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Bath Squad 2017/18
This is the squad at the time of publication. Please feel free to suggest amendments, corrections, omissions etc.
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Lions or Lambs?
The Lions have departed for New Zealand, eleven of them having played on Saturday. In the most demanding schedule yet, they play their first match next Saturday and a total of ten in just six weeks. Those games are three Tests, the Maori –often thought of as an “extra Test”, the five new Zealand Super rugby franchises and a “Barbarians” team selected from the provincial unions. To cope with that challenge Warren Gatland and his fellow coaches have opted to take 41 players, with an average of 43 caps each. An impressive group, but will they strut through New Zealand as Lions rampant, or are they doomed by fatigue and the schedule to be lambs to the slaughter?
Memories of Bath
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The playoffs are upon us and English rugby’s focus over the next two weeks will be on the scrap for the title. Once again, Bath sit this one out and watch from the side-lines. As in 2014, Bath came close to qualifying after a promising start to the season, and having beaten three of the four semi finalists, will be able to view the final two fixtures as a yardstick to aim for next season. For the fans, there is no other top class rugby until the Lions first fixture, so how do we expect the semi finalists to fare – and who do we hope will succeed?
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Season Review
So, Saturday’s fairy tale happy ending did not materialise. Tigers wrapped up a Playoff place at Sixways, while Bath failed to win at Sale, letting slip the slim chance to make the Top 4. What then, to make of Todd Blackadder’s first season? Beginning with hope, joy and expectation, it soon developed as many plot twists and improbable characters as a spaghetti western. For me, it was a case of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.
Closing Down Sale?
Bath will want to to close down Sale in Saturday’s final Premiership match at the AJ Bell Stadium. In particular they will be wary of the two former League players on the wings – Josh Charnley and Denny Solomona. Solomona’s try scoring exploits, ten in thirteen matches, had many pundits purring and backing him as a “bolter” for the Lions tour. He may be disappointed having to settle for the consolation prize of a place on England’s tour of Argentina. That is a more realistic selection, but his season has been a remarkable one, somewhat overshadowing teammate Charnley whose signing was also greeted with excitement and expectation at the beginning of the season. Traditionally a tough prospect at home in Salford, Sale have endured a mixed run of results since Christmas. The delight of victory against Wasps must be balanced by New Year’s Day defeat to Bristol and a hammering by Northampton Saints in early March. In all they have been beaten at home five times in the Premiership and on Saturday will hope to put those woes behind them, finishing on a high.
Bath have a chance to do a Premiership double over old rivals Gloucester at the Rec this Sunday. This derby fixture, usually a tense and fiery encounter, is given extra spice by respective league positions and comparative form. Gloucester have won 4 of their last 6 matches, picking up 12 precious league points against Bath’s paltry 4 in the same period. They have also forced their way to their third Challenge Cup Final, by stealing the first away win this season at La Rochelle. Bath, despite playing some highly entertaining rugby lost out to Stade Francais in the other Semi Final when composure deserted them in the final 4 minutes. So, Gloucester, with an outside chance of scrapping their way into the Premiership Top 6 seem in the ascendant, while Bath, having only recently slipped out of the Playoff places, look to be hanging on in hope. For all the sparkle of their attack when they get it right, Bath have been frail of late – both in defence and mentality. So – will the frustration of Paris give way to more disappointment and despair? Or do Bath have it in them to win in style as at Twickenham 3 weeks ago?
Bath face a moment critique in Paris on Sunday. The European Challenge Cup seems their best chance of silverware this season and winning the tournament would offer an alternative route to Champions Cup rugby should disaster strike in the final two Premiership fixtures. The month of April began well for Bath, shaking off the malaise that had blighted the latter part of the season with bright victories over Brive in the ECCC Quarter Final and Leicester in the Twickenham “Clash”. Optimism was brought to an abrupt halt at Sixways by a quick witted and fired up Worcester last weekend, much to the chagrin of the Blue, Black and White faithful. Now, at the season’s denouement, and only three guaranteed fixtures left, it is essential Bath rediscover the brio with which they began the Brive match and ended against Leicester. Paris in the spring would seem the ideal setting and a semi final date at the Stade Jean Bouin the perfect stage to kick-start the final run in. Both sides are feted by their supporters for their panache and élan, so can Bath expect to leave Paris celebrating a tour de force – or as “Les Miserables”?