By P G Tips
January 17 2017
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?
Bath rediscovered winning form in style last week, running amok against a Bristol team, which had been confident of an upset. There was directness to the hard yards carries plus fluid play in the wide channels. These, combined with the tempo of Bath’s game, delivered regular breaches of the home defence and the inevitable glut of tries. But for some careless finishing, loose passing and determined Bristol defence the try count could, and indeed should, have been greater. Surely then, Saturday’s result is a foregone conclusion?
Todd Blackadder and his coaching team are too wise to be sucked into complacency: they will not want to take anything for granted. The beauty of European competition is often in the surprises and until the first Pau attack it will not be clear which team has turned up. Pau’s malaise of the Bristol fixtures may yet give way to the élan shown in attack against the blue, black and white in the opening round. Bath also know that they have to win well to get a favourable quarterfinal draw. A win alone may be enough, but a bonus point and large winning margin are the key to securing a home tie.
In search of qualification I expect a strong team selection. It will probably, injuries permitting, be very similar to the Ashton Gate starting lineup to build some continuity. Batty, Charteris and Ellis may be brought in to strengthen the 23: otherwise change will probably b held back to the Anglo Welsh fixtures of the next two weeks.
George Ford won the Man of the Match accolade at Ashton Gate, but there were many other standout performances: Dunn and Stooke were tireless in the early phases, Mercer dynamic in the loose, while the New Zealanders Fruean and Grant made big dents with their direct running. We can expect more of that this weekend so long as the squad do not treat the tie as hors d’oeuvre to the quarterfinal main course. Some truly English sang froid and hard graft early on should deliver a win in any language: then it will be time for panache and the pieces de resistance of a bonus point. Bath to win well and claim a home quarterfinal.
Alez les bleus, noirs et blancs!
Possible Bath Team:
Catt, Dunn, Palma-Newport, Charteris, Stooke, Z Mercer, Louw, Grant. Fotuali’i, Ford, Watson, Fruean, Joseph, Rokodoguni, Homer.
Replacements:, Obano, Batty, Lahiff, Ewels, Ellis. Cook, Priestland. Tapuai