Win or bust for Bath at Twickenham
April 22, 2011
Bath's Michael Claassens is congratulated by team-mates after his try against Harlequins last weekend © Getty Images
Bath must overcome London Wasps at Twickenham on Saturday if they are to keep their desperate late bid for a play-off berth on track, with the hosts hoping for a big win in the second St George's Day game.
Bath's hopes of finishing in the top four looked to have been ended by a tame defeat at Saracens at the start of the month but back-to-back wins over Exeter and Harlequins mean that they currently lie sixth, five points behind London Irish and nine further adrift of Northampton, but with a game in hand over both of their rivals, who, crucially, meet in Reading this weekend. An Irish victory at the Madjeski and a big win for Bath would draw them right back into the play-off mix with successive games against struggling Newcastle to come.
Eighth-placed Wasps,meanwhile, will aiming to derail Bath's best-laid plans, as they seek to secure qualification for next season's Heineken Cup. Encouragingly for the home side, they have already beaten Bath twice this season, in the Premiership and in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Wasps - Player to Watch: Exciting teenager Elliot Daly has been handed the fullback shirt and is no stranger to the Twickenham turf, having featured there recently for his school. He scored 20 points in helping his side to victory in the Daily Mail/RBS Under-18 Cup Final.
Wasps - Team News: Winger Tom Varndell returns to the starting line-up, having recovered from an injury that was initially expected to see him miss the rest of the season. Centre Ben Jacobs also returns from injury while this will a last 'home' game for Dave Walder, who is at fly-half, and Mark Van Gisbergen, who is on the bench, as both players are moving on from the club at the end of the season. In the pack, Zak Taulafo and Joe Ward return and Billy Vunipola earns his first start in the Aviva Premiership. Josh Lewsey returns to the bench alongside Nic Berry and Richard Birkett, who all recovered from injury to feature.
Bath - Player to Watch: Matt Banahan's midfield adventure continues, with the giant England international deployed at No.12 for the first time.
Bath - Team News: French winger Jacques Boussuge makes his first Premiership start, while Sam Vesty and Michael Claassens are paired at halfback. Nick Abendanon returns at fullback, with Matt Carraro shifting to midfield alongside Banahan. In the pack, Lewis Moody returns to join Ben Skirving and Simon Taylor in the back-row.
Key Battle: If Banahan is able to get Bath on the front-foot with ease then it could be a long day for Wasps, Jacobs and Riki Flutey have a task on their hands.
Trivia: Wasps 51-18 victory over Leeds on Sunday represented the first time that they have broken the half-century points mark since 2004.
Stats: Wasps have made more tackles (1,354) than any other Premiership side this season.
"We've brought in a few of more experienced players who have recovered from injury and I think we have a good balance between youth and some of the more experienced players who are used to these big occasions. Everyone is looking forward to the game." - Wasps interim director of rugby Leon Holden
"Both teams are positioned in the table where they don't want to be and this game signifies a huge leap frog up the table for the side that comes out on top." - Bath wing Tom Biggs
Fantasy: Bath's Michael Claassens is the highest-scoring scrum-half in this season's ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game with 71. Is he in your side?
Prediction: Wasps learned last season that a trip to Twickenham does not ensure victory, and Bath will make them pay once again.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup