'They are going to ruin a lot of people's weekends' - Missing England stars make Matson wary
Tabai Matson the Harlequins head coach, never expected former club Bath to be enduring a “horror” season and has warned his players the West Country strugglers are still capable of ruining “a lot of people’s weekends.”
The reigning champions arrive at the Recreation Ground to face bottom placed Bath without Joe Marler, Alex Dombrandt, Luke Northmore, Joe Marchant and Marcus Smith who are with England, and will be seen as more vulnerable than ever during the Six Nations championship when Premiership matches will continue to be played.
However, Matson is convinced that the Quins squad is strong enough to maintain a top four place and is taking nothing for granted despite Bath’s many injury problems. He added: “This is the toughest and closest rugby competition in the world and if you are going to be in the top four at the end of April, chances are these young men – the future of the club – who are stepping into the breach over the next eight weeks have to contribute significantly.
“Bath have absolutely nothing to lose and if we give them a 13 point lead then I don’t think we will win the game. I know a lot of the good men and women who work in the Bath organisation and they are proud people. I remember the glory days of Bath and some of my favourite players are Bath from the 1980s and 90s. We don’t care where they sit in the table, we have a job to do.
“They are going to ruin a lot of people’s weekends and we have to have a good enough game plan to play well at the Rec for 80 mins and we haven’t done that for a month. It is a surprise that Bath are in this position but the year I was at Bath, Newcastle got into the top four and then were relegated and that highlights the fickleness of high performance sport and just how tough the Premiership is if you get injuries in the wrong positions and lose a bit of confidence.
“Suddenly, you can end up having a horror year on the back of thinking in pre-season you could push for top six. Bath have very good players and for long periods of games they do well and we are not going to underestimate them and can have a free shot at us.”
Matson spent a year coaching Bath in 2016-17 before having to return to New Zealand for family reasons and has watched his team struggle to pull away from opponents and in January. They have needed to show remarkable self belief to emerge with three points late wins over Gloucester, Cardiff and Castres and a two-point victory at home to Exeter.
Matson said: “In the last month we have had close finishes that could easily have gone the other way and lost them. I am mentally preparing a losing speech basically every week but haven’t had to roll it out yet. They are amazing (results) and when you got back and look at the games – what phenomenal finishes. As a coach reviewing the performance, we are constantly shaking our heads because there are so many things we could have done (against Castres) like conceding 13 points in the first few minutes. There is an easier way I am sure!
“We live and die by results but are driven by performance and that was why Bomb (forwards coach Adam Jones) had his head in his hands at the end of the Castres game. We all took our heart medicine after Alex Dombrandt scored that last try. The results from last year have given this group the belief that if there is time on the board and they have the ball then they can score a try. That belief has been underpinning the late score changes which are so exciting to watch.”
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