At the start of the season neither side would have expected that this game would be a battle for eighth place, but Bath and Gloucester will be scrapping for a much-needed victory to kickstart their seasons. Is this the best background to this historic West Country derby fixture that is often a highlight of the Aviva Premiership season?
Gloucester are coming off the back of a heartbreaking last minute defeat against Leicester Tigers and yet another demonstration that they are not living up to their potential. Two quick tries lead to a 15-7 half-time score yet they allowed the Tigers back into the game and Logivi’i Mulipola finished a move that exploited Ben Morgan’s late yellow card. The primary gripe for Cherry and White fans was the lack of composure and decision-making in the last quarter that saw possession kicked away rather than retained and territory gained. In this run of matches that sees the men from Kingsholm face top four sides such as Harlequins and Saracens these are errors that will be exploited.
Facing them are Bath who are arguably underperforming even worse with only three victories in the Premiership and a Champions Cup group stage exit; a far cry then from the side that impressed on their way to the Premiership final last season. Fellow Last Word on Sports writer Ben Johnson has looked further at Bath’s troubles recently (see http://old.lastwordonsports.com/2016/01/16/the-rise-and-fall-of-bath-time-is-running-out/ ) and offers a number of plausible causes of the problems at The Rec. There does seem to be a World Cup hangover for their England contingent, in particular George Ford whose form has been subject of a lot of media attention. But they have not become a bad side overnight, as their performance at Saracens demonstrated where they led 13-0 at half time.
Both sides desperately need a victory but neither are in good form. Bath have lost five games in a row for the first time since 2011/12 and Gloucester have only won one Premiership game in the last four. However the odds seem to be in the home side’s favour as they have won the last five encounters between the rivals, and they have the motivation of knowing a big victory would move them above Gloucester into 8th. Everyone watching will hope that this fixture won’t turn sour as it did in 2014 when referee Tim Wigglesworth lost control of a highly-charged derby that culminated in an ugly punch-up and left Gloucester with only 11 men on the field by the end of the game.
In summary, it is all set up to be a tense affair, with both sides lacking confidence and form on top of the obvious need to win the local bragging rights. If Gloucester can learn from the Leicester defeat and manage their game better they have a great chance of snatching a rare away victory. Bath would expect to win at home regardless of circumstances and should look to continue their improvement against Saracens. This tie always has the potential to be a classic, but it appears that any sort of win would satisfy either team at the moment and the spectacle is likely to reflect that. I predict a tight home win but a losing bonus point for Gloucester to keep them in eighth place.