Preview: Bath v Leicester

Date published: May 22 2015

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One of English rugby’s great rivalries will be on display yet again when Leicester travel to The Rec to face Bath on Saturday.

These fixtures are always special, but having the prospect of making the Premiership Final as the prize will only ramp up the intensity for Saturday’s clash.

During the early 90s the Premiership crown was a constant battle between these old foes, with Bath winning five titles in six years as Leicester were the only team to stop their run.

Since the Millennium however it’s been a different story, with Leicester establishing themselves as English rugby’s most successful side ever with ten league titles.

Missing out on the top four for the first time in a decade was a very real concern for Richard Cockerill’s side and this season, more than normal, they have really scrapped their way into the play-offs as we can read from their lower points difference compared to the teams around them.

Bath by contrast have been the great entertainers, packed full of young talent spearheaded by the newly crowned Premiership Player of the Season, George Ford.

Ford of course lifted the Premiership title when he knocked over four penalties for the Tigers against Northampton in 2013 , his last act for the club before following his father Mike to Bath.

He has become an integral figure behind their success, thriving alongside the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson behind a tough pack led brilliantly by Stuart Hooper.

The ingredients are in place for Bath to truly compete again, but they lack Leicester’s experience at this stage, which makes Saturday all the more intriguing.

It really should be a great contest.

In team news, Hooper returns to lead Bath in their first ever home Aviva Premiership semi-final.

Hooper takes his place in the second row, where he is joined by Dave Attwood. He is one of two changes from last weekend's starting pack against Gloucester, with hooker Ross Batty joining the front alongside Paul James and David Wilson.

The back row trio of blindside Sam Burgess, openside Francois Louw and number eight Leroy Houston continues, as does the nine-ten axis of Peter Stringer and George Ford. Fly-half Ford will make his 50th appearance for the club.

The only change to the Bath backline sees the reinstatement of Jonathan Joseph at outside centre, whilst Kyle Eastmond is named at inside centre. Matt Banahan and Semesa Rokoduguni take the wing spots, with Anthony Watson at full-back.

Meanwhile, Marcos Ayerza returns to the starting line-up at loosehead prop in the only change to the Leicester team that started the Round 22 win over Northampton Saints, with Michele Rizzo named among the replacements as Logovi'i Mulipola is ruled out.

Form: Bath will look to record a seventh consecutive Premiership win – something they haven't achieved since the 2009/10 season. Leicester are in good form themselves, having won eight of their last nine league games to seal their place in the play-offs for the 11th successive campaign. While Leicester required a 22-14 victory over table-toppers Northampton Saints on the final day of the regular season to guarantee a top-four spot, Bath's consistency meant they had a home semi-final wrapped up before round 22 rolled around. Their home form has been particularly dominant – notching a league-high 47 points at the Rec while suffering a solitary defeat to Northampton in round 15. The historic ground will host a Premiership Rugby semi-final for the first time, becoming the tenth venue to do so.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Sam Burgess, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Paul James
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Matt Garvey, 21 Carl Fearns, 22 Chris Cook, 23 Ollie Devoto

Leicester: 15 Niall Morris, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Christian Loamanu, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (c), 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Ed Slater, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 George Catchpole

Date: Saturday, May 23
Venue: The Recreation Ground, Bath
Kick-off: 17:00 local (16:00 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Ashley Rowden
TMO: Graham Hughes

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