewels, Ellis. Cook, Priestland. Atkins
M Vunipola, George, Lamositele, Kruis, Skelton, Itoje, Rhodes, Burger. Wigglesworth, Farrell. Strettle, Lozowski, Barritt (Capt.), Maitland. Goode.
Replacements: Tolofua, Barrington, Walker, Isiekwe, Earl, Spencer, Tompkins, Williams.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:10:03:10:40:49 by P G Tips.
Can see Priestland starting along with the front row being changed ready to have a real crack at beating those lot next Friday night.
Ideally I would rather we go all out to win every game, but I’m also reallistic.
Adopted players: 2018/19 Michael Van Vuuren;  T Faletau;  D Denton;  H. Agulla;  L Houston;  W Spencer;  F. Louw
Change a life with a loan [www.deki.org.uk]