Preview: Bath v Bristol

23rd Nov 2007, 13:18

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James: Ready for his Premiership debut

James: Ready for his Premiership debut

Bath will be looking to consolidate their position at the top end of the Guinness Premiership on Saturday when Bristol travel to The Rec for the big West Country derby.

Bath will be looking to consolidate their position at the top end of the Guinness Premiership on Saturday when Bristol travel to The Rec for the big West Country derby.

The hosts go into the game with eight wins from ten games this season and will welcome Butch James into his first Guinness Premiership game.

James, the World Cup-winning fly-half, will partner fellow South African Michael Claassens at half-back.

Bath coach Steve Meehan has one thing in mind for the match and that is "to quite simply win it".

"It is a massive game, but we have been playing some good rugby," Meehan said.

"There was a little bit of criticism that came our way last week, because of the way we played, but we think it was a result of the programme that we were in.

"The fact of the matter is that we really encourage the players to go out and play and to really try and push things, so, at times, it didn't really go our way, but it was all part of the programme and in the end we achieved the objective of winning the game and scoring four tries and it has given us a good development towards this weekend.

"I think we will find Steve Borthwick has an immense match. It will be the sort of game that is made for him and he will be looking to lead by example as the captain. I also think Butch will stand up and show exactly why he is a World Cup winner."

Borthwick starts at second row alongside Peter Short, while the England duo of Matt Stevens and Lee Mears will pack down in the front row.

Meanwhile, Bristol boss Richard Hill keeps faith with the majority of the starting line up that defeated Stade Français in the Heineken Cup last weekend but is forced to make two changes to his back line.

Tom Arscott sprained his ankle against the French champions and is ruled out and replaced by Lee Robinson.

And the return to Guinness Premiership action means that only one of Neil Brew and David Hill can be on the pitch at the same time due to the 'overseas' rule. Brew gets the nod with Hill named on the bench. Jason Strange comes in at fly-half.

Hill acknowledged that Bath will pose a stern test and that his selection hadn't been easy this weekend.

"It's been a dilemma because Brew and Hill have both been playing well. I've been mulling it over for a couple of days and I knew I would disappoint someone," he said.

"But it's good to be able to bring Lee Robinson back in as he can't stop scoring against Bath! Perhaps it's because he started playing at Bath but he loves playing against them.

"Everybody is still fairly happy after the Stade result but as we get closer to that 2:15pm kick off on Saturday, the mood will change and will be every bit as focused as it was before the Stade game.

"We seem to have broken that real stranglehold that Bath had over Bristol for many, many years. Last year was a big turning point for us. In particular, it gave everyone at the club a huge lift to go to the Recreation Ground and win.

"It's always been a difficult place to go to and win. Gloucester just can't seem to do it, for example. But it's not a foregone conclusion that Bristol will go there and lose as it was maybe in the past.

"Bath are in the in form team. We caught them at a slightly low ebb last season when they just weren't clicking. But you can see the influence Steve Meehan is having now. They have a real cutting edge this season.

"It's a traditional West Country derby and there's always that little bit of extra spice to the occasion. It'd be nice to come away with a win and keep the bragging rights for another couple of months or so."

Form: Bath's only loss in their last eight matches in all competitions since September 22 was 10-25 at Sale in the EDF Energy Cup. Bath have won six of their last seven games in the Guinness Premiership and are unbeaten in any competition at The Rec since Bristol were the visitors in the Premiership on 18 November 2006. Bristol's 17-0 victory over Stade Francais in the European Cup on Sunday was the first time Bristol had niled an opponent since a trip to Pertemps Bees ended in a 23-0 win in National One in February 2005. Bath have won just one of their last six encounters with Bristol in the Premiership: 31-16 at The Rec on 15 April 2006.

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Shaun Berne, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel Browne, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Andy Beattie, 5 Peter Short, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Lorne Ward, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Paulica Ion, 18 James Scaysbrook, 19 Jonny Faamatuainu, 20 Nick Walshe, 21 Tom Cheeseman, 22 Michael Stephenson.

Bristol: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Lee Robinson, 13 Rob Higgitt, 12 Neil Brew, 11 David Lemi, 10 Jason Strange, 9 Shaun Perry (c), 8 Dan Ward-Smith, 7 Joe El Abd, 6 Andrew Blowers, 5 Sean Hohneck, 4 Roy Winters, 3 Jason Hobson, 2 Mark Regan, 1 Alex Clarke.
Replacements: 16 David Blaney, 17 Darren Crompton, 18 Gareth Llewellyn, 19 Alfie To'oala, 20 Brian O'Riordan, 21 David Hill, 22 Josh Taumalolo.

Date: Saturday, 24 November
Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Venue: The Recreation Ground
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Touch judges: Ashley Reay, Andrew Pearce
Assessor: Paul Bridgman
Television match official: Laurie Bryant