The Six Nations may be taking another of its mid-championship breathers, but there will be no shortage of box-office allure at the Recreation Ground on Friday night when Sam Burgess and Danny Cipriani, two celebrity midfielders with supersized reputations, square up to each other in a Premiership match of considerable significance. Both have points to prove, as well as points to secure.
Burgess stays in the outside centre position, having failed to oust another rugby league refugee, Kyle Eastmond, from the inside centre role. In fairness to the Yorkshireman, his work-rate against Exeter at Sandy Park last weekend was greater than his error count: no mean feat for a player who still makes mistakes by the cartload. But as free-spending Bath have just lost three on the trot and suddenly find themselves out of the play-off positions for the first time in ages, patience amongst the paying public is beginning to evaporate.
Cipriani, released back to his club once again by the England head coach Stuart Lancaster, needs an eye-catching performance to press his claims on the red-rose front. The Wayward One enjoyed his try-scoring cameo against Italy last month, but he was not used in the tight victory over Wales and remained manacled to the bench throughout last weekend’s defeat in Dublin. This has left his many supporters wondering whether he will be out on his ear the moment Owen Farrell, the injured Saracens outside-half, returns from injury.
Bath make six changes, one of them positional, to the side that finished second at Exeter: Chris Cook returns to the mix at scrum-half; Nick Auterac, Rob Webber and Henry Thomas form the front row combination; and Matt Garvey is restored to the blindside flank, with Carl Fearns moving to No 8 for the stricken Leroy Houston. Sale, meanwhile, travel with Tommy Taylor and David Seymour at hooker and breakaway respectively.
Needless to say, the much talked-about Burgess would not be starting this game – not in the No 13 position, at least – if Jonathan Joseph had been available for duty. But Joseph has been held in the England camp and must be satisfied with a watching brief, never easy for an ambitious individual when his colleagues are on the skids.
“I’m not sure my body would agree with this,” he said, reflecting on the battering he took in the tough contest with Ireland five days ago, “but I’d love to play against Sale. We’re down in fifth place, so every game has to be won from here on in.”
The same goes for England, of course: a comprehensive Calcutta Cup victory over the Scots on Saturday week will keep them in the hunt for a first Six Nations title since 2011. “We need to make sure our heads are in the right space for that one,” acknowledged the centre. “I’ve played for Bath against Glasgow twice this year and they gave us hassle both times. A lot of the same players will be in the Scotland side and it will be a fast game, I think.”Reuse content