Every point will be vital – Blackadder We need to make sure we are consistent this time, insists Bath director of rugby
TODD Blackadder often talks about trying to learn lessons and be better, whether that is as a director of rugby or for his squad of players.
As Bath Rugby prepare for their 2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup campaign, they do so having been taught a costly one last season.
This time last year they were preparing to host Benetton Rugby at the Rec. The Italian club were forecast to be the whipping boys of a pool also containing Toulon and Scarlets, but proved a tough nut to crack for all of their opponents.
But while Toulon and Scarlets found a way to get four tries against them at home, Bath only mustered a 23-0 win after 80 minutes, and were put under serious pressure.
Blackadder, pictured, said: “We had quite a few injuries and we won the match, but we didn’t get the bonus point and by the end of the pool that was the difference in us not qualifying for the quarter-finals.
“You have to take every point on offer in this competition. We need to make sure we’re consistent this time.
“Our target is to win all our home matches and pick up points on the road. We want to go one better than last year and progress from what is another tough pool. I’m confident we can do well.”
In the end, it was Scarlets who qualified as pool winners last time, with Toulon one of the three best runners-up who qualified for the knockout stages.
This time, Leinster, Toulouse and Wasps are Bath’s Pool One opponents, starting with the French fourtime champions at the Rec today.
Naturally, Bath would like to go all
the way, but they are way down the betting. Given Bath have often been guilty of having Groundhog Day performances over the past couple of seasons, their ability to right wrongs should be questioned.
But Blackadder is confident they can eradicate some of the frailties that were punished in the 50-27 defeat at Saracens and 39-24 loss at home to Exeter Chiefs in their last two matches.
“Having just played the best two teams in the Premiership it has exposed some of our weaknesses and shown us what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well,” Blackadder said. “We missed quite a few opportunities in the 22m against Chiefs and, although defensively we stopped them playing at times, it was those little decision-making errors which really hurt us.”
If the last time Toulouse came to the Rec – they won 21-19 four years ago – is anything to go by then this afternoon could be another fine European battle.
“It should be another fantastic occasion at the Rec,” Blackadder said. “Hopefully, the supporters will be in fine voice and bring us lots of energy.”
Jamie Roberts will make a surprise comeback for Bath against Toulouse.
The 94-cap Wales international has taken only four weeks to recover from a fractured cheekbone and will start at inside centre.
Francois Louw – who played for South Africa against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship last weekend – and fit-again Luke Charteris are back in the pack.
The front row and Dave Attwood remain unchanged from the defeat to Chiefs last time out, with Tom Ellis switching to the blindside flank and Zach Mercer to number eight in the absence of Taulupe Faletau, who has a broken right arm .
Chris Cook comes in at scrum-half in place of Max Green, with Rhys Priestland once again leading the team from fly-half.
Jackson Willison and Semesa Rokoduguni have retained their places in the backline, with Freddie Burns getting another shot at fullback. Darren Atkins comes in for Joe Cokanasiga, who has presumably picked up a knock in training.
Sam Underhill and Tom Homer are back in the matchday 23 and among the replacements.
Two All Black World Cup winners will be in the Toulouse pack. Jerome Kaino will start at number eight and Charlie Faumuina at tighthead for the French Top14 club.
The visitors have some danger men behind the scrum too, in the form of rapid Springboks winger Cheslin Kolbe and French internationals Maxime Medard and Maxime Mermoz. Francois Cros leads Toulouse from the blindside flank.
Bath Rugby: F Burns, S Rokoduguni, J Willison, J Roberts, D Atkins; R Priestland (capt), C Cook; N Catt, T Dunn, H Thomas, D Attwood, L Charteris, T Ellis, F Louw, Z Mercer. Replacements: J Walker, J van Rooyen, A Perenise, E Stooke, S Underhill, M Green, M Wright, T Homer.
■ Steve Ojomoh has taken a big step forward in his recovery from a stroke.
The former Bath Rugby flanker is no longer in intensive care and has been moved to the neurology unit at Southmead Hospital, Bristol.
The 48-year-old, who coaches Trowbridge RFC, was taken ill at the beginning of the month.
Wife Lisa revealed: “Very happy to report Oj is now off ICU.”
Jamie Roberts is back for Bath Rugby