ESPN SCRUM

/ Amlin Challenge Cup 2013-14

/ Preview

Amlin Challenge Cup
Bath and Saints call on big guns for final
ESPN Staff
May 22, 2014
George Ford makes a break during the last meeting between Bath and Northampton, a 19-19 draw at the Rec © Getty Images
Enlarge

The chance of winning silverware is never something to be sniffed at, but Bath will hope Northampton's Premiership final in a week's time will prove to be a distraction as they go toe-to-toe for the Amlin Challenge Cup on Friday evening.

There were pre-match suggestions that Northampton would see Friday's game as a sideshow ahead of the main event next weekend but Jim Mallinder has named a near full-strength side for the match with Alex Corbisiero starting alongside the likes of George North, Luther Burrell, Tom Wood and the Pisi brothers. Worryingly for England, there is still no Dylan Hartley in their ranks.

Bath go into the Challenge Cup final with scores to settle. Their dreams of reaching the Premiership play-offs were dashed on the last day of the season and Friday now represents a chance to salvage something from an otherwise disappointing campaign. While the Challenge Cup might not be the heady heights to which they aspire, victory would send Bath into their summer holidays with something to show for their efforts. They call on Francois Louw for the match with George Ford starting despite rumours surrounding the strength of his shoulder.

Both clubs have won this competition once before and both sets of fans are certainly taking the match seriously, criticising the tournament organisers for staging the final in a venue of just 12,125 seats. The pressure is now on the players to deliver a fitting spectacle.

Key areas to watch

England 10s go boot-to-boot

The metronomic boot of George Ford has powered Bath all season. That much was evident as the young fly-half scored all his side's points in their 19-19 draw with Saints in the Premiership earlier this month. Ford's prodigious scoring rate has shown no signs of slowing in the Challenge Cup, with 63 points in five appearances, and he will be determined to win silverware in his first season with the club.

Opposite Ford is his England rival Stephen Myler. The Saints No.10 has been inches behind Ford all season, scoring 236 Premiership points to Ford's 250, and 53 in the Challenge Cup.

Battles in the backlines

While the line-ups for the final are far from certain, both sides boast backlines which would light up any game. A Northampton division including the likes of Ben Foden, Burrell and North going toe-to-toe with Bath's Nick Abendanon, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph promises explosive action on the super-fast artificial surface at Cardiff Arms Park.

The story of the backs could even be one of two Welshmen. Controversy has surrounded the international futures of North and Bath's Gavin Henson, with Premiership Rugby insisting they must not be released to play in a Wales trial match on May 30. A match-winning display from either man will have Warren Gatland hopping in frustration that he cannot call on them for his pre-tour preparations.

Back rows vie for supremacy

If any neutral needed reminding of the passion professional rugby inspires, Wood's roar after touching down to snatch the win in last Friday's Premiership semi-final against Leicester will leave them with no false impressions. The flanker has been playing this season like a man possessed, making a staggering 77 tackles in European competitions so far. Assisted by allies such as Sam Dickinson and Calum Clark, Wood leads a formidable unit.

The combative Bath back row however, are unlikely to be cowed. The grizzled warrior Carl Fearns has made more tackles than anybody else in the Challenge Cup this season, while director of rugby Mike Ford has welcomed back the dynamic Springbok Francois Louw for the final. Famed for their commitment in the tackle, Bath will be looking to knock the Saints out of their stride.

Stats

Of the players likely to feature in the final, George North has made more metres (451) in European club rugby this season than anyone else.

Bath have beaten more defenders per game (28.5) than any other club in the Amlin Challenge Cup this season.

Despite George Ford's impressive point-scoring form, Bath have only landed 65% of their kicks at goal, compared to Northampton's 76%.

Trivia

If Bath lose on Friday they will be the first club to be Challenge Cup runners-up three times.

This will be the fourth all-English Challenge Cup final - Bath have been involved in two of the previous three, winning one and losing one.

Both Bath and Northampton have won this tournament once before, and whoever wins the final will join Clermont and Sale Sharks on two victories. Harlequins have won the competition three times.

Prediction

The last encounter between these two sides ended in a draw, but Bath will be determined to win the Challenge Cup as a consolation prize and should sneak it by three points.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Boxing

    Anthony Joshua returns against Jason Gavern in Newcastle

    Anthony Joshua will return to the ring following a five-month layoff to face Jason Gavern at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena on April 4 in preparation for his rescheduled showdown with Kevin Johnson

  • Formula 1

    McLaren getting more from Honda PU - Button

    Jenson Button was in an optimistic mood following Friday practice in Malaysia after seeing McLaren make a step forward from its dismal Australian Grand Prix pace

  • Rugby

    Brown ruled out of Saracens clash with concussion

    England full-back Mike Brown has been ruled out of Harlequins' Premiership showdown with Saracens at Wembley after showing signs of concussion after the Six Nations win over France

  • Football

    Bans for Real Madrid fans who kicked Gareth Bale's car

    Three Real Madrid fans are set to be fined €3,001 each and banned from attending all games for six months after kicking and punching the cars of Blancos players, including that of Gareth Bale, on the night of the team's 2-1 defeat at Barcelona

  • Rugby

    Lions spoil Cooper's Reds return

    The Lions have rounded out a fine Australasian tour with a third win from four matches, an 18-17 triumph over the struggling Queensland Reds in Brisbane

  • Formula One

    Tough at the top

    Who has driven in the most GPs before taking pole position?

  • Formula 1

    F1 cost cutting: Not putting money where the mouth is

    Mudslinging and an agreement on something that will never happen, it's all in a day's work for a Formula One boss, as Maurice Hamilton explains...

  • Rugby

    Unsavoury sledging did not end with Potgieter

    Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports

  • Rugby

    Super Rugby preview, team news, line-ups: Round 7

    Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks

  • Formula 1

    Storm clouds gather in Malaysia

    Will Mercedes dominate again? Can anybody catch up with the help of a rainstorm? And will the Red Bull/Renault relationship tear itself apart? All those questions and more will be answered at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix

  • News
  • Features
  • Inside Boxing

    'I've sparred with Klitschko and Fury - now I want Joshua'

    Unbeaten heavyweight Dillian Whyte, 28, (14-0, 11 KOs) tells ESPN where his rivalry with Anthony Joshua stems from and outlines the plan for his career this year after returning from a doping ban in November

  • UFC

    Top 10 best UFC fighters of all time

    Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner

  • Ask Steven

    Home front

    Who was the first Briton to win the British Grand Prix?

  • Ask Steven

    Pointless drivers

    Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?

  • Ask Steven

    Home favourites

    How many F1 drivers have had one win, but done it at their home Grand Prix?

Sponsored Links

Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income