Humphreys feels hand of history ahead of boiling Bath derby
GLOUCESTER will complete a miserable few weeks for their west country rivals Bath if they win today’s Aviva Premiership clash at the Recreation Ground. While Gloucester have only beaten Bath once in the last 10 games between the sides — 15-11 last season — strong recent form shows four wins from five matches in all competitions.
And that was underlined by last Saturday’s European Challenge Cup semi-final victory over La Rochelle, the French Top 14 leaders’ first home defeat this season, which took the English side into next month’s Murrayfield final against Stade Français.
Gloucester, who host Exeter next Saturday, can still secure a top-six Premiership finish and automatic qualification for the 2017-18 European Champions Cup, and they do not intend taking their foot off the pedal.
Bath, though, have drifted behind principal play-off rivals Leicester following a defeat against Worcester two weeks ago during a run of four losses from their last five league games.
“We are delighted to reach the (Challenge Cup) final,” Gloucester rugby director David Humphreys said. “One of the goals we set ourselves at the start of the season was to win the competition, so we are delighted to be there.
“It is much easier every week to come into a winning camp, but the mind has immediately switched to Bath and a huge game for both teams with so much to play for this season.
“Everybody knows the history of this fixture, knows how important it is to the players, supporters, and to the club.
“We are almost playing cup rugby every weekend, with what is at stake in the league and giving us that opportunity to push up the league and get into the play-offs.
“We had a great result there last year in pretty awful conditions, but it will be a very different game this time around.
“It will be an opportunity to go and play, show ambition and the belief we’ve shown in the last few weeks.”
Gloucester show just one change following the La Rochelle win, with lock Mariano Galarza replacing Tom Savage. One switch among the replacements sees an opportunity for prop Ciaran Knight, who will make a Premiership debut if he is required off the bench.
Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder has made nine changes following last weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final defeat against Stade Français in Paris, including a first start since January for fit-again flanker Matt Garvey.
Elsewhere, Aled Brew is on the wing, while Rhys Priestland features at fly-half and Tom Homer returns in the number 15 shirt, with England star Anthony Watson switching to wing duty.
Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons will head to relegated Bristol next week believing a win can clinch them the chance of qualifying for next season’s European Champions Cup.
Other results will have to go Newcastle’s way for them to secure seventh place in the Premiership and a possible play-off for European Champions Cup qualification.
But first they must win at Bristol and director of rugby Dean Richards believes they can.
“We can still finish seventh,” he said after the 16-14 win over Worcester at Kingston Park. “And that’s what the goal is next week at Bristol — but they will be dangerous. They have absolutely nothing to lose and that’s when they’ll be at their most dangerous.
“We went for it at the end of the game against Worcester. We had to score tries and we had to go for it and it paid off.
“We weren’t at our best in some respects today, but we looked quite comfortable in defence and we have a class act in Sonatane Takulua.”
Victory would have been a fitting result for Gary Gold, who has steered the Warriors away from relegation and signed a long-term contract at Sixways earlier in the week, and the Worcester director of rugby said: “We were very dominant in the first half and we showed massive character to come back in the second half, but the result was very disappointing and we have to really look at ourselves about that and why the penalty count against us was so high.
“Our game management was outstanding in every department but we just didn’t come away with points when we should have. I suppose it was a job only 80-per-cent done.
“There are lots of positives to take into our final game at Sixways next week, not least of which was our defence against a really outstanding attacking side.”
Gloucester’s director of rugby David Humphreys is targeting a top-six Premiership finish