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Published: Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:05:42 +0100

Last Build Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:05:42 +0100

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Déjà vu

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 20:37:41 +0100

Bath will feel a sense of déjà vu when they host Brive in the Challenge Cup on Saturday. The tie, with its famously dramatic connotations, may have a familiar feel, but which “already lived” moment will the fans experience? Will it be the nail-biting tension of 1998 in Bordeaux, the comfortable 6 try victory of the 2014 ECC Quarter Final or, heaven forbid, the lame capitulation of last weekend? Having lost their place in the Premiership top four, Bath may feel that European rugby is their best chance of silverware this season, but another showing like last Sunday, or even the defeat by Wasps a month ago will put an end to that ambition.  It would also be a further reminder of how far Bath must climb to match the glory of those past days. Memories can be charming and history at times inspiring, but it is the here and now which will concern the fans. For the players too, the most recent memory will be an embarrassment, to be erased.



Keep The Faith

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:19:48 +0000

Bath seek a miracle on Sunday but it will take more than faith to get it. Highflying Saracens lost their last encounter with Bath and will be desperate not to succumb again. Bath have struggled in the Premiership since that heady December day, losing 5 of 7 matches and fading to fourth in the table, 10 points adrift of Sunday’s hosts in 3rd. The self-belief and determination of the opening months of the season seems to have drained with the seemingly non-stop injury list and even 4th place is now under threat from improving rivals. Saracens, enjoying home advantage and welcoming back half their top pack from 6 Nations duty look set to heap more misery on the men in Blue, Black and White. Bath can claim their own returners of course, but will they be sufficient reinforcement to see off the threat? A meeting between these two clubs is as much a clash of faiths as when the original Saracens under Salah-ud-Din confronted the Crusader Christians. The Saracens credo has for years been a defensive one: percentage, pressure and pragmatism to wear opponents down then force penalties to build a score. Tries as often as not are scored as the result of that defence: the stifling “wolf-pack” approach forcing opposition error to exploit in counter attack. Bath by contrast have set out their stall on a more attacking “ball-in-hand” philosophy, a promise of faith made by Bruce Craig when seeking a new DOR last summer. The free flowing style is part of the Bath legend and, when it works is delightfully potent: bitter rivals Leicester and neighbours Gloucester among those on the receiving end of hammerings in recent years. However, in 2015 that all came unstuck in the Premiership Final – Saracens grit grinding down Bath’s flair. Should we expect the same this weekend?  



The final run ins

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:48:01 +0000

As we approach the final rounds, who is best placed to make the playoffs and secure Europe?



The Stinger

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 18:22:22 +0000

Bath face a stinger of a contest when they host Wasps this coming Saturday.  The League leaders, riding high with a 6 point advantage seem to have found form just when Bath are going through an uncertain patch.  Admittedly the men from the Ricoh have won only 3 of their 5 Premiership matches since Christmas, against Bath’s 2, but they have the edge in bonus points and tries scored. A total of 19 points and 21 tries show a team peaking at a difficult time in the season. In those matches they have been involved in some humdingers – taking 3 points from a 10 try draw with Exeter and even managing 2 bonus points in defeat to Sale.  They seem able to shrug off the loss of key players to international duty, while Bath –more afflicted by injury than national duties- are struggling to field a settled side. Todd Blackadder has refused to blame the absence of 20 players for Bath’s truly disappointing derby defeat at Bristol last Sunday.  “No excuses” he said “We actually prepared really well and it showed in the first 15, 20 minutes when we kept them under pressure and had a couple of try-scoring opportunities.” True, but Bath failed to take those early opportunities, just as in previous defeats to Exeter and Newcastle they had squandered clear leads. Psychologically Bath seem fragile, while Wasps, win or lose, are full of buzzing intent. The stage seems set for a stinging humiliation by the visitors –or does it?



