By P G Tips
January 23 2017
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.
It is anybody’s guess who coaches will select for the match, but Gloucester, with more to play for, are likely to field some experienced heads in search of a win. The likes of Ma’afu, Galarza, Evans and possibly even the departing Kvesic, may get the call up front to give them grunt, carrying power and breakdown presence. Pace and power in the backs could come from Purdy, Atkinson or Halaifonua while Burns or Hook may be asked to provide the direction from ten.
Despite some notable results – victory over Wasps, gaining a draw at Exeter and running Saracens close, there is an air of rebuilding this season at Kingsholm – with several key stalwarts due to depart at season’s end. Performance has been inconsistent so even with a strong selection the Cherry and Whites cannot take victory for granted.
Bath in recent weeks have been playing a much wider, more enterprising game. At first results did not match intent, but the ECC ties against Bristol and Pau have shown the value of the wide game played at tempo with pace from both forwards and backs. With nothing to play for I expect Blackadder will urge the squad to give it a go and express themselves. These are the sort of fixtures where squad players can put down a marker for more important matches coming up in the 6 Nations period. We can also expect some returners to beef up the pack: Auterac, Ellis and DentonIt could be the visitors who are red faced at the end and it would be no surprise if life is a bowl of cherries for Bath by ten o’clock on Friday.
Auterac, Walker, Palma-Newport, Ellis, Stooke, Denton,G Mercer, Grant. Cook, Priestland, Brew, Tapuai, Clark, Wilson, Hastings.
Replacements: Obano, V Vuuren, Knight, Douglas, Sisi. Homer, Fruean, Williams.
Thomas, Walker, Ma’afu , Latta, Galarza, Ludlow, Kvesic, Evans. Braley, Burns. Thorley, Atkinson, Purdy , Protheroe. Marshall
Replacements: Mullis, Orr, Doran-Jones, Wilson, Safe. Heinz, Hook, Halaifonua