Bath Rugby pack is key to battle for early leadership
The battle to jump to the top of the Aviva Premiership table will be fought out in the pack when Bath Rugby take on Northampton Saints tomorrow night (7.45pm).
With both sides looking for a third straight success at the start of the fledgling campaign, forwards coach Neal Hatley believes Bath must get to grips with Saints' formidable scrum at The Rec.
And although tomorrow's victors are likely to be dethroned at the head of the table within 24 hours' time, reaching the summit will add extra spice to the contest.
"Friday night is going to be a massive game," said Hatley, who made a summer switch to The Rec from London Irish.
Limited Deal. All day wedding photography only £545.00View details
All day wedding photography only £545.00
From Bridal preparations to first dance.
250+ Hi Res images on disc with full printing rights.
Professional photography at affordable prices.
Free no obligation consultations.
Offer subject to availability.
Book before 31st May 2013.
Available in Bath, Bristol and surrounding areas.
Contact: 01225 439257
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
"Northampton are an outstanding team and they'll be looking to continue their momentum, just like we are.
"Over the past couple of seasons I think they've probably been among the best three sides in Europe at the set-piece, so we know that's an area they will try to dominate.
"They are so strong in the pack and have a lot of international players in that department, so we've got to make sure we compete against them.
"It's another home game and what we need to do is make sure teams do not want to come down to The Rec to play us.
"Sitting at the top of the league is a great thing whenever it is in the season, so it's certainly an incentive heading into the game.
"Northampton are in exactly the same boat, though, so the carrot is just the same for both of us."
With six Saints players currently featuring in the England Elite Player Squad, Jim Mallinder's side will be targeting a string of early victories before their departures to the QBE Internationals in the autumn.
Although Bath are not expected to face such an exodus in the coming months, they have their own selection headaches ahead of tomorrow's clash, with Matt Banahan facing a race to be fit.
The centre scored the first of three tries during the 30-23 weekend win over Wasps but left The Rec with his knee in a brace after limping off in the second half.
Stephen Donald and Tom Heathcote continue to be ruled out through injury but Hatley insists there is plenty of cover to plug the gaps.
"Injuries are part and parcel of the game, so if Matt is not available for Friday it gives someone else a chance to come in and step up," he said.
"We've got Ben Williams and Jack Cuthbert, who has been doing really well recently. He was strong in pre-season and has had a role to play in both games so far.
"Northampton know they will lose a few players during the international matches, so will want to get as many points on the board before that as possible.
"We saw that by just how determined they were to get the bonus-point win over Exeter on Sunday."