Bath play London Wasps on Saturday (2.15pm BST) at the Recreation Ground, in their first home match of the new season.
Both teams have undergone huge changes on and off the field over the summer, but all eyes will be on Bath’s new coaching staff, as the home crowd get a first glimpse of Gary Gold’s team of experts.
Bath had a difficult time under Sir Ian McGeechan and have not been the same since the drugs scandal that hit the club three years ago. Despite his success at various other clubs, and for the Lions, McGeechan was not able to conquer Bath, and after just two years in charge he was promptly shown the door.
Bath have assembled an awesome array of coaches under ambitious new owner Bruce Craig, that includes Gary Gold, Toby Booth and Mike Ford. For all the quality of their coaches, and their success in pre-season that included victories over London Welsh, Cardiff and Ospreys, Bath started their season with a fortuitous last-gasp victory over Worcester.
For so long Bath have been a side that plays with width and ambition, but after an abysmal season last year, they seem to have gone back to basics, and a game plan dominated by their forwards. Bath beat Worcester 24-23 at Sixways, thanks to an immaculate kicking display by Olly Barkley, who booted eight penalty goals. The match was awful, with penalties conceded at almost every ruck by either side.
As badly as Bath played, and they really did, they must be pleased that they at least won a close game. Closing out narrow games had been their Achilles heal for as long as anyone can remember.
This weekend, far more is expected of a back line that includes a host of exciting players. Kyle Eastmond, who switched codes from St Helens 16 months ago, is finally fit after almost a year on the sidelines, and he may finally live up to his billing as an elusive runner. Bath will be without influential flanker Francois Louw for the next 2 weeks, as he has been selected for the South African side for their next two matches. He will be a huge loss for the west-country side, and they will be infuriated if he travels all the way to Australia not even to be selected.
If Bath think that they may want to revert back to their expansive game plan for their match against Wasps, they would strongly advised not to. Wasps were involved in one of the most entertaining matches in Premiership history last weekend, as they surrendered a 27-point advantage against reigning champion Harlequins at Twickenham in the season opener.
Wasps, who only avoided relegation on the last day of last season, have a host of new players including the returning Tom Palmer and James Haskell. They seemed to make an immediate impact as Wasps played with the ambition and accuracy that was missing for the whole of last season. Wasps flying wingers Tom Varndell and Christian Wade cut Harlequins to pieces out wide and they were instrumental in all five tries. Wasps will arrive at the Rec on Saturday still wondering how they lost that game, but in truth, they didn’t really do much different in the second half, they just weren’t allowed the ball by Quins.
Wasps look like they are trying to play as Bath used to, with width and pace, where as Bath have reverted to game based around territory and forward domination. Bath should have too much, especially at the Rec, but it will be interesting to see how that Quins comeback has affected the confidence of the Wasps players.
Bath v Wasps Betting Tips Verdict
The bookies give Bath a six-point handicap, but I expect the home side to be able to just edge past that and win by nine. So my advice is to have a bet on Bath -6pts @ 10/11 with Paddy Power, Ladbrokes or William Hill.