Buzzing for Bath time
Jonathan Davies is looking forward to the battle of the club giants this Saturday
Sunday 10 November 1996
Phil is no stranger to leading Bath out but he has probably discovered already that being made captain of your country is something entirely different. As I've found in both codes, it is not a job you take on and off with the jersey. It is with you every waking moment and for some of the sleeping ones as well. He will find it difficult to get accustomed to, and a club game as vital as this will be a very testing experience. In fact, England ought to be grateful for the valuable workout so many of their key players are going to get.
Cardiff will be up against almost the entire English strike force. Apart from de Glanville, Bath have the outside-half Mike Catt and the wingers Jon Sleightholme and Adedayo Adebayo in the new England team. But we might face most danger from the player England left out - the centre Jeremy Guscott who will see this game as the ideal opportunity to prove a point or two.
If Bath have any problem it is in selection. The League players Jason Robinson and Henry Paul would seem to have the ideal strength and ability for this sort of cup battle. But will Bath employ them at the expense of their permanent players like their full-back Jonathan Callard? Robinson and Paul will be back with their league clubs in January and won't be around for the European Cup final. It is an interesting dilemma.
Meanwhile, the Cardiff camp is buzzing at the prospect. We are delighted that we finished on top of what they billed as the "Group of Death". We had a poor start to the season but ever since we have been steadily gelling together and gathering confidence in our ability to play with strength and flair. We have a great deal of international experience and, with it, the versatility to vary our game plan and the ability to withstand the intensity these European games are creating.
We also have home advantage which has proved to be very important in the competition so far because of that intensity. The ties have a bite you don't get in domestic leagues and familiar surroundings can be of great help. That's why the team supported the decision to play the match on our own pitch instead of at the National Stadium next door. We want to play in the atmosphere our own fans create just as the crowd at Sardis Road did when they roared Pontypridd on to their famous win over Bath in the group matches a few weeks ago.
It was a great victory and I'm sorry Ponty didn't progress to the quarter- finals. The only trouble is that Bath will get extra motivation from the desire to avenge that defeat. Not that they had any complaints that night. Pontypridd used the wet conditions well, kept turning the Bath forwards with good kicking and tackled brilliantly.
I wish I could discuss how we intend to play but I will content myself by reminding everyone that we used to have mammoth Wales-England club matches long before leagues and European Cups were invented and the best one I ever played was against Bath.
It was 10 years ago and I was playing for Neath when they met Bath at the Gnoll in a "friendly" that the press called the battle to decide the best club team in Britain. Bath had won the John Player Cup for the third consecutive year and were regarded as the finest team in England. I'm proud to say that Neath won 29-9 and I enjoyed every minute.
John Hall, who is now Bath's manager, was playing then. John was a fast and aggressive back-row player and is now a master of psychological warfare. No doubt, he'll be trying to wind us up over the next few days as he did with Pontypridd, but I hope we will have too much respect for each other and the memory of our 1986 meeting.
I might not be the young whippet I was then but the strange new world of rugby has brought me full circle and I relish the challenge of playing Bath as much as I did a decade ago. It can't fail to be a great match.
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