Press Notes | London Irish | Challenge Cup | Quarter-finals

6 April 2021

Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper spoke to the press ahead of Friday night's Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against fellow Gallagher Premiership side London Irish.

The Blue, Black and Whites progressed to the last eight with victory over Zebre while Irish - who Bath faced two weeks ago in the league - came through a tough encounter against Cardiff Blues.

On Zebre…

It was always going to be a decent challenge. Lots of their Italian forwards were back and we knew they would put up a fight. I thought we started the game particularly poorly, if I’m honest. We were off and some of the actions we’d expect from each other weren’t there. Through the game we reverted to a couple power parts of our game which allowed us to get over the line and win the game.

I was pleased with how the boys worked out how to win at a place that’s not easy to go and in 27 degrees which was a bit of a shock to the system to the lads as well. And for me!

On Bath’s dominant maul…

We do put a lot of work into it. Mark Lilley does a lot of work on the maul and it’s a real foundation of the game for us. There’s two ways to use the maul really: to score from very close to the line or tie in defence through the middle third of the field. We’re very good at it close to the line; we score a lot of tries from it but equally we’re getting better at using it through the middle third of the field to open up space and use it when it’s going forward against the retreating backline. We need to work on that a bit more, but we put an awful lot of work into it.

On Joe Cokanasiga…

I was really pleased for Joe. He’s working incredibly hard. It’s very easy to forget he missed a complete year of rugby. From a physical perspective that’s difficult; from an emotional perspective that’s incredibly difficult. He was at high point of being in the England squad and going to the World Cup to coming back and not playing at all for a year. He’s been through an awful lot and now he’s enjoying it.

He loves to play rugby so to see him with a smile on his face was a real reward for him and for all the people who have been working with him to get him back out there and enjoying it. He’s a force to be reckoned with when he’s in open space and moving so it’s good to see him back on the scoresheet.

On facing London Irish for the second time in two weeks…

We were on the aeroplane about to take off when the final few minutes of that Irish, Cardiff game was going on. Everyone was being asked to turn their phones off and we just about managed to catch the try as they went in at the end!

The first thing for me as a prep point of view was not to rely on the fact we had the cards in the game. Everything else wasn’t perfect in that game. There’s bit we can take from it, of course, but we’ve got to make sure we’re still diligent with our prep.

They’re a good side; there are probably a couple of different players for them this week as well – Hepetema and Tuisue… those guys back last week – which do change their game a little bit. It’s a recent experience, it’s something the lads have been through, so it’ll definitely be helpful.

On Bath’s consistency and style of play…

It’s getting there. The important thing is the more that happens, the more the poor game or the game that isn’t at the levels you expect, the more it stands out. That for me is a good thing. I don’t mean it stands out from an external perspective, I mean from the players because you can reference us and you can reference what we do. That is the biggest thing from this group is about understanding who we are and what we do but also what it feels like to do what we do well.

The key for the group is understanding ‘what does Bath at their best feel like when you’re in it, when you’re defending in the line, when you’re attacking off quick ball… what does it feel like? And really attached some meaning to it. You can write stuff on a board but until you attached meaning to it, it’s just words. 

We want the players to understand what it feels like in the middle of a game and also the big thing for us is the development of our leaders so they know what that feels like on a Thursday, on a Wednesday and on a Monday so then you can build performances right throughout the 10,000 minutes in the week so the boys can fly in the 80 minutes.

On Bath’s leaders…

We’ve got a strong group of leaders… they are international rugby players so you’ve got: Ewelsy, Ant, JJ, Ruars, Benny Spencer, Josh McNally. We constantly work with that leadership group and we work with emerging leaders in Miles Reid, Cam, Bay, Orlando, those guys because it’s so important they drive the program; they have to absolutely drive the standards of the program and understand what it feels like to be the team that we want to be.



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