By P G Tips
December 12 2016
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.
Doomsayers read into Saturday’s showing a deep-rooted malaise which will lead to Bath being “found out”, eventually to slump to disappointment in 2017. Optimists counter that the squad which travelled to Cardiff was far from the strongest selection and the Premiership should be the priority anyway. To realists the ECC did seem to be Bath’s best chance of silverware this season, so if it remains a realistic ambition, there is work to be done. The Blue, Black and White currently stand tenth in the table rankings, two places outside the qualifiers, behind even newcomers Enisei-STM. One weekend can change all that of course, but it will not be plain sailing at the knockout stages: Gloucester, Ospreys, Cardiff and Edinburgh –all unbeaten- are building a head of steam, while Brive, unusually for a French club, are taking the away fixtures seriously.
So what are the bright glints of optimism to banish the blues for Bath? First, the Rec pitch. Bath struggled on Cardiff’s artificial surface in last Saturday’s slippery conditions. They should feel much more at home this Thursday and must use that familiarity as a leveller. Second, several rested internationals and long-term injured will be available for selection. Louw, Faletau and Attwood are all in the mix and will strengthen both breakdown and defence, while Luke Charteris should bring much needed security to the lineout. While a possible debut for Robbie Fruean will have many fans excited, the key is likely to be international class of tactical direction from halfback with Khan Fouali’I and George Ford ready to resume their effective partnership.
At their best under Steve Meehan and Mike Ford, Bath’s performances were like the finest jazz – inspired improvisation on top of the main score to send the fans into raptures. Blackadder has chosen a more prosaic approach- a pragmatism possibly enforced by necessity- to achieve similar levels of success, but perhaps yet to suggest great heights the squad might aspire to. With home advantage and stronger selection, Bath will be targeting a home win – and should get it. It may not be “Rhapsody in Blue” but supporters will be happy with a win, any form of win, to herald blue skies on Friday morning.
Catt, Dunn, Palma-Newport, Charteris, Ewels, Ellis, Z Mercer, Faletau. Fotuali'I, Ford. Rokoduguni, Tapuai, Joseph, Brew; Homer.
Replacements: Walker, Auterac, Lahiff , Attwood, Louw, Allinson, Bowden, Fruean.
Gill, Dacey, Filise, Earle, Down, Davies, Warburton, Navidi. Williams, Shingler, Scully, Halaholo, Lee-lo, Cuthbert. Morgan.
Replacements: Rees, Thyer, Andrews, Hoeata, Myhill. Williams, Robinson, Allen