Home Sports Bristol Bears v Bath Rugby predicted teams: Who will start the derby?

Bristol Bears v Bath Rugby predicted teams: Who will start the derby?

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South West rugby writer John Evely takes a look at the selection dilemmas facing Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam and his counterpart at Bath Rugby Stuart Hooper ahead of Friday night’s derby game in Round Three of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership.

Here are the predicted teams….

Bristol Bears

Backs

The big question is will Semi Radradra play?

The Fijian superstar would make the difference to any team but he really is the missing ingredient to this Bristol Bears backline as Pat Lam’s attack is designed to target the 13/14 channel.

With Luke Morahan sidelined with a hamstring injury and Siva Naulago out with a broken arm the Bears are missing two of their strike runners who can beat a defender one-on-one and break the line and that is not to be underestimated, making the argument to rush Radradra back in all the more persuasive.

Lam was keeping his cards close to his chest about Radradra in his midweek press conference but did not rule out the Olympic gold medal winner being involved and assistant coach Conor McPhillips confirmed there is a decent chance he will play.

We know the centre keeps himself in incredible shape and lives the life of a professional athlete 365 days a year meaning he is likely ready to go. Northampton Saints opted to include Fijian scrum-half Frank Lomani after just a couple of weeks of coming to the UK from Fiji and he was new to the club having signed in the summer, Radradra in contrast is coming back into an environment he not only knows but has helped build.

If Radradra does start in the 13 shirt then Piers O’Conor will likely move to inside centre which would resolve the issue of whether Alapati Leiua is fit having taken a knock on his shoulder at the CBS Arena. I suspect the Samoan international won’t play, with Sam Bedlow involved if Radradra is not deemed ready.

Niyi Adeolokun has started on the wing in Bristol’s opening couple of games largely due to injury but Henry Purdy returned from a clean-up surgery to feature off the bench against Wasps.

With another week of training under his belt I expect Purdy to start on the wing on Friday night.

The other big selection call comes at scrum-half.

Andy Uren has started the first two games of the season and with Bath left with inexperienced options at nine due to England international Ben Spencer suffering a hamstring injury in Round One against Sale Sharks the seasoned Bristolian is a brilliant spoiler of the opponent’s ball, particularly at the back of the scrum. He could really bully a rookie.

Harry Randall has been away with England until late on Tuesday night which also means he will not have trained with the team this week until Wednesday and points to Uren getting the nine shirt again with the dynamic Randall exploding off the bench early in the second half.

15 – Charles Piutau

14 – Henry Purdy

13 – Semi Radradra

12 – Piers O’Conor

11 – Ioan Lloyd

10 – Callum Sheedy

9 – Andy Uren

Forwards

Stick or twist? That is the decision facing Lam.

The seven of the eight men I have named in the pack below are the same that started at Wasps last weekend which of course ended in a disappointing 44-6 defeat. The only change is at hooker where unfortunately I can’t see Harry Thacker recovering from his hip injury in time to play this week.

Will Capon will likely come in at hooker with Jake Kerr on the bench.

But what for the rest of the pack? I think Lam will stick with his strongest side on paper for one more week at least as this Bears side are not a million miles off, they just need a few more final passes to stick.

Kyle Sinckler is unlikely to be given permission to play this weekend despite the Bears going through the official channels to ask for him to play and John Afoa is fighting his way back from a calf injury. Either man’s return at tighthead would be a welcome boost but also a surprise.

Elsewhere in the pack the likes of Fitz Harding, Jake Heenan and Ed Holmes may have to bide their time.

1 – Yann Thomas

2 – Will Capon

3 – Max Lahiff

4 – Chris Vui

5 – Dave Attwood

6 – Steven Luatua

7 – Dan Thomas

8 – Nathan Hughes

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Bath Rugby

Backs

The big selection issue in the Bath backline will be dependent on Danny Cipriani’s results in neological tests he will undergo as part of the league’s Graduated Return To Play protocols following a concussion in Round One against Sale.

If he passes he plays. Games like this is why Bath gambled on bringing the 33-year-old to the club. If he fails then Orlando Bailey will wear 10.

Twenty-two-year-old scrum-half Ollie Fox made his first Premiership start in Bath’s 20-13 home defeat to Newcastle Falcons last weekend and was potentially at fault for two of the visitors’ tries, missing a tackle while defending the blindside and then not covering the space in behind the lineout, however with Ben Spencer out with a hamstring injury he is likely to be given a second consecutive run out with Max Green providing cover from the bench.

Elsewhere the only real call in the backline is whether Ruaridh McConnochie is ready to return to the fold having missed a couple of weeks to illness, if he does then he will likely come in for Semesa Rokoduguni. Both men offer a potent threat although only if you get the ball in their hands in promising positions.

15 – Tom de Glanville

14 – Ruaridh McConnochie

13 – Jonathan Joseph

12 – Max Ojomoh

11 – Will Muir

10 – Danny Cipriani

9 – Ollie Fox

Forwards

England internationals Will Stuart and Josh McNally are both understood to be on the verge of a return to action having returned to full training.

Bath’s new tightheads Johannes Jonker and D’Arcy Rae have struggled in the scrum at times this season meaning the prospect of having Stuart back to make an all England international frontrow an exciting prospect for Bath, because if the Blue, Black and White can get the upper hand in the scrum on Friday night it will curtail Bristol’s attacking options as well as produce penalties.

Whether McNally comes straight into the starting side is unclear. Hooper is clearly a big fan having made him captain in Charlie Ewels’ absence but I could see him featuring from the bench with Mike Williams’ big tackling a useful tool against a side like the Bears.

In the backrow the big question is whether Sam Underhill is fit to start after taking a bang on his knee at The Rec last weekend.

Underhill has been in superb form so far this season and made 83 metres carrying in Round One against Sale Sharks as he is looking to develop what he offers in attack to good effect. He would be a loss but Bath’s backrow options are ludicrously rich.

Hooper confirmed this week he has no plans to rush number eight Taulupe Faletau back into the starting side following his summer with the British and Irish Lions so he will not be involved this weekend. He said: “Taulupe is back training, we’ll be looking to get him back when he’s ready, but not too quickly because he’s played a lot of rugby over the last few years. We need to give him a good break and then re-condition him to get him up to speed.”

Josh Bayliss has been playing at number eight so far this season but I think Hooper will move him over to the flank in place of Underhill, should he fail his fitness test, with the abrasive South African Jaco Coetzee given an opportunity to punch some holes in the Bristol defence.

1 – Beno Obano

2 – Tom Dunn

3 – Will Stuart

4 – Mike Williams

5 – Charlie Ewels

6 – Josh Bayliss

7 – Miles Reid

8 – Jaco Coetzee

Bath Rugby news straight to your phone!



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If so, you could receive the latest club news straight to your phone by signing up to our WhatsApp service.

Bath Rugby writer John Evely will send you links to the breaking stories, direct to your mobile, via the easy-to-use app.

Among the things you can expect are transfer news, interviews, match reports, injury updates, team news and live blogs. You could even use it to ask him a question.

If you would like to sign up, save the number 07870 507032 to your phone (you must do this to receive our messages), then send BATH RUGBY in a message to that number via WhatsApp. We recommend saving the contact to your mobile as ‘Bath Rugby News’.

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The teams will be officially announced at midday on Thursday. You can follow all the build-up, team news, live play-by-play action, reaction, statistics, analysis and highlights from the derby game right here.

For more exclusive Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears content sign up to South West rugby writer John Evely’s Rugby Week newsletter right here with a Team of the Week and all the latest news from around the West Country during the 2021/22 season.

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