Demolition Derby

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 08:08:41 +0000

Sunday’s Bristol- Bath Premiership clash threatens to be “Demolition Derby” day for Bristol – and perhaps even for Bath. Bristol, having won only two Premiership ties are six points adrift of fellow strugglers Worcester, with the tougher of two daunting run ins to come. While Worcester seem to be improving, one more heavy defeat could put Bristol’s hopes of league survival through the crusher. Conceding eight tries to Leicester is hardly ideal preparation for a derby meeting with old rivals eight places higher in the table.  For Bath, it is not so much aspiration as squad continuity which has been wrecked recently by yet more ill luck with injury. Just as the backrow resources were starting to look luxurious, the Rec outfit lost two hookers to fractures within forty eight hours and were forced to field a makeshift and callow backline by injuries to Tapuai, Fruean and Wilson. The game seems destined to be car crash viewing for somebody, but for whom?  



True Colours?

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 18:07:29 +0000

Chocolate, French Grey, Magenta, Lime Green, Sky Blue and Black. The colours of Harlequins Rugby Football Club. Or- as fabled Lions, England and Quins full back Bob Hiller used to quip: “Faded Chocolate, French Grey, Magenta, Lime Green, Sky Blue and Black are the true Harlequins colours”. He was referring to the club’s standing at the time, compared to past glories, but in recent seasons the “faded” tag has been prophetic at Six Nations time. Robbed of their “engines” in Easter, Robshaw, Care and Brown, Harlequins have often struggled during international periods. Last weekend though they showed no signs of fading, racking up forty - two points in a five try smashing of Bristol at Ashton Gate. Now placed sixth after a mixed start to the season, they may not so much be fading as hitting form at the right time.  



Enter The Saints

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 11:48:33 +0000

Bath entertain Northampton Saints when Premiership action resumes on Friday evening. For most of the past decade Saints have been a bogey team for Bath, both away and at home, so the chance to play them in the 6 Nations period would normally be seen as a leveller. This week though both teams find themselves much depleted – both by international calls and by injury. Bath’s roll call of the wounded includes Auterac, Thomas, Attwood, Garvey, Banahan, Fruean, Watson and Brew in addition to those required by England and Wales for the weekend’s internationals.  The Franklin’s faithful will point to their own absences. The 6 Nations claims half their pack with Hartley, Lawes, Harrison, Wood and Picamoles all on duty plus their most potent back George North. With Clark, Pisi and Burrell under treatment, they are missing nine internationals. With so many stars missing, will this match lack the intensity and quality that fans expect?



On The Toon

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 18:08:13 +0000

While most eyes will be on Murrayfield and Twickenham this Saturday, Bath will be “on the toon” on the Tyne.  The combined pool points of Bath and Falcons would not be enough to challenge any pool leaders, so the tie has no significance for the competition. For the protagonists, there are likely to be different aims and priorities. Flacons, comfortably above the danger zone and only a game’s league points outside the top six, may wish to hold some of their key men back for Premiership action the following week. Bath, by contrast, have already announced theirs will be strong selection – to gel combinations ahead of the Premiership ties with Saints and Harlequins. Both sides will be hoping to avoid injury while honing playing style and hopefully, seeking to entertain.



Cherrypicking

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:15:37 +0000

It will be cherry-picking time for Bath and Gloucester when they meet on Friday night. Gloucester will want to pick both their team and their targets carefully. Second in their pool, they stand a chance of success in the Anglo Welsh Cup, but must balance that tournament against the Premiership and Europe. Still in touch with the leading group, they could force a way into the Premiership Top 6 and top flight European rugby for next season. In the ECC, as seed number two, they have a home quarter final and realistic ambitions of silverware. They must now pick who to play and who to rest for the visit to the Rec. Bath’s hopes of AWC progress are theoretical only and selection options will be restricted by international squad calls. Their picks are likely to be with rest in mind, to preserve key players for more significant tasks – in the European Challenge Cup and Premiership. As well as squad players, Friday may see the inclusion of returners from injury. Some of these – such as David Denton - will want to put their hands up for international recognition, while others, perhaps Sisi, Wilson, Hastings or Clark will be looking at contract renewal. Adding some spice to the mix is the fact of a home tie in a derby with history. Third priority or no, the Rec faithful will want to see Bath gobble up the cherries and spit out the stones: so will many of the players.



