Bath wary of Cup trip
January 2, 2000
English cup kings Bath will tread with trepidation into Gloucester's intimidating Kingsholm den on Monday, with coach Andy Robinson admitting: ``We are the underdogs.''
Kingsholm will rock to the throaty roar of more than 10,000 fanatical Cherry and Whites, all baying for Bath's blood.
Current form suggests they won't be disappointed either. While Gloucester currently sit proudly at the Premiership summit, unbeaten in all competitions since mid-October, Bath are reeling from three successive league defeats and a damaging Heineken Cup loss to Swansea.
And judging by their rudderless display in losing comprehensively against Saracens two days ago, Bath's season continues drifting drastically off course.
But when it comes to cup pedigree, they boast peerless credentials, winning it a record 10 times between 1984 and 1996, an era only Harlequins (twice) and Leicester gatecrashed with Twickenham triumphs.
In 10 cup final visits, Bath have never lost at Twickenham, but during each of the past three seasons, even the quarter-finals proved beyond them as Leicester, Richmond then Newcastle pointed out an unfamiliar exit door.
Gloucester, nine points and four Premiership places above Bath, need little incentive to extend that disappointing recent record, having suffered a 40-point Twickenham humiliation against their fierce West Country rivals 10 years ago and twice lost tense Kingsholm semi-finals.
``We will go up there as underdogs, but the guys are looking forward to it - they know what they've got to do,'' Robinson said.
``It will be a special occasion, although if it's wet, I cannot see a lot of rugby being played there, but it's up to us to sort it out.
``Through losing games, we are suffering from a lack of self-confidence, but the players are confident we will get through this period after what has been a difficult month.''
Bath look certain to be without injured fly-half Mike Catt, and Robinson could end up fielding the same side beaten by Saracens unless scrum-half Jon Preston and flanker Ben Clarke can regain fitness in time.
While the West Country stages its own ``cup final,'' second division title challengers Leeds and Worcester will have giantkilling exploits on their minds.
Leeds look strong enough on paper to account for Headingley visitors Sale, while Worcester won't fear London Irish at Sixways, especially as the Exiles are likely to travel without injured playmaker Stephen Bachop.
But there seems little belated New Year celebration in store for a host of other non-Premiership One clubs contesting the Tetley's Bitter Cup fourth round.
Thurrock visit Harlequins and Moseley go to Newcastle, while on Sunday, neither Henley nor Nuneaton can expect much joy from daunting appointments with Premiership heavyweights Bristol and Northampton respectively.
Other cup action tomorrow features the fourth round debut of North Two minnows Darlington Mowden Park, who face Rosslyn Park _ beaten finalists in 1975 and 1976.
Mowden Park will be relying on their former West Hartlepool players Dave Mitchell and Kevan Oliphant to help tear up the formbook, a prospect backed by an unbeaten year-long home record.