This Sunday 18 May will be the day that the final of the 2008 Guinness Premiership are decided, starting with 2 crunch semi-final games competed by 4 bitter rivals – Wasps, Bath, Gloucester and Leicester Tigers. The first semi-final is between traditional English powerhouses, London Wasps and Bath, featuring 7 South African players! Sharksworld previews this game below.
The game has additional spice in that it could indeed be the final games for Lawrence Dallagio (Wasps – retiring), Steve Borthwick (Bath – moving to Saracens) and Ollie Barkley (Bath – moving to Gloucester).
Last weekend, London Wasps demolished relegated Leeds Carnegie in the final pool game of the season to usurp Bath (who lost the West Country derby to log-toppers Gloucester) in second spot and claim a home semi-final.
After an uncharacteristicly poor start to the season, with a squad blighted by World Cup call-ups, Wasps have finished the season strongly and one could argue that momentum is on their side. In fact, Wasps have beaten Bath twice this season, and so should be starting this game as favourites with home advantage.
Bath, on the otherhand, have had a very consistent season under coach Steve Meehan after a poor 2006/2007 season, and have only lost just the once at The Rec this season. Ominously that sole defeat was to the hands of Wasp…
However ex-Saracens head coach and new Munster coach Alan Gaffney was immensely impressed with Bath in their 66-21 demolishing of Saracens a few weeks ago, proclaiming it as one of the most complete performances ever seen in the competition. “It is going to take a very good defensive side to hold them out,” said Gaffney, although Wasps are known for their outstanding application of the rush defensive system – pioneered by head coach Shawn Edwards.
Players to watch:
The 9-10-12 axis of Michael Claassens, Butch James and Ollie Barkley has been a revelation this season, and they will be key players. Butch James believes that skipper Steve Borthwick is the best captain he’s ever played under – Bath will be reliant on his cool captaincy in this game. Opensider Michael Lipman is one of the best offloaders of the ball, and as current English incumbent will have a point to prove to challenger Tom Rees. 6’7 foot tall winger Matt Banahan has impressed enough in his debut season – enough to be called up into the England Saxons squad last week. Not bad considering he was originally contracted as a lock!
As ever, talisman Lawrence Dallagio will want to have a say in matters, more so than ever in his final game of professional rugby. Danny Cipriani has been hailed as the new saviour of British backline play and much will be expected of him in this game. Riki Flutely is a midfield general, one of the best distributers of the ball, and Wasps will be counting on him to get their all-star English back 3 (Lewsey, Sackey and Voyce) firing on all cylinders. Blindside flanker James Haskell is regarded as a future England skipper, and should be heavily involved in the breakdown battle. Also look out for his surprising pace if he gets the ball in hand.
Wasps will be looking to starve Bath of the ball, so line-outs and the battle of the breakdown will be key contests. This should be a titanic battle that could be decided by an individual moment of brilliance, however I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a narrow Wasps win based on their current momentum and being perenially thereabouts in the play-offs.
SA players on Display:
Bath – Butch James, Michael Claassens, Matt Stevens, Pieter Dixon, Nick Abendanon
Wasps – Fraser Waters, Pat Barnard
Wasps: 15 Josh Lewsey, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Fraser Waters, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio (captain), 7 Tom Rees, 6 James Haskell, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Pat Barnard, 2 Raphael Ibanez, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements (from): Richard Birkett, Tom French, John Hart, Joe Ward, Joe Worsley, Mark McMillan, Jeremy Staunton, Mark van Gisbergen, Dominic Waldouck.
Bath: 15 Joe Maddock, 14 Andy Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel Browne, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jonny Faamatuainu, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 David Barnes.
Replacements: 16 AN Other, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Peter Short, 19 Chris Goodman, 20 Mike Baxter, 21 Shaun Berne, 22 Nick Abendanon
Venue: Adams Park, London
Kick-off: 14.00 (15.00 SA time, 13.00 GMT)
Referee: Chris White
Touch judges: Robin Goodliffe, Paul Dix
TMO: Matt Peters, Graham Hughes