Coup de Grace

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 10:39:56 +0000

Bath will be expected to deliver a coup de grace to Pau on Saturday. The club in the Pyreneean shadow has no hope of anything but pride from the fixture. They cannot even claim third place in the pool and have been bafflingly inconsistent in the tournament so far. Having begun brightly with a battling home defeat, they next failed to register even a single bonus point until taking Cardiff Blues to the wire last weekend. Tense tussles against the two leading teams have bracketed a limp capitulation in Cardiff and concession of 2 try bonuses to Bristol whom they gifted a total of 69 points. Their form is not just the usual French home and away disparity as Bristol beat them soundly at the Stade du Hameau. In the Top 14 they stand 11th, well clear of the relegation struggle but they do have an outside chance of finishing high enough to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup. Perhaps their laissez faire approach to some of their Challenge Cup ties shows the Top 14 to be their priority? Or- is it just some clichéd Gallic insouciance, and will they spring a surprise at the Rec on Saturday?



Friday the Thirteenth, Bristol v Bath

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 14:21:13 +0000

Bath have an ominous date with destiny when they visit Ashton gate on Friday.  So too do Bristol – for different reasons. If Bath were to lose, it would be their fourth defeat in a row in all competitions. For Bristol there is optimism to continue their recent upturn in form – two European and two AP victories being followed by a fighting bonus point reverse at Northampton.  Friday is traditionally believed to be unlucky in seafaring communities. Will this Friday be the day that Bristol, a city built on maritime trade, find their luck comes to an end? Or will the first Friday the thirteenth of the year prove to be a horror show for a Bath side struggling all season with injuries and seemingly, recently with form as well?   Since parting company with Andy Robinson, Bristol have built momentum and found improved form in all tournaments. Of the 9 fixtures in that time, 4 have been won, with 3 yielding losing bonus points. One of the secrets of that success is Mark Tainton putting some fun back into their training. The improvement in morale means a slump into despondency or superstition is unlikely. Todd Blackadder will know that his battered squad, deflated by close, last minute defeats in the last two outings, will be up against it in the third of this season’s four Avon derbies.



Test of Character

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 18:28:34 +0000

Following two defeats by leading rivals for Premiership honours, Bath next face a test of character on Tyneside. The squad will be frustrated to have gained only two points from festive fixtures they could, and in the case of New Year’s Eve, should have won. To cap that mood, the New Year hangover is made harsher by front row injury worries. Nick Auterac is definitely ruled out, while Max Lahiff and Nathan Catt (who started the week at England’s training camp) need daily monitoring to confirm their fitness and Ross Batty looks unlikely to recover from his shoulder injuries in time for the Friday evening kick off. A chilly Kingston Park may not seem the most welcoming place to confirm a New Year’s resolution to ignite and sustain a winning habit. This season Dean Richards has dragged Falcons up and out of their default position in the relegation zone. At the halfway stage Newcastle stand 8th and look good value for it. They are 13 points clear of Bristol and 9 ahead of Worcester. They have also taken northern bragging rights from Sale whom they beat in the season opener. Winning 3 of their 6 home ties sees Falcons earning the hard to beat at home tag the Mancunians enjoyed for the past few years. Of the home matches lost this season they pushed Leicester and Wasps close, losing the two ties by an aggregate of only 5 points. Only Exeter have gained a comfortable margin on Tyneside. In the Rec meeting early in the campaign Bath ran in eight tries in racking up a huge 58-5 win. Falcons will be desperate to prevent a repeat and their recent four try performances against Harlequins and Wasps suggest they will harbour ambitions of victory. So, what sort of reception can Blackadder and his squad expect?



