Bath Rugby V Harlequins: 5 Key Battles in the Premiership Play-off Eliminator
Bath Rugby are currently sitting in the final play-off place as we go into the last round of Premiership fixtures. However, Harlequins are hot on their heels and are only three points behind them. The two contenders will go head-to-head in their final game. Only one can make the play-offs.
Bath know that a draw will secure their play-off spot. Harlequins have home advantage and must win the game to keep any title hopes alive. The game is now brilliantly poised.
It is a game that will be decided by a number of key battles across the pitch. The most important area will be the half-backs, where George Ford and Micky Young take on Nick Evans and Danny Care.
There are also some big battles up front in the forwards. Leroy Houston and Nick Easter will engage in a carrying contest, while David Wilson and Joe Marler will be looking to secure the scrum.
In this play-off eliminator five battles in particular will take centre stage.
George Ford vs. Nick Evans
George Ford has had a breakthrough season for Bath this year. He is the top points-scorer in the Aviva Premiership and has had his first taste of Test match rugby.
The 21-year-old fly-half has been instrumental in Bath's play this season. He has shown a great ability to manage a game but will now come up against one of the best in the business: Nick Evans.
The Harlequins fly-half was last season's top points-scorer and has scored three tries in his last four games. The New Zealand international has come into form at just the right time for Harlequins.
With 10 years' experience over Bath's young fly-half, Evans will provide Ford with a real challenge. If Ford can dictate terms against one of the great Premiership players, he will put Bath on the path to the play-offs.
Micky Young vs. Danny Care
Micky Young has not been a regular in the Bath side since his move from Leicester Tigers this summer. Recently Mike Ford has preferred him to Peter Stringer at scrum-half.
The 25-year-old will need to repay Ford's faith with a controlled display against Harlequins. His opposite number will be Danny Care. The England international has scored six tries this season and will provide a thorough test of Bath's fringe defence.
Bath and Young will have to neutralise Danny Care's attacking threat if they are to leave The Stoop with points. Young has demonstrated that he is a solid performer, but he needs to pose Care problems of his own.
Leroy Houston vs. Nick Easter
Leroy Houston has proved to be an astute summer signing for Bath Rugby. The No. 8 is a powerful ball-carrier and has a ferocious fend. He gives Bath go-forward and physicality.
Harlequins have a bruising ball-carrier of their own in Nick Easter. The 35-year-old is one of the best all-round forwards in the league. He is strong in contact and keeps the ball alive well in attack. His offload play enables Harlequins to play at their best.
The head-to-head contest between these two titans is a mouthwatering one. Will the brute force of Houston come out on top, or will Easter's experience prove the deciding factor?
David Wilson vs. Joe Marler
England front-rowers Joe Marler and David Wilson will go literally head-to-head in the scrum on Saturday. The pair of props are crucial to their side's scrums.
Wilson has been in fine form since being thrust into England duty this spring. He has been solid at scrum time as well as being a noticeable presence around the field in the loose.
Marler is a physical scrummager but has a short fuse. If Wilson can get the upper hand on him early, then the Harlequins loosehead may lose his cool. Bath's international props, Wilson and Paul James, have been the bedrock of their forward platform. Can they dominate the Harlequins pack in their own back yard?
Nick Abendanon vs. Mike Brown
Nick Abendanon would perhaps count himself unlucky not to have added to his two international caps. Part of the reason has been the form of Mike Brown.
The Harlequins full-back has been in rich form for England. Brown missed his club's last game through injury but should be fit to face Bath. He is composed under pressure and has the ability to counter George Ford's kicking game.
Abendanon, too, is an elusive runner in broken play. However, he does not match Brown for physicality. Bath's 27-year-old full-back will hope not be overshadowed by Brown in what could prove to be his last game for Bath.
Abendanon is moving to Clermont Auvergne this summer and will be hoping to sign off his Bath career with some Premiership silverware.