Sting in The Tail?
By P G Tips
September 27 2017
There is bound to be a sting in the tail when Bath visit Wasps on Sunday. Both clubs are on 2 from 2 so far and have disappointed in losing their past two matches after bright starts to their season. The question is, who will be stung? These two sides are also both struggling with injuries to key personnel and the curse of multiple injuries in some focal positions. Neither can boast a 100% home record. So which of these two ambitious clubs will feel the sharp, savage pain at full time on Sunday?
Dai Young identified possession, directness and accuracy as three areas to work on after defeat at Sandy Park last Sunday. In further comment that mirrored Bath’s woes against visiting Falcons he bemoaned poor defence, too much individuality in attack and ill luck with injuries. Up front Wasps are missing first choice hooker Taylor, two leading locks in Myall and Gaskell and have been through a mini back row crisis: Rieder, Thompson and Youngs all unavailable in recent weeks. Playmaker Cipriani is out for at least a couple of months while first choice scrum half Robson will struggle to be fit for Sunday. In their place they can field high quality alternatives, but the balance of the team and fluidity of the game plan will both be challenged at a time when stability is most needed.
Wasps topped the table at the end of last season as the great entertainers who scored some breath-taking tries. The dazzle of those scores often hid the hard graft that went into building them. Bath struggled last week to contain Falcons midfield and their forward thrusts close to the ruck. Wasps will be equally urgent, similarly patterned. Bruising charges by Hughes, Haskell, Johnson are likely to be complimented by snipes from Simpson, the control of Gopperth and sheer pace of Wade, Daly and Bassett. Having racked up an impressive 13 Try Bonus Points last year, Dai Young will want them to add to their sole point so far this campaign. Greater physicality and intelligence in defence will be a priority for Bath’s coaches this week.
For Bath there is good news on the injury front. Underhill, Thomas and Watson should all be available if needed while Faletau, rested last week, is expected to start. Banahan and Burns are not expected to be available for another two weeks and there is no news about Khan Fotuali’i. In a season already promising to be the most competitive for years, how coaches rotate their squads and deal with injuries has become the leading headache.
Bath need to raise their possession levels. More ball means not only more attacking chances, but fewer tackles to make, reducing the fatigue factor and the risk of injury. The scrum has shown up well so far, but greater control of the lineout is a must. Tom Dunn may be preferred as starter for his accuracy in throwing, although Jack Walker’s loose play against Newcastle was high quality. More canny application of the exit strategy will be needed too- not just the kick-chase, but follow up defensive snap and alignment. Only 77% of Bath’s tackles were completed against Falcons. That level of success against Wasps would amount to capitulation. Above all, if in the lead with the clock running down, Bath must find ways to close out the game.
There is much Bath can do in defence against their hosts. Pressure in the scrum can turn defensive position to attack while Underhill is likely to be tasked with cutting down space for Gopperth. The New Zealander is a wily operator, but may have to carry the creative midfield burden alone. His freedom has to be curtailed.
So much for the antihistamines: can Bath produce stings of their own? The answer from 3 of 4 games so far is an emphatic yes. The scoring power of Rokodoguni, Clark and Joseph has been particularly evident. Joseph also has the motivation of a high profile stage on which to remind Eddie Jones of his worth. The challenge is to translate those individual threats into a coherent team challenge. It was good to see last Saturday that JJs break found Ewels in space to score and that his own try was taken with support runners at each shoulder. To make the most of his talent and those of Watson, Rokodoguni and Tapuai will require Chris Cook to be at his sharpest in clearing the ball from the base and the ambitious passing vision we saw from Priestland late last season.
Bath must put the deflation of defeat behind them and travel with confidence. The early rounds showed they can beat the strongest AP sides. Wasps, even at home, can be vulnerable if stopped on the gainline and attacked with intensity. Bath must swarm their nest and smoke out their threats, draw their sting then strike themselves. Success would put the buzz back in their own season.
Auterac, Walker, Perenise, Stooke, Charteris, Ewels , Underhill, Faletau. Cook, Priestland (Capt.). Brew, Clark, Joseph, Rokodoguni. Watson.
Replacements: Obano, Dunn, Thomas, Phillips, Mercer. Allinson, Tapuai, Atkins.
Wasps: Mullan, Cruse, Cooper-Woolley, Launchbury (capt), Symons, Johnson, Haskell, Hughes. Simpson, Gopperth. Wade, Daly, De Jongh, Bassett. Miller
Replacements: Willis, McIntyre, Moore, Rowlands, Young, Hampson, Macken, Watson.
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:10:09:08:12:51 by CoochieCoo.