Charge of the Chiefs

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:29:44 +0000

Bath look set to face a savage challenge when they host Exeter Chiefs on New Year’s Eve. Only a week after their new attack –minded game plan was torn apart by Wasps opportunism, counter attack and pace, they meet another team for whom speed is a watchword. This time it is speed of thought and execution as much of fleetness of foot, the Chiefs employing a playing style and tactics which marauding Sioux or Comanche war bands might be proud of.  The mounted warriors of the plains tribes were a fearsome form of irregular light cavalry. They used speed, surprise, ruthless execution and the psychological weapon of blood curdling war cries. This combination not only won many skirmishes and small battles, but also terrified the American pioneers who roamed west to settle in their territory. Current rugby Chiefs from the west emulate these braves with the intensity and tempo of their attack, the ruthlessness of their driving maul and the persistent chant of their supporters “tomahawk chop”.  Another similarity is their ability to produce a deadly strike when seemingly defeated: sweeping counter-attack is another of their fortes.  Saturday’s tie sees 3rd play 4th, with only a single league point between them: Chiefs on a high from a bonus point thrashing of Leicester, Bath deflated by the carelessness with which they conceded defeat to Wasps.  The stage is set therefore for a classic western clash. Will Bath have the firepower to resist the savage onslaught?



I’m dreaming of a ? Christmas

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 08:29:19 +0000

Watching Cardiff Blues play last week in two thirds pink and white while their fans persisted in a brave but pointless chant of “come on you Blues!” got me thinking.  Musing on how they swapped their traditional shirts (a home win 28-3) for 38-3 defeat done up like a bunch of liquorice allsorts. This led to further daydream on the modern fashion for outlandish away strips, most seemingly on a confectionary or fizzy drink theme - and their psychological influence on results.   So – for some festive foolery - here are my light- hearted Christmas thoughts on Premiership away colours and performances.



Rhapsody or Blue Moon?

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 10:56:26 +0000

Once a regular feature in the fixture calendar, Bath and Cardiff now meet in the professional era only on a blue moon.  Recent results may suggest to Bath’ s supporters that a win in the principality is also to be a blue moon event following last Saturday’s heavy defeat, dubbed by Blackadder “our worst performance of the season”. The job of coaches and players therefore on Thursday when these two sides meet again is to find a blueprint for recovery. Reversing the result, to challenge Cardiff at the top of Pool 4 will be one obvious goal, but the game could be bigger than that. A second successive defeat could threaten success in other competitions, fellow Premiership hopefuls Wasps and Exeter being the Christmas period AP challenges. Morale and self -belief will need to be strong for these, typically high-intensity, contests- especially with the domestic distractions of the season to deal with at the same time. Winning is a habit, which Bath will want to reassert with conviction. They will not want to be left, “standing alone…..without a dream in the heart” at  the final whistle.



True Blue

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 10:57:45 +0000

Having seen off the challenge of red and black at the weekend, Bath next have two shots to pot the blue. Home and away encounters against Cardiff Blues in the space of six days should be the pivotal point of Bath’s European Challenge Cup campaign. Cardiff top Pool 4 thanks to a bonus point edge over Bath. To progress Bath must win at least one of these two matches and to be sure of a favourable knockout draw, victory in both will be needed. Currently Bath stand in seventh position of potential qualifiers, behind Gloucester among the second placed teams, so qualification is in the balance despite a full win record to date. Cardiff coach Danny Wilson has pledged a robust welcome for the visitors from across the Severn Bridge: “We won both games earlier in the season and we're top of that pool. We certainly want to go in and fight to stay top of that pool.” The ECC represents Blues best chance of silverware this season. They sit 7th in the Pro 12 (their average position for the last six years) so motivation will be high for a competition where they believe they stand a good chance.



