We usually start these recaps with a little spiel about the statistics, predictions and connotations of each fixture. However, a bit like the recap we made last time Bath ran out, I think it's only fair to jump straight to the point...
100 Points in Two Fixtures
Yeah... Bath have now conceded exactly 100 points in two fixtures, the worst run of form we've seen by any side thus far this season. Regardless of the lack of preparation Bath have had coming into this fixture, with the calamities they've experienced off of the pitch, you cannot discount that this is a worrying period for Hoopers men. Joseph's has been uncharacteristically poor this season, being the targeted area in defence each game. I don't know whether it's down to a lack of chemistry with him and his wingers or with his inside man, he seems to be exploited on either shoulder. Despite Reid putting in a gutsy performance, Bath were even more woeful around the fringes. Hughes, Radradra, Luatua and Afoa cut countless lines against the grain, slicing in between the scrum half and fly half channel. Opposition props were making 30m line breaks after every breakdown because Bath refused to Marshall the fringes. The biggest error, that was highlighted by the commentary team early on, was the choice of kicking down Radradra's throat again and again. It didn't matter whether it was Spencer or Priestland, they constantly kicked deep and to the right, just where Radradra was covering after each restart. Just that small, repeated blunder costed them more than 30 points throughout the game.
Look, we could sit here all day and insult Bath's physicality and lack of defensive cohesiveness, but it would be doing a disservice to how good Bristol Bears are right now. That hot run of form is no better personified by Semi Radradra. It's getting difficult to think of any more superlatives to describe how good he really is. In defence, he's a towering monster that smothers players and adds a fear factor into the outside backs. In attack though... He's just sublime. I've never seen a player who can consistently balance flair and pragmatism so seemlessly. His 60m solo try in which he wrong stepped a sluggish back row and used his sheer gas to burn Matavesi despite his opposite man's head start just proved how confident he is in his own ability at the moment. With O'Conor doing the dirty work on the inside and showing a clean pair of heels himself on a couple of occasions, have Bristol got the best centre partnership in the league? Well, it's definitely up there. A monumental 70 minutes puts him up there with Odogwu's destruction of Bath for performance of the season.
Finding the Grit
I've been quite dismissive of Bristol in the past as real contenders for the Premiership crown. With a chequered record against Saracens, Exeter and Wasps over the last few seasons, I just felt they lacked that grit and physical dominance to match the top four sides in a knockout game. That's far from the case this season. Despite losing narrowly to Wasps earlier in the season, Bristol have developed a key area within their game that they had never relied on before. They now bully opponents in the collision. Whether its Hughes knocking seven bells out of the half backs whilst they aren't concentrating, Radradra and O'Conor smashing their opposite numbers back or big Afoa, Thomas and/or Attwood ragdolling forwards around the breakdown, Bristol finally look mean. They showed it against Exeter and they've showed it again here, they are prepared to get nasty to turn a game around. That added dimension makes them a favourite to win the league this season.
Disfunctional Back Line
I know I pinpointed Joseph's as the main problem in defence for Bath, but I think the entire back line are to blame for their lack of cutting edge this time around. They just look hideously out of form, unfit and lacking chemistry. Form and fitness can be somewhat blamed on a lack of preparation, but the chemistry issues are really worrying. Priestland and Spencer just don't seem to compliment one and other; I don't think either player is playing better than the other, but their gameplan seems miscommunicated. Spencer wants to play on the front foot, exploiting the gaps around the fringes or firing the ball out at speed to get his back line playing at a high tempo. Priestland is a pragmatist with one the leagues best boots, able to slow kicks off of the tee and put in some useful nudges into enemy territory. However, what we have at the moment, is Spencer firing it out to Priestland with a velocity that makes Priestland hesitate and get stuck in two minds. As bad as that might seem, it's nothing on their wingers form. Bath are toothless out wide, with McConnochie completely anonymous this season, Cokanasiga obviously out of fitness and looking genuinely slow for a wideman and Watson (previously) a liability in the air and indecisive on the deck. Young Tom De Glanville had a mare this game too, slicing each kick he attempted and running way too laterally in attack; again its indecisiveness killing them off at the moment.
Semi Radradra - A level above this game, unstoppable in attack, a pillar of strength in defence, an outstanding performance.
Nathan Hughes - Clearly playing himself back into the England picture. His work rate for such a huge player is exceptional, an absolute weapon around the park.
John Afoa - Who's this young nipper popping up around the park making barn-storming runs! 37 Years young, Afoa showed us why he's still a world class option in the front row.
Andy Uren - Harry who? Bristol have two class Scrum Halves on their books and Uren absolutely dominated Spencer this game.
The Whole Bath Team - For the first time ever, I can't just point out a bad performer for Bath. The entire side was a mess and even the cream in the bottom of the barrel, Faletau and Reid, had periods of anonymity when it mattered. Jheeze!