It’s a game of farewells, but above all it is one last shot at silverware for both Bath and Worcester Warriors – when they head-to-head in the European Challenge Cup Final at Kingsholm, Gloucester, on Sunday.
The game will see England and Bath captain Steve Borthwick and centre Olly Barkley play their last games in the blue, black and white shirt.
But there won’t be any charity coming from a Worcester Warriors side that has already put down a number of markers this season.
The Warriors themselves will say goodbye to players like Springbok Thinus Delport, Shane Dhram and Tony Windo.
But for Warriors Director of Rugby Mike Ruddock it is about the club’s status, as he believes they are ready to make a real mark in Europe.
The Warriors contest their first Euro Final when they have a high noon clash with Bath at Kingsholm.
And Ruddock – Wales’ 2005 Grand Slam coach – believes reaching the showpiece European match has already considerably enhanced Worcester’s standing and profile.
“We are delighted to be in the Final of the European Challenge Cup and I think it’s a real reflection of what we have achieved this season in terms of improving as a team,” he said.
“Our league form hasn’t been great this season and the European competition gave us a great platform to take the pressure off and concentrate on improving our game and working together without constantly worrying about where we were in the table.
“Winning the match on Sunday would be fantastic for us. Worcester are in a position where we have set very tangible targets which, once achieved, will go down in the club’s history books forever.
“We beat Gloucester in a league game for the first time ever this season as well as winning four games in a row in the Premiership – another first for us.
“Winning the tournament would be about so much more than just the trophy. It would not only be our first piece of silverware, but a piece of European silverware and a big step in the history of this club.
“A place in the Heineken Cup for next season is obviously a big carrot but it is very much secondary to the title and trophy themselves. We want to win this piece of silverware and the Heineken Cup spot next year would be the icing on the cake.
“Worcester have a great team spirit, born out of our many relegation battles and those years at the bottom of the league where you all need to pull together and fight for survival. The togetherness this has fostered is a big feature of the club.
“In addition to the fact that we have several players of significant quality in the side, I would say our spirit is our biggest strength – and we are going to need all of our strengths to play against a very strong Bath side.
“They have a great tempo to their game, they want to hold onto the ball and stretch the defence which we will try and counter. They don’t kick possession away or lose the ball in contact so you have to fight to get your hands on the ball. They will try to outflank you and fair dues to them because it’s something we try and mirror in our own style of play.
“Having experienced European success could well help Bath in the run-up to the game, but it’s a double-edged sword as those lost Finals, particularly last year’s against Clermont Auvergne, can bring doubt into the mind and we will certainly focus on those feelings. Hopefully, if we get them on the ropes early on in the game, feelings of ‘here we go again’ will shake their confidence and make them beatable.
“There are several players leaving us at the end of the season so this will certainly be a last hurrah for a few of the guys.
“Thinus Delport – who is playing some of the best rugby of his life at the moment – is leaving, Shane Dhram is going to Japan and, Finally at the age of 39, Tony Windo is retiring so obviously everyone wants to end this season on a high.”
Bath, who made it to the Guinness Premiership semifinals, where they were outplayed by a very impressive Wasps team last week, sees this as their chance at silverware and a final chance at getting into Europe big stage – the Heineken Cup.
Bath head coach Steve Meehan believes that a win in the European Challenge Cup Final will be just reward for the standard of rugby that has been played by his team this season.
“We’ve had to show an enormous amount of courage, I believe, to continue down this path of trying to play expansive rugby and team rugby”, said Meehan.
“I think it would be fitting if they [the Bath team] could come out this weekend and end with a trophy.”
After defeat against London Wasps in the semifinal last weekend, Bath have regrouped and are now determined to end their season on a high and Finally end a trophy drought that stretches back to 1998.
This is the third all-English Final, following London Wasps v Bath Rugby in 2003 and Gloucester v London Irish in 2006.
Bath will equal Clermont Auvergne’s record with their third European Challenge Cup Final appearance. But while the French club (formerly Montferrand) have won the title twice, in 1999 and last season, Bath are hoping to make it third time lucky.
Worcester Warriors are appearing in their first European Final in only their fourth season competing against European opposition.
Players to watch:
For Bath: No doubt the first name out of the hat in this category is captain Steve Borthwick, who would like to leave after 10 years with the club by giving them some major silverware. Of course Olly Barkley also has a reason to want to win – as it is also his last game. Along with those two – who are key members – others who could set the stage alight are flyhalf Butch James, No.9 Michael Claassens, lock Danny Grewcock and prop Matt Stevens.
For Worcester Warriors: Again we start with those departing – Thinus Delport, Shane Dhram and Tony Windo. Delport is now producing the kind of rugby that first earned him a Springbok call-up. But the return of All Black centre Sam Tuitupou will give the Worcester backline some much needed thrust.
Head to head: They don’t come bigger – both in terms of performance and size – than England captain Steve Borthwick against All Black Greg Rawlinson at lock. And who a mouthwatering prospect to look forward to when Olly Barkley (Bath) lines up against Sam Tuitupou (Worcester) in the midfield.
Road to the Final:
Semifinal: beat Sale Sharks 36-14
Quarterfinal: beat Leeds Carnegie 57-5
Beat Auch 31-13
Beat Overmach Parma 31-13
Beat Albi 59-15
Beat Albi 26-18
Beat Overmach Parma 28-0
Beat Auch 28-6
Semifinal: Beat Newcastle Falcons 31-16
Quarterfinal: Beat Montpellier 36-26
Beat Bucuresti 46-0
Beat Montauban 24-7
Beat Parma 66-16
Beat Parma 50-0
Beat Montauban 41-18
Beat Bucuresti 18-8
Previous Challenge Cup meetings:
There are no previous meetings between these clubs
Challenge Cup history:
Runners up: 2006/07; 2002/03
Beaten semifinalist: 2003/04
Beaten semifinalists: 2005/06
Prediction: It may be the second tier of European rugby, but there is nothing second rate about these two teams and we can expect a cracker in a game that is very tough to call. But we are not about to hold back and will give it to Bath to win – by 10 to 15 points.
Bath Rugby: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Joe Maddock, 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 Lee Mears, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Peter Short, 19 Zak Feaunati, 20 Nick Walshe, 21 Shaun Berne, 22 Tom Cheeseman.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Thinus Delport, 14 Marcel Garvey, 13 Dale Rasmussen, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Miles Benjamin, 10 Shane Drahm, 9 Matt Powell, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Pat Sanderson (captain), 6 Drew Hickey, 5 Craig Gillies, 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 Tevita Taumoepeau, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Tony Windo.
Replacements: 16 Chris Horsman, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Will Bowley, 19 Netani Talei, 20 Ryan Powell, 21 Joe Carlisle, 22 Rico Gear.
Date: Sunday, May 25
Venue: Kingsholm, Gloucester
Kick-off: 12.00 (11.00 GMT)
Conditions: Heavy rain is forecast. High 15°C, low 10°C
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Touch judges: Jérôme Garces (France), Patrick Bellet (France)
TMO: Brian Abrahams (England)