Bath poised for stunning turnaround
Bath are likely to complete a stunning European Champions Cup turnaround if they claim maximum points in their final Pool Four clash against Recreation Ground visitors Glasgow on Sunday.
The west country club looked down and out after losing their opening group games at Glasgow and on home soil to Toulouse, conceding 37 points in Scotland and appearing to have little hope of last-eight qualification.
But the recovery act has been spectacular, with Bath collecting 14 points from their next three fixtures, culminating in last weekend's spectacular display against Toulouse that produced a 35-18 victory at Stade Ernest Wallon.
And if they can turn the tables on Glasgow, who are still in quarter-final contention one point behind Bath, then the knockout phase beckons.
Toulouse will win the group if they beat Montpellier on Sunday and score four tries or more, yet Bath are lurking ominously, also knowing that three best runners-up spots are available across five pools in terms of the quarter-finals.
"The bonus points against Montpellier at home and then in Toulouse have really put us back in contention," Bath forwards coach Neal Hatley told Press Association Sport.
"We have wanted to give a good impression of ourselves in the first year of what is an incredibly important competition.
"Last week, we were going to probably the aristocracy of European rugby.
"And without sounding too boastful, after what happened at home against Toulouse and how we had progressed since then, we thought there would be an opportunity for us to impose ourselves on the game.
"The way that we started the game set the whole thing up.
"To be 22-7 ahead after 25 minutes, you are going to back yourselves in any game to probably come away with a bonus point."
That triumph, though, was in stark contrast to a dismal Scottish trip last October, when Glasgow dismantled a horribly-misfiring Bath outfit and raised immediate questions about their quarter-final potential.
"Glasgow were very good on the day," Hatley added.
"We were probably taught a lesson at the breakdown, which was hard to swallow, but we have been really honest with how we approach the breakdown after that game. We did not adapt that day.
"We are under no illusions about the size of the task on Sunday. If they get a good result, it puts them in the qualifying mix.
"We were missing a few key players at Glasgow, and we played poorly on the day. What happened then is a long time ago in terms of where the squad has gone."
Bath have made a solitary change from the Toulouse encounter, with skipper Stuart Hooper returning to the second-row. Star rugby league recruit Sam Burgess, meanwhile, has recovered from a knock and features on the bench.
Bath's fellow Aviva Premiership club Saracens are also in Champions Cup action on Sunday, facing a winner-takes-all Pool One mission against French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin.
The victors will march on, although a losing bonus point could be enough for the group runners-up to also progress.
Saracens overcame Clermont 30-23 at Allianz Park in October, and they will head to France on the back of a comprehensive victory over fallen European giants Munster seven days ago.
"It's a different level of test for us," Saracens' Scotland international lock Jim Hamilton said.
"Last Saturday against Munster there was that international intensity that we had to bring to the game, and we will have to bring more of that international intensity with playing Clermont in their own back-yard.
"They are a quality team with quality players throughout their whole squad. Throughout their squad they are a world-class outfit, but so are we.
"We are beginning to find the right form at just the right time, and it sets it up to be an unbelievable game."