Licking Wounds: Bath v Harlequins
By P G Tips
October 23 2018
Bath will get a chance to lick their wounds in the Premiership Rugby Cup against Harlequins on Saturday. The wounds are both real and psychological. Eleven players are on the injured list, the latest being Jackson Willison, out for 2 or 3 weeks with hamstring damage from last weekend’s draw against Wasps. Three defeats in the last four matches, a stuttering start overall and accident-prone moments are the mental wounds. Will a change of competition bring renewed confidence and restore the winning habit?
The PRC replaces the Anglo Welsh Cup whose format was seemingly loved by few fans or clubs. The Welsh clubs have now withdrawn leaving 12 English clubs and another new format- three pools of four, with each club guaranteed a “derby” fixture in their pool. The three Pool winners and best runner up will contest the semi finals with home advantage going to the teams who do best at the pool stage. As this is now a genuinely English competition the winners could claim to be English Cup Champions for the first time since 2005, but as the matches will be played over Autumn International and Six Nation weekends it will not carry the same cachet as the old John Player and Pilkington Cups which Bath won ten times in the 1980s and 90s.
One weakness of the unlamented Anglo Welsh Cup was that some clubs did not take it seriously. Those who did, notably Harlequins, Saracens and Exeter in recent years, found it a springboard to success in other competitions. Bath set out to win it last year and defied their repeated injury crises to reach the final, often winning more through bloody minded force of will than incisive attack. The final at Kingsholm, delayed a week by bad weather was an anti climax, Exeter handing an indecisive Bath a lesson in control on a soggy day.
Bath’s approach to this year’s tournament, like their selection, may be influenced by their injury list. Young squad players like Green and Wright have become front line choices out of necessity already, so may be rested ahead of the Premiership’s resumption. Meanwhile, leading figures from last season like Fotuali’I and Lahiff may be fit to take part, as could Jamie Roberts. All could do with game time so I expect a mix of experienced squad members, returners from injury and academy players to take the field. The likes of Grant, Noguera, Batty and Wilson must be champing at the bit for first team rugby and their experience could be invaluable.
Whoever is selected, Bath should continue to stretch and expand their attacking horizons. One of the attractions of this competition is seeing how aspiring stars of the future develop. It will be exciting to see if Ruaridh McConnochie has absorbed fifteen –a –side nous to complement his mix of power and pace, if Josh Bayliss can continue the improvements he showed last season and if Alex Davies can control games for Bath as he did for Leeds Carnegie.
Harlequins too have some exciting talents to select from. Up front the young man mountain Lewis Boyce may feature at prop, so too Jack Clifford in the back row. Dmitri Catrakilis at fly half and Gabriel Ibitoye on the wing are backs who troubled Bath last season and may do so again.
A change of scene brings a change of personnel. Some will be desperate for a proper game, others will have nothing to lose. Bath should approach this match intent on laying down a marker. Let players express themselves in attack while tightening discipline and decision making in all aspects of the game. Get the performance right and a challenge for the Cup becomes a realistic ambition. With home advantage and the right mix of old hands and youthful ambition, Bath should prevail.
Possible Bath Team:
Noguera, Batty, Lahiff, Charteris (Capt.), Douglas, Bayliss, Reid, Grant. Fotuali’I, Davies. McConnochie, Roberts, Clark, Wilson. Homer.
Replacements: Van Rooyen, Van Vuuren, Nixon, Garvey, Ellis. Allinson, De Glanville, Partington.
P.S: Many thanks to hasta for deputising while I was away on holiday the last two weeks.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:11:01:10:30:54 by P G Tips.