By P G Tips
December 20 2016
Bath face a stinging backlash when they visit Coventry on Christmas Eve. Wasps could be forgiven an allergic reaction to their shock defeat in the Champions Cup at Galway – Connacht getting a last gasp winner due to referee error as admitted by European Professional Rugby. Wasps have issued a statement noting that “for a referee and 4th official to get the laws of the game wrong at a crucial stage of a big match is hugely disappointing.” While the wording carefully stops short of an outright protest and they have decided not to appeal, you can bet that they will be looking to take their frustration out on somebody. Who better than the next opponents- in a home fixture? Who better still than their close rivals for league second place, in front of a crowd projected to be 20-25,000 strong? Festive fixture it may be, but Bath should expect to meet a team more than usually determined and with motivation fuelled by a burning sense of injustice. It could be a venomous welcome.
At first glance, Wasps have plentiful ammunition to deliver a sharp sting. This season their already potent backline is reinforced by new recruits Le Roux, Cipriani, Beale and Eastmond. An embarrassment of maverick riches ensures they should always be able to field at least one player with an extra something. Add to these the power of Halai and Leiua plus two of the Premiership's most potent running threats from scrum half – the result is a strike force capable of attacking in swarms. Back row too is a showcase of strength in depth: Haskell, Hughes, Johnson, Jones, Young, Thompson-all of international calibre or close. In Dai Young they have a calm and committed DOR who is now rumoured as favourite to succeed Warren Gatland as Wales coach. It is easy to see why they are riding high in the Premiership, only a single point behind the leaders. They are looking to welcome the festive season with a full year clean sweep of home victories at the Ricoh.
Bath’s away form this season has been mixed but the Blue, Black and White have not tasted success on the road since October – most recently suffering two roastings in Wales. Should they therefore be approaching the Wasps nest with trepidation? Not necessarily. Wasps have their issues as well as riches. Le Roux, Cipriani, Eastmond and Daly are all injured –of these Daly should be fit for Christmas Eve, while Cipriani and Eastmond are touch and go. In their absence there was a makeshift and unfamiliar feel to the midfield against Connacht which they will want to iron out this week. Fans have been muttering about scrum performance too – there are rumours that coach Dan Richmond has paid for poor showings here with his job.
In contrast, Bath’s injured list is shortening and last week’s win against Cardiff showed what a full squad may do when all are fully fit. The first signs of the 4-2-4 forward alignment in attack brought the opening try for Ross Batty, the Louw-Faletau pairing reaped greater reward at the breakdown and a new midfield combination allowed Bath a greater willingness to attack from deep. Much will depend on the set piece. Catt is a much underrated scrummager, who will want to state his case for return to the England squad, Attwood and Charteris will seek an edge at the lineout and of course, romping Ross –fresh from his two tries against the Blues will hope to cement his place as top dog among Bath’s group of talented hookers.
The stage is set for a classy clash for which I expect Bath to field their strongest available squad. It will be played before a large home crowd, plus TV audience and Eddie Jones. Will Wasps land multiple stings and swarm to victory? Will the Blue, Black and White leave Coventry red with a burning rash? Blackadder and Co will have their antihistamines ready, plus some barbs of their own. Like last weekend for Wasps it could be decided in the final minutes. Who will have the sting in their tail?
Catt, Batty, Palma-Newport, Charteris, Attwood, Garvey, Louw,Faletau. Fotuali'I, Ford. Rokoduguni, Tapuai, Joseph, Brew. Homer.
Replacements: Dunn, Auterac, Lahiff , Stooke, Ellis. Homer, Hastings, Fruean
Wasps: Mullan, Taylor, Cooper-Woolley, Launchbury, Myall, Johnson, Young, Hughes. Robson, Gopperth. Wade, Beale, Daly, Halai. Miller.
Replacements: Cruse, Bristow, Moore, Gaskell, Thompson. Simpson, Leiua, Bassett.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our Readers!