Western Daily Press

Bath consider fast-tracking fly-half Priestland for Bristol clash


BATH Rugby’s coaches are weighing up whether to bring Welsh internatio­nal fly-half Rhys Priestland back potentiall­y a week early, or stick with teenager Orlando Bailey at number 10 for the derby, writes John Evely.

Top-of-the-table Bristol Bears come to The Rec on Saturday having won their last three games against the Blue, Black and White, including a 48-3 dismantlin­g at Ashton Gate last time they met.

Having been knocked out of the European Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage last weekend, Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper is looking to get his best side out on the field to keep the club’s fading hopes of making the play-offs alive for at least one more week, and right some of the wrongs from the previous weekend.

While Bailey was by no means solely responsibl­e for the 10-19 defeat to Montpellie­r on Saturday, and in fact did very little wrong to be directly highlighte­d, an experience­d hand on the tiller at fly-half would have been beneficial with Bath’s pack seemingly obsessed with powering their way over the line when the space to attack was out wide.

Priestland, pictured, has not played since suffering a hamstring injury against Worcester Warriors on March 20 but is close to a return.

Hooper said: “He is in full team training now. He is in contention [this weekend] but he has only just got back into full team training.

“Where we are now at this point in the season you have got to balance the risk and reward of playing one week too early, but also the weeks are running out.

“That is the balance we have to strike. The biggest thing will be how Rhys responds to this week’s training.

“We know he can play rugby, he has done it at the very highest level for a long time, we just need to see how he responds to training this week and make a call towards the backend of this week.”

Hooper confirmed that Fijian internatio­nal Josh Matavesi remains sidelined and will not be available this week and South African fly-half Tian Schoeman is of course out for the season having had surgery on an injured knee. That means it is a straight shootout between Bailey and Priestland for the number 10 jersey, with new signing Danny Cipriani still at least a week away from arriving at Farleigh House having played just one game this season back in November.

Elsewhere in the backline, Hooper provided updates on full-back Tom de Glanville and winger Ruaridh McConnochi­e with both men missing for the last month.

He said: “It is positive in one regard that Ruaridh didn’t need an operation, he has got a pectoral injury which is quite common in rugby, but it will keep him out most likely for the rest of the season.

“Tom de Glanville will be available for selection this weekend, he trained fully today so should be fine.”

Elsewhere Hooper confirmed thtat his squad came through the bruising encounter with Montpellie­r largely unscathed, with Sam Underhill removed early in the second half in a tactical change and both Cam Redpath and Jonathan Joseph seemingly taking knocks against the French side

Once again Bath will be without internatio­nal loosehead prop Beno Obano who is serving the second week of his five game suspension.

Now the Blue, Black and White have been knocked out of Europe, and will not play in the final, Obano’s ban will also include the West Country derby game against Gloucester.

With Bath’s Challenge Cup fate now decided, it has also been confirmed the club’s Round 19 Gallagher Premiershi­p game at The Rec against Sale Sharks will be played on Friday, May 14, meaning fans will not be permitted inside the ground with lockdown restrictio­ns easing three days later on Monday, May 17.

Bath asked for the fixture to be moved into midweek, but the visitors declined.

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