Humphreys feels hand of his­tory ahead of boil­ing Bath derby

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - AN­DREW BAL­DOCK

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

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