Preview: Bath v Leicester

Date published: September 19 2014

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Fewer rivalries in the English game hold more history or bad blood than Bath verus Leicester, with the pair clashing at the Rec on Saturday.

Fewer rivalries in the English game hold more history or bad blood than Bath against Leicester Tigers, with the pair clashing at the Rec on Saturday.

Both have had their time in the sun in years gone by, yet both ended last season without a single trophy.

Bath's rise back to the top isn't yet complete, but the progress to get to this stage and be considered as a play-off contender has been a slow process.

Six Premiership titles between 1989-1996 capped off by the Heineken Cup in 1998 confirmed Bath as the dominant English force during the 1990s, but it's been some slump.

Bath now though are back. Their first two matches this season – putting London Welsh to the sword and winning away at Sale – have underlined their credentials to make the top four.

The investment in their squad hasn't been subtle but appears to be bearing fruit, even before the arrival of Sam Burgess at the end of October.

A strong English spine featuring Rob Webber, David Wilson and George Ford are all in favour with Stuart Lancaster, but it's in the backs where Bath have an edge over other sides when it comes to agility and speed.

Semesa Rokoduguni has become one of the league's most potent finishers, although Leicester don't lack in that department with Vereniki Goneva, while Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph are infield to make opportunities.

When Bath's pack hits form they can provide the necessary platform, but there were moments against the other top sides last season where they were second best. Toby Booth and Neil Hatley are continuing to improve the Bath set-piece with obvious results, but more is needed against the biggest teams.

Leicester are exactly the right side to give Bath fans a taste of where their pack stands.

Injures derailed Leicester's campaign last season and the early vibes have been similarly bleak, as the treatment room at Welford Road begins to bulge. Losing captain Ed Slater for more or less the whole season is the biggest blow.

Tom Croft though is a welcome returnee, the forgotten England man out to make an impression ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup.

Still a freakishly talented athlete, Croft is making his comeback after overcoming a major knee injury and a shoulder setback.

With Slater and Louis Deacon amongst other senior figures absent, Leicester have turned to Ben Youngs for their leadership.

The key scrum-half came up with the winning try last weekend against Exeter Chiefs to keep the 2013 champions unbeaten through two matches so far.

More importantly he has been a reassuring presence for new fly-half Freddie Burns. Recruited from Gloucester, Burns is under pressure for his spot in the side before he's even started given the way Owen Williams flourished at the end of the last campaign.

Burns has always had the attacking talent and intent to open a game up, but Leicester will look for him to show great control at the Rec in the battle to subdue Bath's backs and dominate possession and territory.

Go well in a fixture such as this and Burns will do his England prospects plenty of good. Directly opposite a rival in Ford, Stuart Lancaster will be taking note.

It has been some time now since Leicester travelled to the Rec and came away as winners – 2006 to be precise, when Martin Corry was captain and Andy Goode scored 14 points to add to a Leon Lloyd try. That feels like an age ago.

Matt Banahan represents the sole change to the Bath team which beat London Welsh last weekend, as they side seek to extend their good run of results against Leicester in front of another record-breaking crowd at the Rec.

Banahan, whose impressive try in this fixture last year helped Bath to victory, joins full-back Luke Arscott and wing Semesa Rokoduguni in the back three. Centres Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph are once again tasked with troubling the opposition defence with their potent attacking partnership.

Scrum-half Chris Cook makes only the second Aviva Premiership start of his career, with fly-half George Ford out to add to his two-game haul of 37 points, putting him at the top of Premiership points list at this early stage of the season.

The all-international front row of Paul James, Webber and Wilson is supported by Captain Stuart Hooper and Dave Attwood. The unchanged back row consists of blindside Carl Fearns, openside Guy Mercer and Leroy Houston.

Back Olly Woodburn is the only change to last week's replacements bench.

Meanwhile, Croft and Leonardo Ghiraldini come into the Leicester Tigers starting line-up for Saturday's Aviva Premiership clash.

Croft makes his first appearance of the season, while hooker Ghiraldini swaps places with Tom Youngs who starts among the replacements.

In the other change to the team following last week's win at Exeter Chiefs, Jordan Crane returns at number eight, with Robert Barbieri selected as a replacement.

“We've started with two wins but we know there is a lot more to come from us in terms of performance,” said Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

“We're just two games through a 22-game league programme so there is a long way to go, and at this stage you just need to keep building and we have a platform from the opening two games.”

Form: Leicester have not beaten Bath in any of their last four meetings, with their last Premiership win at The Rec coming back in 2006. After thumping London Welsh 53-26 on home soil last weekend, Bath will be looking to begin their campaign with three successive victories for the first time since 2003/04.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Carl Fearns, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Alafoti Fa'osiliva, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Olly Woodburn.

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (c), 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Graham Kitchener, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Matt Smith.

Date: Saturday, September 20
Kickoff: 15:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Venue: The Rec
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Kelvin Stewart
TMO: Graham Hughes

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