Fixture: Bath Rugby vs London Irish
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 17
Date: 18th February 2023
Venue: The Recreation Ground
Officials: Referee: Wayne Barnes, Assistant Referee 1: Anthony Woodthorpe, Assistant Referee 2: Wayne Falla, Number 4: Simon Adams, TMO: Rowan Kitt, Timekeeper: Andrew Pearce, Citing Officer: Jay Curts.
Fresh from progressing to a second consecutive Premiership Rugby Cup final, London Irish makes a return to Gallagher Premiership action with a trip to the Recreation Ground to take on Bath Rugby.
The sides are in contrasting form in the Premiership; Irish losing only one of their last five league fixtures (their last visit to the West Country, ending 6-8 at Gloucester), with Bath winning one of their last four Premiership encounters.
The Exiles took an impressive 42-24 win over local rivals Harlequins in the Premiership last time out, top tackler in the league Tom Pearson (155) scored a try and made a round-high four turnovers and 17 tackles.
Bath’s last league fixture saw them lose narrowly to Sale Sharks 30-27, Aaron Reed’s late try sealing the result for the Mancunians at home as Bath managed the least-least-number of metres made (224) and the second-least amount of visits to 22 (five) in Round 16.
On a trip to the north west, Ben Spencer made the fifth-most passes in the round (50), the third-most kicks in play (18), seventh-most kick metres (390), two turnovers and the joint-most retained kicks (four) alongside Clubmate Matt Gallagher in an influential outing.
Johann van Graan’s side have won twice in the league at home since 11 November, with Irish aiming for a first league double over Bath since 2007 after defeating Saturday’s opposition 47-38 in the reverse fixture in October.
The physicality of Saturday’s hosts this season has been prevalent; winning more scrums than any team (27) and also scoring the joint-most tries after winning a turnover (eight, tied with Newcastle Falcons).
Bath average the fourth-most turnovers won per 80 this season (6.9), with chief breakdown engineer Josh Bayliss winning the fifth-most turnovers this season (14) as Tom Pearson (16) and Benhard Janse van Rensburg (11) also rank in the top 10.
Going forward, however, Bath have struggled to find their attacking impetus, with the lowest rate of gainline success in the Premiership thus far (47%) and scoring a league-low 2.85 tries per 80 minutes so far this season.
Conversely, top try scorers in the league London Irish (51) also have scored more tries in the first ten minutes of their matches than any other team (eight).
The Boss- Johann van Graan:
Van Graan joined Bath Rugby in the summer to oversee the Club's rugby programme as the Head of Rugby, having responsibility for rugby matters concentrating on the coaching and performances of the team.
He was joined in his venture to the West Country with long-time collaborator and Defence Coach JP Ferreira, both arriving from United Rugby Championship outfit, Munster Rugby.
The 42-year-old became the Head Coach of the Irish province in 2017, playing his role in leading them to three domestic league semi-finals, as well as a final, and two Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals.
As part of the coaching ticket with Blue Bulls, he helped the former Super Rugby franchise to three titles, eventually being rewarded with the Forwards Coach position at the Springboks to help in attaining a bronze medal in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
One to Watch – Matt Gallagher:
Matt Gallagher was recruited by boss Johann van Graan to make the move over the Irish Sea to England from Munster Rugby in the summer, since making a big impression in a move back to his country of birth.
The outside back is a product of the Saracens Academy, winning the Academy Player of the 2015/16 season before going on to make 44 appearances for the north Londoners.
Winning the 2016 Under-20 World Championships with England later on that year at the AJ Bell Stadium, Gallagher helped defeat finalists Ireland under-20s 45-21 as the starting full-back, playing 72 minutes.
Gallagher himself is an Irish-qualified player with his paternal roots originating in the Emerald Isle, his father John also being a Rugby World Cup winning player for New Zealand after moving to the southern hemisphere in his youth.
With three tries to his name in the Premiership this term, including in defeat to Irish, he went on to score three more in the EPCR Challenge Cup.
Since his return to England, Matt Gallagher has the sixth-most carries (128), seventh-most metres (654) and retained kicks (11), ninth-most kick metres (2,538) and 10th-most defenders beaten (29) in the 2022/23 Premiership.
Despite suffering a 30-27 loss to Sale Sharks in Round 16, the 26-year-old stood out with the joint fifth-most defenders beaten in the round (four, the same number as Michael Dykes), along with the joint-most retained kicks (four).
Classic Encounter- Bath 0-16 London Irish – 28th November 2009 – Guinness Premiership:
It was the Ryan Lamb show the last time London Irish took a victory at the Recreation Ground back in 2009, the fly-half accounting for all 16 points in the West Country win.
Lamb charged down a clearance from Nick Abendanon to open the scoring for Toby Booth’s men, converting his own effort with a place kick slotted soon after a late Stuart Hooper tackle.
The form half-back bisected the posts from 40 metres out upon returning from the sheds, Irish still within two scores of their hosts on the day in tough conditions.
Lamb added a kick from hand with 13 minutes to go as the Irish forwards laid the platform for him to complete the full-house performance for the Exiles on their travels.
Try: Ryan Lamb
Conversion: Ryan Lamb
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (2)
Drop-goal: Ryan Lamb
Bath’s Head of Rugby Johann van Graan took time to evaluate the preparation that his side have taken before the visit of London Irish this Saturday.
“We had a week where players and staff got a week away from rugby which provided balance and was nice for everyone to spend some time with the family.
“We then came back and had a good week of training and now we’re looking forward to this next five-week block of games.”
The Blue, Black and Whites return for their first home encounter in the Premiership this calendar year, looking to improve a record of one win in their last four league games against Irish.
“The last one was the rain against Newcastle!” he said.
“The weather the past few weeks has been class so hopefully we’ll get good weather, good pitch conditions on Saturday and two teams that want to play.
“The fans at the Rec have supported us well every game this season and I believe we’ll be close to a sell-out.
“Hopefully we as a group can perform to their and our expectations, we really want that 80-minute performance.”