Beware The Infidel

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 09:53:13 +0000

It will be a case of “beware the infidel” when Bath host Saracens on Saturday. In recent years this fixture has been a clash of rugby ideologies; Bath’s attacking intent versus the Saracens’ pragma. The conflict was particularly notable in the 14-15 season: first Bath, on a night made for percentage rugby, played their “deception plan” card, took Saracens on at their own game and won. The return at Allianz Park saw Saracens prevail by a 10-point margin in a match featuring three tries apiece. Finally, in the one that mattered –the Premiership Final, solidity beat idealism as the wolf pack defence swallowed and battered Bath’s attack – literally in the case of Anthony Watson who was forced from the field by a high challenge from man of the match Farrell.  Under Todd Blackadder Bath now offer a different approach, playing the percentages and attacking selectively from the best field positions, so the philosophies are not so different. There are still many reasons to beware, since the visitors top the table and Bath are about to embark on their most difficult run of Premiership fixtures yet. First placed Saracens, Second placed Wasps and Exeter – in fifth -lie in wait between now and the midnight chimes of New Year’s Eve. Defeat on Saturday could start an unwanted slide out of the top four. This will be the toughest home test of the season to date.



Comedy, Tragedy or Farce?

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 12:36:33 +0000

Bath’s visit to Harlequins next Saturday could explore a range of dramatic emotions.  The home club’s name and costume are drawn from the Commedia dell’Arte, but for Bath the current selection challenge borders on the farcical. Last Friday’s attritional derby against Bristol threaten further injury losses to key players. Any further injuries would be tragic for Bath and pessimists will be concerned that the match outcome will be a tragedy too. With Bath’s strength in depth an international weekend should be a bright time to visit the Stoop, Harlequins standing to lose Marler, Sinckler, Robshaw, Care, Roberts, Visser, Brown and possibly Yarde. However, international calls of their own and a cruelly growing injury list leave Bath depleted and vulnerable at lock and half back. Despite their own losses, Quins have plenty of Premiership and even international experience to call on. The Harlequin character is light hearted, nimble, astute and mischievous – the team will be planning to force a Comedy of Errors on Bath. So – can Blackadder and Co come up with a “cunning plan” to make the Harlequins dance with frustration rather than delight?



BRISTOL BLUES

Mon, 14 Nov 2016 16:05:57 +0000

Will Bristol banish the blues when they visit Bath in Friday’s Premiership clash? The two cities are linked by a river, a county and a colour, but for the past 30 odd years it is the negative connotation of blue that Bristol have had to bear. Since the days of Jack Rowell the men at the mouth of the Avon have had to watch their neighbours rack up an impressive 18 trophies – including European triumph at both levels, while they have won nothing. In the professional era Bristol have been relegated three times to the Championship, most recently languishing there for 7 years, failing to get through the much criticised playoffs, despite winning the league stage in 5 of those. Much winning rugby was played in those years, but when it mattered they could only find a minor key and the resulting mood was consistently downbeat. The recent sacking of Andy Robinson only 3 months after being offered a new contract sounded a discordant note, yet the signs of recovery are already evident. While Bristol beat Sale last weekend to record their first win in the top flight for 8 years, Bath, overhauled and humbled, were suffering a rare defeat. A walloping at Parc y Scarlets is not ideal preparation for a derby fixture against a club fired by pride, renewed hope and desperation – so who will be singing the blues on Friday night?



Scarlet Fever?

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 16:34:52 +0000

Will it be “Scarlet fever” when Bath visit Llanelli in the LV Cup this Friday? The phrase was used by Max Boyce to excuse mass absenteeism in Llanelli the morning after the club’s most famous victory just over 44 years ago. On that great occasion, “the air was full of singing and I saw a grown man cry. Not because we’d won, but because the pubs ran dry!” This meeting will not match that famous occasion though. “Old Rivals Collide” is the Scarlets strapline for the latest battle between two clubs who have traditionally scrapped over a rag doll, but whoever wins the result will not echo around the world as Llanellis’ victory over the 1972 All Blacks did. An LV Cup game, played within the Autumn International window robs both sides of their international squad members and gives DORs the chance to rotate and rest overworked first choice players. Is the competition therefore of “low value” as some wags would have it? The tournament may have a puzzling structure and lack the star names of European or Premiership competition, but where old rivalries are rekindled, as last week showed, results matter: to team and supporters. So, who will be singing and drinking the pubs dry at 9 PM on Friday?