Preview - Bath v Bristol

30th Mar 2007, 13:13

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Having had two weeks to prepare for Saturday¿s European Challenge Cup showdown against Bristol, Steve Meehan is in no doubt that his Bath Rugby will be fresh and raring to go.

Having had two weeks to prepare for Saturday's European Challenge Cup showdown against Bristol, Steve Meehan is in no doubt that his Bath Rugby will be fresh and raring to go.

Bath's last match was a narrow league defeat to Leicester in mid-March, but the spirit and style of rugby shown on that occasion are further reasons why the team is excited and optimistic about tomorrow's quarter-final.

"It's a big weekend and important to us, and we've prepared well for it," the Head Coach said.

"The break has given some players a rest that has freshened them up, and they have had two weeks to get a very good understanding of what we are about for this game."

Meanwhile, Bristol Rugby Head Coach Richard Hill has lived up to his pledge and named a strong side to for the match. Bath nemesis Lee Robinson - a winning try-scorer in two of the three Bath-Bristol encounters earlier in the season - returns on the right wing.

Hill does have to make changes from the side that defeated Northampton Saints in the Guinness Premiership last weekend with Rob Higgitt (thumb) and Bernardo Stortoni (knee) ruled out. Flanker Alfie To'oala is also rested as a precaution.

Josh Taumalolo comes in for Stortoni and Sam Cox replaces Higgitt whilst Robinson, who has scored crucial scores against Bath in the past at the Rec, Memorial Stadium and Ashton Gate, is preferred to Craig Morgan.

Roy Winters switches from the second row to the blindside to take over from To'oala and Mariano Sambucetti, fresh from his hat-trick scoring exploits against Gloucester in the Guinness A League on Monday night, comes in at lock.

It's actually only the third time in eight years that Bristol have reached the knockout stages of European competition with the last occasion being a quarter final at Sale in 2002.

However, Hill revealed that he and his team are putting the league to one side for the moment and going for cup glory.

"We've picked the strongest side we can so we're treating it very seriously. We gained a lot of confidence from the win last weekend and that should carry over into this game."

"It's a very serious game for us. You don't get many chances to win silverware, you have to go for it when you have the opportunity."

"I think we've got a good chance. We've beaten them at three different grounds this season but they will be stronger this time around. And, of course, this is make or break for their season."

"Bath tend to play better when it's a cup tie so we're expecting a real onslaught and a real determination to get through. But we may go into it more relaxed as it's a must win for them and we've beaten them three times."

Among those coming into the side are two players whose appearances this season have been restricted by injury: Michael Lipman, who has made just five other starts this season, will be at openside flanker; and Tom Cheeseman, who has scored four tries in ten appearances since September, begins on the left wing.

Form: Bristol have dwindled a bit in the Premiership as key players have been rested for the end-of-season run-in, while Bath have got themselves all but clear of relegation with a couple of useful wins during the Six Nations. Bristol have won all three encounters between the two this season, including a 12-19 win at The Rec in November.

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Joe Maddock, 13 Shaun Berne, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Tom Cheeseman, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe, 8 Isaac Feaunati, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Andy Beattie, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 David Barnes.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Peter Short, 19 Jonny Faamatuainu, 20 Andy Williams, 21 David Bory, 22 Chev Walker.

Bristol: 15 Josh Taumalolo, 14 Lee Robinson, 13 Neil Brew, 12 Sam Cox, 11 David Lemi, 10 Danny Gray, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Andrew Blowers, 7 Joe El Abd, 6 Roy Winters, 5 Gareth Llewellyn (c), 4 Mariano Sambucetti, 3 Darren Crompton, 2 Mark Regan, 1 Dave Hilton.
Replacements: 16 David Blaney, 17 Alex Clarke, 18 Nathan Budgett, 19 Craig Short, 20 Greg Nicholls, 21 Jason Strange, 22 Luke Arscott.

Date: Saturday, March 31
Venue: The Rec
Kick-off: 12:00 (11:00 GMT)
Referee: Donal Courtney (Ireland)
Touch judges: George Clancy (Ireland), Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assessor: Joël Dume (France)
Television match official: Brian Abrahams (England), Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)