Sunday, 30 November 2008

Bath and Gloucester - more similar than their fans like to admit

As a fan, coach, player or journalist, there are always certain matches that jump out at you when you cast your eyes down the season's fixture list.

And if it's not underscored three times in red ink already, then I suggest you put February 28 down in your 2009 diary.

For that is the date when Bath Rugby could well be playing a game that will determine whether they are truly made of the stuff of champions.

Bath will make the journey up the A46 to Gloucester – and I predict, even at this early stage, that what's always an electric affair will be something extra special this time around.

Why say this when we're not even in December yet?

Because I take my hat off to Gloucester – and suggest that Bath are closer to their West Country rivals in many respects than both sides (and sets of fans) often care to mention.

Even if as a lifelong Bath fan you are genetically predisposed to dislike the Cherry and Whites, you have to admire the type of rugby they are playing at the moment.

In their last two games, gainst Bristol and Northampton, they served up the kind of free-flowing, well-executed, attacking game that Bath also strive to play each week – and invariably succeed in producing.

Following his side's 39-10 demolition at Kingsholm, Gloucester coach Dean Ryan gave warning to his absent internationals that they were going to have to be on the top of their game upon their return if they were to force their way back into the club's starting XV.

You know that competition for places must be keen at Gloucester when the likes of Lesley Vainikolo and Olly Barkley, pictured, are keeping their club's subs' bench warm during the autumn international season.

Stoking competition for places seems to be working for Ryan, and it augurs well for the rest of the Cherry and Whites' Premiership campaign.

To see two sides with such attacking flair come up against one another at such a key point in the season with the semi-finals beckoning will be something to savour and should produce no shortage of fireworks.

And there are other reasons why the spectacle promises to be compelling.

Although The Rec fans won't need reminding, Bath lost their unbeaten home record against Gloucester earlier this season. The defeat will continue to rankle in the Bath Rugby psyche until they get a chance to exorcise that demon.

This is taken from Tom's weekly column in The Bath Chronicle, which was this week named the best weekly newspaper in the country by the Newspaper Society. To read the rest of this article, click here

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