Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Heineken Cup: Bath’s hopes have fizzled out

It all seemed perfectly choreographed as the next step to take Bath onwards and upwards, but the reality has been somewhat less than pleasing to the eye.

Prising England flanker Lewis Moody from Leicester Tigers while also being bought by millionaire Bruce Craig and bringing Sir Ian McGeechan on board as Performance Director were all viewed as major coups for the West Country club which could only bolster this season’s challenge for Premiership honours and improve the chances of a decent run in Europe.

But, that was then, and now such optimism has all but evaporated around the Rec. In the Premiership, Bath are currently an uninspiring ninth. As for Europe, defeat in their opening game at home to Biarritz has damaged their aspirations.

Only beating Ulster home and away is likely to salvage hopes of qualification. So, against this backdrop Steve Meehan’s squad arrive here for the second time this season looking rather ragged.

McGeechan’s status was clarified recently, being named Director of Rugby, apparently due to a certain amount of confusion his status as Performance Director was creating in the squad.

The word is that his relationship with Meehan has not been the most harmonious.

Morale has been further dented by news of skipper Luke Watson’s departure at the end of the season and by the addition of South African out half Butch James to the injured list.

The return of Moody, Shontayne Hape and Matt Banahan from England duty is hoped will kick-start the return to form.

Many believe Bath are on the cusp of turning their campaign around as it evolved last season.

They started in the doldrums but followed with a strong charge, winning 10 of their last 11 Premiership games to reach the play-offs before losing to eventual title winners Leicester. But that’s history.

First there’s Europe and they have to win to survive, starting with tomorrow’s game.