Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper spoke to the media on Tuesday ahead of Bath Rugby's Round of 16 Challenge Cup encounter against Zebre.
The Blue, Black and White travel to Italy after earning two points late on in the Gallagher Premiership at London Irish. Prop Beno Obano featured for the 99th time in a Bath shirt at the Brentford Community Stadium and is set to become a centurion on Friday.
On London Irish…
We were frustrated. We gave up a good vantage we had through the physicality that we showed. We got on top pretty well at the start of the game and then in the last 15 minutes before half-time we just didn’t control the game. Interestingly, the last five minutes of the first half we gave away five possessions whether that be penalties or turnovers. When we were down to 12 and 13 men in the last 15 minutes we only gave away one so we lacked control when we had 15 on the field and when you’ve only got 12 on the field you’re under pressure anyway.
I don’t want to take anything away from London Irish, but we weren’t where we needed to be.
On approaching the Challenge Cup...
Europe never really got started for us this year. We lost at home to Scarlets which was disappointing, and everyone was so excited for the new format and the new competition it was teed up to be but then we didn’t travel to our game in La Rochelle and then the competition restructure took care of our other two fixtures, so we haven’t real had a proper stab at Europe this season.
Going straight into the last 16 is exciting. I think it’s a good format and whether it’s something that could be looked at in the future I’m not sure. A Round of 16 I think is exciting; it is something they have in the Champions League which is a good way of getting into the competition. For us, how do we approach it? With excitement and with an opportunity to go and play knockout and hopefully win knockout rugby. We’re going into it with a full head of steam, picking the people we believe can win the games.
Any time you get an opportunity to play in knockout rugby it’s important to fully embrace the pressure and the excitement that comes with it. That’s part of this squad’s development. It’s there for us to give it our all.
On Orlando Bailey’s Premiership debut…
I thought Orlando was very composed. He defended excellently which is probably not the first thing you say when you talk about a 19-year-old 10! He was brave in defence and in attack he got the ball through his hands which is not dissimilar to the way we play anyway. People have heard a lot about the way he plays and his ability to attack the line and go through the line will come for him.
He came into a team with Benny and JJ; those guys took a fair bit of responsibility which I think was a good first step with him in the Premiership. When you watch it, he got his hands through the ball a few times and then got a couple of tackles in on Blair Cowan early days and he was away with it, doing what he loves and doing what he has done for a long time, albeit at a different level. I think he’ll get better from the experience and better from the opportunity of playing with that group.
There is obviously a large proportion of the Italian national side who will come back into that team, particularly in the forwards. They’re competitive up front and they have a new pitch. They want to offload the ball more, play a bit more and we’ve had a good look at them.
You’ve got to pay these teams the same respect as you would anyone in the Premiership. We’ve prepared hard and want to go out there and play our best game.
On Beno Obano’s potential milestone…
First of all, Beno is really pleased to be back. It’s been a good period of time for him obviously having his first exposure on the field, winning his first cap which was massive. He’s come back full of energy and full of a want to lead the group and be a strong member of the team.
If he plays this week, it’ll be his 100th game for the club which is a fantastic milestone for him and testament to the hard work he’s put in. I actually played when he made his debut! He learnt very quickly in that game and he’s gone on to show those characteristics; he does learn quickly and he’s very passionate about what he does.
He’s a fantastic young man and he’s one of these guys who is a real character because he has interests away from rugby which is great and we encourage. He brings strong individuality and character to the group within the Bath colours which is great.