Chief Challenge: Bath v Exeter
Burns: full range
By P G Tips
October 3 2018
Having succumbed to defeat at leaders Saracens Bath next face close league contenders Exeter Chiefs at the Rec on Friday. Exeter have started the campaign with a bang, picking up 4 try bonus points in 5 games, racking up 24 tries while conceding only a miserly 9 and look set for another impressive season. Bath by contrast looked vulnerable in all games, even when winning well at Quins. Straight from a heavy defeat will they have enough to overcome the challenge of the Chiefs?
Since Bath’s attack was snuffed out by Saracens in the 2015 Final, Exeter have been perpetual finalists, not only the leading West Country club but for two seasons carrying the hopes of neutrals who favour a fifteen man game. Last season they adopted a more pragmatic and systemic approach. The invention of previous years gave way to a relentless possession and territory game epitomised by the power of their close quarter pick & drive. They may have become more predictable, but remain hard to beat- Bath failed in three encounters last campaign.
Having seen off Leicester Tigers and Wasps in the opening rounds, Exeter’s recent victories have been against lower placed sides but they often reserve their best performances for the more challenging ties. The Rec holds few terrors for them these days and with enviable squad depth Bath can expect a high quality, well -conditioned squad. The loss to injury of Hill and Sam Simmonds merely opens opportunity for other fresh players of similar mould. Their forwards, with an all England squad front row to the fore will aim to impose themselves on Bath, hog the majority of possession, dominate both contact and territory and provide plenty of front foot ball. Their lineout and driven maul is the platform for many of their attacks but they are equally adept at gaining ground and strike moves from the scrum.
If they can gain good ball, expect the usual multi layered attack, reliant on dummy and screen runners. At the breakdown they tend to dominate the contact with diving drives which take themselves and opponents off their feet- strictly illegal but so far tolerated by most officials. Players to watch up front could well be Cowan-Dickie, Dennis, Ewers and Kvesic. Behind the scrum look out for control from Steenson, defence splitting breaks from Slade and trickery from Nowell.
Was Blackadder’s squad rotation for the Saracens tie controversial or good sense? With a six day turn round before Chiefs visit and two tough European rounds following immediately after, he opted to rest many front line players while giving game time to those pushing for first team places and squad members who could be needed in the next month. While there were bright showings in attack from a few of the younger players at Allianz Park, coaches and fans will look to the return of the more experienced men to turn things around. Francois Louw has been recalled by South Africa, possibly a setback given the importance of the back row battle in disrupting Chief’s continuity. However, Sam Underhill should be fit and ready to return, while Mercer and Ellis have both been in fine form.
To win Bath will need a 90-minute performance from their forwards, matching Exeter in vigour, power and intent and seizing the initiative at key moments. As much of Chiefs play is lineout based, a repeat of the disruption Bath wrought on Saints should be one objective. A cast iron defence is also a must against a Chiefs side who rely heavily on continuity – in possession and approach work.
Bath’s kicking game will need to be more precise than so far this season and the chase ferocious. I hope that Freddie Burns will mix his play to keep the chiefs guessing, deploying the entire range of his passing, kicking and breaking game. If he can be supplied with regular front foot ball Willison has the offload ability, Rokodoguni, Cokanasiga and Homer the strike power to cause defences problems out wide. The support play ball in hand of the forwards is vital too. Bath must get the back row, Dunn, Stooke and Atwood running onto pop passes early on before legs tire in the inevitable siege warfare of the set piece.
This is a testing time for Bath who have stated both long and short- term ambition recently. To beat the Chiefs they must be prepared to spring surprises. If they can they stand a good chance of giving the Chiefs’ supporters chant, “the tomahawk” the chop. Bath must play with accuracy, spirit and endeavour. A point is the minimum expectation to justify the gamble of last weekend.
Catt, Dunn, Thomas, Attwood, Stooke, Mercer, Underhill, Faletau. Green, Burns. Cokanasiga, Willison, Wright, Rokodoguni. Homer
Replacements: Van Rooyen, Walker, Perenise, Ewels, Ellis. Cook, Priestland. Atkins
Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Dennis, Atkins, Ewers, Kvesic, Lawday. White, Steenson (Capt.). Nowell, Devoto, Slade, Short, Dollman.
Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Francis, Salmon, Armand. Townsend, J Simmonds, Hill.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:10:12:09:36:47 by CoochieCoo.
Fully agree with everything you say and that the game will be won upfront and by surprises in attack from us.
My one disagreement with you is that after our near surrender last weekend, nothing but a 4 point win will do. No excuse-end of. This is a must win game for Bath Rugby and playing with pride and putting down a marker.
Adopted player 2018/19 Semesa Rokoduguni
The Rock that is Semesa and how he will be rocking this season.
[Adoptee 18/19: Man Mountain Dave Attwood, back in the BB&W and ready to smash]
If we lose it doesn't really change whether last week was the correct selection, just a disappointment that we are further away from the best teams than we thought.
It isn't a must win game for Exeter either, they have made such a good season start so I am hopeful they might have an off night (starts searching for straws to clutch at).