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TOPSY TURVY? BATH v NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
By P G Tips
November 6 2019


Dunn: remind Eddie?

Top meets bottom on Saturday in the week that turned the Premiership topsy turvy. Saracens 35 point punishment for salary cap breaches, since suspended pending appeal, is the biggest news of the week, overshadowing even the return of an England squad who gave their best World Cup performance for 16 years. For Bath and Saints though the news, although loaded with implications, is secondary: they have a match to play. So- who will cope with the distraction best and who will win?

While Saracens penalty remains suspended, keeping them in 4th rather than the 12th the sanction intends, the table does not lie. Bath have the fewest wins, the fewest league points and the next to worst points difference in the Premiership. Their visitors on the other hand have won all three of their fixtures, scored the most points, the most tries and already look a good bet for a Top 4 finish. Surely the result is a foregone conclusion? Not necessarily as last year’s runners up Exeter discovered two weeks ago- Bath at the Rec with backs to the wall could be a different proposition.

 

Saints had 7 players absent in Japan for their early Premiership fixtures. Saturday will be too soon for Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar who were involved in the last rounds of the World Cup, but Piers Francis, Cobus Reinach, Api Ratuniyarawa and Lewis Ludlam might all be in contention to play, so too Owen Franks, joining his brother. Other danger men are likely to be Haywood, consistently strong for Saints last season, Ribbans who punished Bath with a last minute winner last season and Rory Hutchison who has been in sharp form.

 

Analysing last week’s defeat at Wasps, snatched from the jaws of victory, Bath’s coaches will have seen encouraging signs in much of the forward play. Attack however, was limited and predictable. Fans will be hoping that Joe Cokanasiga or Ruaridh McConnochie, barely used in Japan, will be fit to play. If they are it may be too much to expect miracles from them- sharper penetration, greater direction from halfback and above all, better decision making will be required behind the scrum. Hopefully Chris Cook will have recovered from the bug which ruled him out of last Saturday’s match, after an excellent showing of zip and control against Chiefs.

 

With only 3 tries in 3 matches, in contrast to Northampton’s 13, fans are understandably questioning Girvan Dempsey’s impact, and will be hoping to see some flashing line breaks, crisp passing and ambitious intent. I suspect though they will be quite content with pick and drives if those bring victory. Whatever the game plan the players should see this match as an opportunity. Eddie Jones has spoken of “building a new England” to erase the disappointment of this World Cup in France 4 years from now. Forwards like Obano, Dunn, Stuart, Ewels and Mercer will want to remind him of what they can do. What better time to do that than now, as he trawls through this weekend’s recordings looking for his next crop of young talent?

 

Topsy turvy not only describes the state of the Premiership table on Tuesday, it could be the theme for the past 4 Bath seasons. The new coaching regime has been put in place with a long term aim- to build a culture, a squad and a winning way. Progress may of necessity be gradual but supporters are impatient. They want to see some evidence of it now. A win this weekend would be a good start.

 

 

Possible Teams:

Bath:
Obano, Dunn, Stuart, Ewels (C), Stooke, Williams, Bayliss, Mercer.

Cook, Priestland. Brew, Roberts, Wright, Rokodoguni. Homer.

Replacements: Boyce, Walker, Judge, McNally, Ellis. Fox, Burns, McConnochie..

 

Northampton Saints:

Franks, Haywood, Painter, Ribbans, Moon, Wood, Gibson, Harrison. Taylor, Grayson. Naiyaravoro, Symons, Hutchinson, Collins. Furbank.

Replacements: Waller, Van Vuuren, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Coles, Tupai, Francis, Sleightholme.