Heineken Cup: Barkley banking on Bath glory to mark big night
England’s Olly Barkley will play his 200th game for Bath tomorrow at Ravenhill — five weeks after Munster and Ireland’s Peter Stringer reached the same milestone at the same venue.
In addition, Barkley could clock up his 2,000th point for Bath — although to manage that remarkable achievement he must score 20 points or more against an Ulster defence noted for its stinginess.
But while it’s going to be a big day for him as an individual, his emphasis is on what it means to Bath as a team.
“It’s a big few weeks for us. We shot ourselves in the foot against Biarritz and then we didn’t play well against Aironi, although we did what we had to do to get the five points,” he says.
His reading of Bath’s 12-11 defeat by Biarritz on October 10 at The Rec is in keeping with that of most others.
It was a bad result which has left the Premiership side struggling to make the cut.
“We have to win all our games now. We lost a home game and history shows that if you win your home games and pick up some points away from home, you're likely to go through.
“We've lost that first home game and that means we need to pull a win out of the bag away from home to claw that back before nailing our home games.
“These next two games will decide whether us or Ulster will challenge Biarritz to go through. So this game is like a semi-final for us,” he says.
“Biarritz are in the driving seat because they beat us away from home and they picked up points against Ulster. If we lose at Ravenhill it will make life incredibly hard for ourselves. We've already made things tough but that would make it a really uphill task.”
He is highly complimentary towards Brian McLaughlin’s side, too, confirming that Bath are hugely respectful of tomorrow’s opponents.
“Ulster are a good side,” he continues. “They are a very dangerous side who are capable of an awful lot of things with the players they have so it will be a huge task for us.
“We've got consecutive games against them which means both teams get to know the opposition well and a good couple of games in the Heineken Cup can really push you on.
“Playing a team one week after the other can be an advantage but if they get some momentum up on you in the first game, it makes life very hard. So that first game is a really important one.
“I suppose the advantage we have is that we are going away and the pressure is on them, but it's not easy going there — the crowd are pretty loud and it can get pretty cold there as well.”
Interestingly, Barkley highlights what he believes is a flaw in the Bath fabric.
“We are missing a lot of our width we had last year and which caused problems for defences across the field.
“Teams never really quite knew where we were going to hit them and that was an advantage,” he reveals.
“We seemed to find ways of creating that width and we're looking at doing that at the moment.
“Having width means that you're able to be more direct because defenders spread out to defend you. If they don't, you just go round them.
“As a distributor who plays at inside centre I definitely have a say in that but it's not something that's black and white. We all talk about it, we understand why it works for us and why it's very dangerous for us.
“Hopefully, we'll get Butch James back in one of those two games and we've got all our international boys back now.
“It's a huge boost having them back.
“To go into these big games with those six players back is huge for us. They'll lift everyone else around them,” he added.
Ulster will interpret his parting shot as a warning.
“Heads have not dropped,” Barkley insists. “We’re just not clicking as a side and have been shooting ourselves in the foot a lot.
“But, if we can cut out our errors, there's no reason why we can't start that run now and not in January.”