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Some 'unbelievably dangerous individuals' are worrying Bath

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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Stuart Hooper reckons that the major slump in results that Bristol have suffered in this season’s Gallagher Premiership is similar to the struggles endured by his bottom-placed Bath side. The west country rivals are preparing for the latest instalment in their fierce rivalry this Saturday, but the fortunes of both clubs are very different compared to their May 2021 meeting at The Rec.

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Ten months ago, Bristol were flying high at the top of the table while a competitive Bath were battling it out to secure a high enough finish to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup. In contrast to that first-versus-seventh battle in the then twelve-team league, the latest derby brings together the teams that are occupying tenth and 13th place in the 13-team competition.  

It’s quite the fall. For instance, Bristol were 17 points off of top-four playoff qualification going into this weekend’s round 18 fixtures while Bath were five points behind twelfth-place Worcester at the foot of the table.   

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Their respective slumps have understandably generated headlines, most notably the Bears as they were touted pre-season as a title contender. That challenge hasn’t materialised and asked by RugbyPass for his thoughts on why it hasn’t happened for Bristol this term, Bath boss Hooper said: “It’s similar to ourselves.

“When you have a poor run of form it is never about one thing but they have got a quality squad, they have got some unbelievably dangerous individuals, they have got some injury concerns which we have got and we have had and we know what that is like but they do fight and they fight hard. 

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“They have had a very few close games this year and it could have gone either way which puts a very different slant on the table. By no way do we underestimate these guys. We know what a threat they pose and we know what a big game this will be. Yeah, our preparation against these guys is strong, no matter what has happened to them this year.”

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The Bath rebuild for next season continued in earnest this past week with the recruitment of three more players and the unveiling of Joe Maddock as their new attack coach. It was December when the club announced that Johann van Graan would become its new coach for 2022/23, so how much involvement has the South African had with the director of rugby Hooper in planning the recruitment for next season?

“Johann has had small amounts of input but he understands what we are doing and why we are doing it. He is absolutely focused on Munster now but we have taken small pockets of time, when they have not had a game, for example, to get through the detail so that he is absolutely on board with the plan of what is going on and when he comes in in July that he has got the squad and the group that he needs.”

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