Fixture: Bath Rugby v London Irish
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 25
Date: Saturday 21st May 2022
Stadium: Recreation Ground
London Irish’s final meeting of the 2021/22 season sees them on the road to the Recreation Ground to take on Stuart Hooper’s Bath Rugby in Round 25 of the Gallagher Premiership.
The Exiles are seeking to consign a tough evening at the Brentford Community Stadium in the week to the history books as the west Londoners hope to stay into the Heineken Champions Cup qualification spots for the first time in a decade.
Whilst a win will bolster Irish’s chances, having played a game more than Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks and Wasps, the Exiles will be reliant on other results to turn their way should they wish to breach into Europe’s premier knockout competition next term.
Bath Rugby are on a seven game winless streak in all competitions, which included their heaviest ever defeat to West Country rivals Gloucester Rugby 64-0, last tasting victory against Bristol Bears in the league back in March.
Irish have lost only one of their last four away games in the Premiership (away to Leicester Tigers), and Bath have lost their last three Premiership matches, winning three of their last six at home with all six decided by five points or less.
With the Club’s having met only once since August 2020, the previous encounter between these sides, originally slated as each team’s first game of 2022, was cancelled due to Covid cases and injuries in the Bath squad as Irish were awarded four points and Bath two.
Alongside Irish’s trio of Tom Pearson, Henry Arundell, Tom Pearson and Will Joseph, the Rec side have confirmed that six of their players; Orlando Bailey, Charlie Ewels, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill and former Exiles Joe Cokanasiga and Anthony Watson, will train with England in the upcoming training camp coordinated by Eddie Jones.
The boss- Stuart Hooper:
The former second-row forward for Bath moved into a coaching capacity with the Club as their Player Development Director upon his untimely retirement back in 2016.
Hooper began his playing career in London with Saracens before moving to Yorkshire to adorn the Leeds Carnegie jersey, eventually moving to Bath whilst sporting the captain’s armband in the final five years of his playing career.
In a troubling season for Bath, commendable achievements since his appointment as Director of Rugby in 2019 has seen the former player taking Bath to the playoffs in his first season combined with a Challenge Cup semi-final appearance last season.
Bath will nevertheless retain the services of Hooper and current Head Coach Neal Hatley as part of Johann van Graan’s staff when the Munster Head Coach takes the reins next year.
One to Watch- Orlando Bailey:
Bath’s promising young out-half made his competitive debut for the Club in the latter rounds of the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership, since making his Premiership Rugby Cup and Heineken Champions Cup debuts this year and impressing enough for his boyhood team that he has been called up to multiple England training squads.
Bailey has attained 100 points exactly this year and has the 14th-highest points scored in the Premiership with 82 points, with the sixth-least amount of minutes played (953) in the top 15 scorers in the league.
The 21-year-old’s 82 points is the second highest in the league without scoring a try, behind Gloucester’s Adam Hastings, and is ninth in the Premiership’s kicking accuracy rungs with 76.7% accuracy from the tee.
Bailey was recently honoured as the Rugby Players Association’s ’15 Under 23 MVP’ for April, pipping Irish nominee Henry Arundell and joining teammate Max Ojomoh in picking up the coveted gong this year.
Classic Encounter: London Irish 36-13 Bath Rugby - 5th November 2005 - Guinness Premiership
A bonus point win for London Irish was aided by a contribution from former resident of the Rec Mike Catt as Bath’s six-game winning streak was brought an end at the Madejski Stadium.
Riki Flutey’s drop goal was the first in a billing of a try, conversion, penalty and successful kick from hand for the out-half to get the Exiles going in Reading.
Scott Staniforth extended the lead with the game’s first try, and Catt was on hand to make the most of a loose ball to score with Flutey adding a try of his own through great footwork.
Bob Casey assisted Phil Murphy who bundled over from a short distance for Irish’s conclusive effort of the match-up, with Barry Everitt adding two placed kicks to only further the distance on the scoreboard.
Tries: Scott Staniforth, Mike Catt, Riki Flutey, Phil Murphy
Conversions: Riki Flutey (2)
Drop Goal: Riki Flutey
Penalties: Riki Flutey, Barry Everitt (2)
Try: Michael Lipman
Conversion: Andy Dunne
Penalties: Andy Dunne (2)
Bath Rugby Head Coach Neal Hatley delivered a candid assessment of the performance of his staff following on from a 10-try defeat at the hands of Gloucester Rugby at Kingsolm in their last Premiership game.
“I just said to the coaches that we need to look at what we do in the week, how the players take the lead from us, how we help prepare them better, how we rejuvenate them, how we fill them with enthusiasm and energy.
“That’s our job, and we haven’t done that well enough.”
Hatley, who will assume the role of Forwards Coach next season following Johann van Graan’s arrival from Munster, stressed the requirement for urgent changes in attitude for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve got to be better than that- things haven’t been going our way the whole year, but we’ve got to do better to stay in fights.
“What you saw today was a team low on confidence and struggled to deal with the ball speed Gloucester stuck on us.
“This club’s got an unbelievably proud history, this is the oldest derby in the country, so to lose a game like this in that fashion makes that probably the worst we’ve felt over the last 12 months.”