Cardiff v Bath Can Revive Memories Of The Great Days In Europe

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By Paul Jones

Cardiff against Bath in the top tier of European rugby immediately takes the mind back to 1996 and the Heineken cup quarter-final at the Arms Park.

It was Jonathan Davies v Mike Catt, Mike Hall v Jeremy Guscott, Dai Young against Victor Ubogu, Derwyn Jones v Nigel Redman – the English champions against the previous season’s Heineken Cup finalists.

It was one of the biggest European fixtures ever played in Wales and there was a crowd of 14,000 crammed into the Arms Park to witness the game. Jason Robinson was in sensational form for Bath at full back, but the moment of the match was Nigel Walker’s spectacular second half try.

The crowd sang their hearts out and it is a game that is still talked about to this day. No there is a chance of a repeat in the second round of this season’s Investec Champions Cup in the Welsh capital.

There may not be a place in a semi-final at stake, but Cardiff need to get back to winning ways to stand any chance of progressing after being well-beaten 52-7 in Toulouse. Bath, meanwhile, dumped Ulster 37-14 at The Rec.

There is nothing bigger or better than an Anglo-Welsh match in Europe and the biggest crowd of the season, getting close to the current 9,000 capacity, is expected to roar on Mat Sherratt’s young home side.

“We’ve turned over Sale Sharks, Leinster and Stormers here in recent times, so on our day, with a bit of luck and if we’re playing at our best, we can compete,” said Sherratt.

“The reason you start playing rugby is to play Toulouse away or Bath at home in the best club competition in the game. You just have to embrace it and look at it as a great opportunity, rather than worry about it.

“This is a great opportunity for us to showcase the club and a great opportunity for our young boys to showcase their talents.”

Last weekend Sherratt gave Wales U20 flanker Lucas de la Rua his first start for the club at Stade Ernest Wallon. If that was a baptism of fire, his second game is against England flanker Sam Underhill and Finn Russell.

Sherratt is loving being able to give the likes of De la Rua, Mackenzie Martin and Alex Mann their chance to shine on the biggest of club stages and they are responding well. Bath come into the game sitting second in the English Premiership, level on points with top of the table Sale Sharks.

“When you have taken a group of young lads to Toulouse with a police escort to a hostile ground and playing against some of the best players in the world, those experiences are massive. This will be another one for them,” added Sherratt.

“Bath are very organised, their defence is excellent, and they are very well coached. Everyone does the same thing.

“Finn Russell has come into the team, and he’s playing for the team. He’s just doing what Bath are asking him to do and obviously then adding his own quality to that.

“Scrum half Ben Spencer dictates when they play and Finn Russell impacts on how they play. Outside them you’ve then got Cam Redpath and Ollie Lawrence.”

It promises to be a great night and Wales tight head prop Keiron Assiratti is hoping the home side can rise to the occasion as they did against Sale last season in the EPCR Challenge Cup. He also wants a repeat of the singing and support that the ‘Class of 96’ enjoyed in their 22-19 win.

“It’s going to be a good occasion on Saturday night, and we need the crowd to back us as they have done all season. They’ve been great so far, but it will be good to hear them against Bath,” said Assiratti.

“If they can bring their voice to cheer us on it will make a difference. They spur us on in the game, especially when we’re fighting and defending, going for a big scrum.”

Sherratt has made five changes to the side that lost in Toulouse, restoring Cam Winnett at full back and swapping Rey Lee-Lo for Willis Halaholo at centre. Liam Belcher returns with Corey Domachowski in the front row and Mann joins the back row.

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