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The 'no easy feat' tribute Bath have paid to Finn Russell

By Liam Heagney
Bath's Finn Russell during the Gallagher Premiership semi-final versus Sale (Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Johann van Grann has hailed the contribution that fit-again out-half Finn Russell made in Bath’s Gallagher Premiership semi-final win over Sale. There were fears just eight weeks ago that the Scotland international’s season could be over as he left the pitch at Exeter’s Sandy Park just 15 minutes into an Investec Champions Cup round-of-16 defeat.

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At the time the April 6 groin injury was described as significant, but the 31-year-old somehow managed a much quicker recovery than was anticipated, returning to the field just five weeks later.

Saturday’s semi-final was the third match of his comeback and he was pivotal in leading Bath past Sale and into a first Premiership final since 2015.

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Ultimately, it was his pressure conversion kick from wide on the right that gave his team an eight-point cushion heading into the closing five minutes following a rollicking contest that featured six tries evenly split between the two sides.

“On Finn, on days like this you need your No10 to shine,” said van Graan when the dust settled on the 31-23 victory. “How good was George Ford today! How good was Finn Russell today! We are blessed in the Premiership with incredible 10s. Smith to add to that. Farrell. Pollard. You can mention a few more but today our 10 came through.

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“One day we will write a book about it but what Finn went through the last few weeks, our media release said significant injury and it was a significant injury but what he and specifically Rory Murray, the head of medical, went through to get back onto the pitch, that’s no easy feat.

“From Finn’s side, it’s not about Finn, it’s about the squad and he has made it about the squad and he represents the squad, and that kick represented moments in the season when I picked different teams to go and fight for us as a group. That eight-point buffer was massive.”

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Basking in the fuzzy glow of Bath now being just 80 minutes away from winning a first Premiership title since 1996, van Graan was conscious about not foisting too much praise on Russell. “He is a very important player for us but what we have done well is trust the squad, and Orlando (Bailey) came onto the pitch and he did really well.

“Our next game was Exeter again and Orlando steered us through and we got five points away from home, a massive five points if you just look at the context of the season. When Orlando was in he was brilliant for us. That word squad, I can’t emphasise it enough.

“This is not a one-man effort, this is not a 23-man effort, this is more than 60 players, academy players included, and then we have got a world-class staff and the staff added their bit and what you saw out there was a happy squad, you saw a fit squad, you saw a tough-to-beat squad being led very well by Ben (Spencer), our leadership group on the pitch and sheer willpower.”

When van Graan first arrived at Bath in the summer of 2022, few would have been optimistic that he could turn things around so quickly. His unsuccessful time at Munster had ended with a thud, while Bath were in chaos following the drift during the ill-fated Stuart Hooper era.

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Yet here we are two years later with Bath in a final and van Graan with an extended contract keeping him at The Rec until the summer of 2030. Did he imagine things would so quickly gel?

“No. there was never a timeline. Are we surprised where we are at? No. And the reason for that is we said, ‘Get better every single day’ and if you have got a playing group that wants to improve week in and week out you can get somewhere.

“It’s a cliché thing to say but this has been true of our group, we became consistent. When we won we never flew too high, like we won’t do now. When we have lost we took out the emotion. We review every single game the same because sometimes you lose by a point, it doesn’t mean everything is wrong. Sometimes you win by a point, it doesn’t mean that everything is right.

“We have become consistent, the players have become confident in the way that we want to play and clinical and ultimately this is the game you want to play in and this was our first one and we used the opportunity.

“We said at the start of the season, one player specifically said you don’t need to learn by losing a big game, let’s just learn on the go. I can’t say enough of the playing group how they took responsibility for what we wanted to do and how they bought into what I wanted to do. This is a team effort, this is not a one-man effort.

“What we have done well as a group is respect our heritage and tradition. Amazing club, 1865 we started. Bath have done some amazing things. The Rec, what an amazing place to play rugby. But the vision I sold to everyone on July 11, 2022, is we respect our past but we start from zero.

“That is what we did as a group, we had to build our own legacy and whatever pressure or beliefs there were in the past, this is about us. Firstly, we became tough to beat because rugby is a warrior sport, one of the last gladiator sports remaining, and you need guys who can do things that others can’t.

“We went through a lot of moments in the last two seasons and then the theme for this season while being overall tough to beat was to get better and we certainly got better today. You train for moments like this: lineout five yards out, game on the line, one point is the difference and we did it, so we are tough to beat!”

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Comments

1 Comment
A
Anthony 20 days ago

Two super games and great that the first and second teams in the prem will play in the final.
I must say though that reading Stuart Barnes article in the Sunday Times on the Bath /Sale game one questioned if he was watching the same game .
Ford apparently outplayed Fin Russell.
Well Stuart.
Read utterly everyone elses opinion and i think you will be somewhat red faced .
Bring on the final.

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