Belfast Telegraph

Bath have the firepower to make a real splash

 

Return: Sam Underhill is back to boost Bath after World Cup
Return: Sam Underhill is back to boost Bath after World Cup

By Michael Sadlier

Two sixth positions in the Premiership and a coaching change which has seen Stuart Hooper promoted from within for Todd Blackadder is hardly the stuff that suggests Bath are now serenely progressing on a purely upward slope.

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They won just the three games in their first nine Premiership matches from last season and, so far, have again secured victories twice from the four league fixtures which have been played.

Now Bath are into Europe but they do at least arrive there having won last weekend at home to then leaders Northampton Saints to escape the bottom of the table and, of course, they are at the Rec again today.

Not that playing at home ensures a winning outcome as both Toulouse and Leinster left there last season with positive results. Ah yes, Toulouse.

In many ways their season, or at least the early part of it anyway, was defined by their first taste of Champions Cup action when a packed Rec looked on in horror as Freddie Burns had the ball knocked from his grasp by Toulouse's Maxime Medard as he show-boated prior to planting the ball behind the posts for what looked a cast-iron match-defining try.

It was an internet sensation and will follow Burns for evermore - and sent out all the wrong signals about the West Country side's mentality and ruthlessness in what turned out to be Blackadder's final season in charge.

Their European season was an unmemorable affair with one win from an admittedly horrible Pool One and they finished 11 points behind runners-up Toulouse and a whopping 15 off winners Leinster.

Still, their domestic season, though nothing spectacular, did get them back into Europe's top tier again in what might be a more forgiving pool when it comes to either being potential challengers - presumably as runners-up at best - or just putting in a better shift than last time in terms of wins.

If they are going to make inroads then winning at home is non-negotiable. With England World Cup squad members Sam Underhill, Jonathan Joseph and Ruaridh McConnochie back in the side, Bath are getting back to where they would want to be personnel-wise.

But they are not quite there yet as there is still no sign of Joe Cokanasiga, Anthony Watson and World Cup winner Francois Louw nor, indeed, the luckless Taulupe Faletau.

They are strong though for today's opener and in Beno Obano, Tom Dunn and Will Stuart have an impressive front row who are sure to try and put a big squeeze on Ulster at scrum time.

Number eight Zach Mercer is another from their pack with a big reputation and his combination with the returning Mike Williams and Underhill looks quite a handful.

Bath's power also stretches to behind their pack via Jamie Roberts and powerhouse winger Semesa Rokoduguni with the latter deadly anywhere near the line.

Out-half Rhys Priestland gives the West Country side their structure and Freddie Burns, at full-back, offers a more subtle attacking threat on what will be a tricky day for the family with Billy on the other team.

Whether Bath are now in a position to fire on nearly all their cylinders is about to be severely tested.

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