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Kennedy: Bath still tough opponent

Bath will not suffer any fallout from Gary Gold's mid-season departure, according to Harlequins lock Nick Kennedy.

Former London Irish mainstay Kennedy worked under Gold, Toby Booth and Neal Hatley with the Exiles.

And the 32-year-old former England second row thinks the Blue, Black and Whites will adjust quickly to life without South African coach Gold.

Harlequins make the trip to Bath on Saturday, keen to overhaul their hosts and jump up to third in the Aviva Premiership table.

Saracens' on-loan hooker Max Crumpton will take a seat on the bench, with three of Quins' four hookers out injured.

Rugby director Gold left Bath on December 9, effectively marginalised by head coach Mike Ford's growing control.

Bath bosses do not plan to replace Gold, and Kennedy thinks the current coaching line-up can handle the challenge.

"I know a lot of the guys at Bath well from my time at Irish," Kennedy told Press Association Sport.

"They signed six Irish players in the summer, and then they have the two coaches in Toby Booth and Neal Hatley that I know well from Irish.

"And what they've done there has been excellent.

"I used to work with Gary Gold too, and he is another excellent coach.

"I don't know what has happened as I haven't spoken to anyone down there about it.

"But I can certainly speak for Toby and Neal's qualities as coaches, and Mike Ford is another coach with strong pedigree.

"So I don't think it weakens them or changes what they are very much at all to be honest.

"Things might change slightly but they have a coaching team that really know their stuff, so they're not going to be left wanting for anything."

This weekend's clash is Bath's first league outing since Gold's departure, after an Amlin Challenge Cup fortnight.

Kennedy tasted Heineken Cup success with Toulon last term, but returned to England halfway through his two-year contract, joining Quins in the summer.

The seven-cap England lock admitted he has returned to a far more robust Bath than the teams put out at The Rec over the years.

"They are a big, big pack with an impressive scrum, led by the likes of Rob Webber, Paul James and Davey Wilson," he said.

"They are quality operators and then as a big heavy back-five there as well.

"That makes a big difference in mauling and scrummaging, so it's going to be a big test.

"You have to match them up front, or you will lose the game. If they push you around in the scrums and mauls, they will milk penalties out of you.

"They have a great kicking game too, and know how to capitalise on that."

Exeter will be desperate to halt a run of five straight defeats in all competitions when they host Newcastle on Saturday.

The Chiefs have never lost three consecutive games at Sandy Park, so will be aiming to avoid setting an unwanted record.

Prop Ben Moon will make his 100th Exeter appearance, with full-back Luke Arscott racking up a century of league turns.

Assistant coach Ali Hepher admitted the Chiefs must set their season straight, and refocus on the league after two valiant Heineken Cup defeats to reigning champions Toulon.

"It's a massive fixture for us, probably more so than those in the last few weeks," Hepher told the Chiefs' official website.

"We need to get winning."

Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair returns for Newcastle, in a side showing six changes from last weekend's Amlin Challenge Cup adventures.

Bullocking back-rower Ashley Johnson will start Wasps' home clash with Northampton, after missing three weeks through injury.

The Saints have lost just once in nine games in all competitions, and only once on the road in the Premiership all season.

And Wasps rugby director Dai Young admits he is wary of the challenge.

"We are going into the game on the back of three good wins but Northampton are probably the in-form side in the Premiership and we know where they will be strong," Young told Wasps' club website.

Mathew Tait returns from ankle trouble for Leicester's first-ever trip to Allianz Park to take on Saracens on Saturday.

David Strettle misses out for Saracens with a knock, while England duo Alex Goode and Chris Ashton both start in the back three.

Leicester replacement Thomas Waldrom believes his side have built a run of six victories as a knee-jerk reaction to defeats to Wasps and Harlequins.

"We had to take a good look at ourselves and make sure we weren't in that position again," Waldrom told the Leicester Mercury.

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