Fear is the spur for Bath

Pilkington Cup final: Holders are motivated by an irresistible challenge while the underdogs put faith in a running game

OVER the years of grinding league and Cup matches, it is not so much the prospect of victory as the fear of defeat which has motivated Bath and sustained them through many of their most arduous challenges. And if for no other reason than the fact that they have painstakingly built up this bank of experience, unrivalled anywhere in competitive club rugby, they are once again favourites to win the Cup for the ninth time at Twickenham on Saturday. The fear factor cannot be underestimated and against Wasps, Bath will be more acutely sensitive to it than at any time during their decade of domination.

Their Courage League campaign has been littered with close calls, scrambled saves and lucky breaks. That they have required such good fortune, and in such large measure, raises questions over their current state of health and future prosperity. It is not simply that the standard in the First Division this season has been higher than at any other time during the league's existence. True, it has been intensely competitive and the gap between the clubs at the top and those at the bottom has undeniably closed but not sufficiently to explain Bath's faltering progress and their relinquishing of the title to Leicester.

Seldom have they overwhelmed opponents in the manner of past seasons. There is no doubt that they have badly missed the authority at half-back provided for so long by Richard Hill and Stuart Barnes. Any side would, of course, find it impossible to satisfactorily plug the gaping holes left by these two, but Mike Catt's failure to come through as a convincing successor to Barnes and his subsequent blossoming as an international full-back of the highest calibre has undoubtedly caused problems. They have also been beset by injury; Andy Nicol's season has been wiped out and so has Andy Reed's.

But so often in the past Bath have never been so dangerous as when they are cast in the role of underdogs. To them, it is not the lifting of a burden but a gross insult. Furthermore, there is the powerful motive of revenge. The defeat by Wasps in the league was a dreadful blow to their pride as well as being the point at which their championship challenge faded from expectation to mere hope.

Even in their defeat at the Recreation Ground earlier in the season, Wasps proved to be infuriatingly awkward opponents and could with better luck and a steadier nerve have won. There were signs that day, as there have been on a number of occasions since, of frailty up front, particularly in the Bath scrummage where Darren Molloy gave his opposite number at prop, John Mallett, an extremely uncomfortable afternoon.

It is more than likely that Molloy will be chosen ahead of Gary Holmes for the loose head position which has been so robustly anchored during the season by Nick Popplewell. The Irishman's absence on national service against Italy next Saturday is a savage blow to Wasps and infinitely more crucial than the loss of Simon Geoghegan to Bath. No side beats both Bath and Leicester without an exceptional pack of forwards and Popplewell's part in Wasps' success over both sides this season has been enormous.

So has Norm Hadley's and, by harnessing him with Matt Greenwood in the second row for so much of the season, Wasps have given themselves ample room for manoeuvre. Greenwood is the probable choice to partner the Canadian again in the Cup final but whether Wasps will dare display the daring abandon which illuminated the early part of the season is another matter. They have created a try-scoring record in the league, albeit in a season in which more matches have been played, and they have quality control at half-back with Rob Andrew and Steve Bates.

In addition, they have the zest and power further out to indulge their passion if the opportunities arise. Yet, with a couple of gloriously uninhibited exceptions, Cup finals are not occasions for reckless adventure.

Bath, despite their tendency to malfunction in the league, are still a team for the major occasion. Their players flourish on the big stage where so many of them spend so much time. Their pack may not be as awesomely obdurate and their half-backs may lack authority. They are a side in transition coming to terms with the absence of several influential players, the loss of Jack Rowell, their most powerful motivational force, and the imminent departure of two of their most loyal and trusted comrades, John Hall and Tony Swift. For a side as cussedly determined as Bath, this is surely the most irresistible challenge for years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea