Lipman’s war cry

Michael Lipman has urged Bath to “keep the ball rolling” as they close in on a possible domestic and European double.

Bath confirmed their place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs last weekend after Lipman and his England colleague Olly Barkley inspired a nine-try demolition of Saracens.

Two more wins would give Bath a first league title since 1996, while they will return to Kingsholm - scene of tomorrow’s Premiership showdown against leaders Gloucester - for a European Challenge Cup final appointment with Worcester on May 25.

Former Scotland skipper Andy Nicol was the last Bath captain to lift a trophy - the Heineken Cup in 1998 - but current form suggests that long wait for silverware could soon be over.

Even though the Premiership champions won’t be crowned until May 31 at Twickenham, tomorrow’s incentive is top spot and a probable home semi-final against Sale Sharks on Sunday week.

The losers could end up facing, on paper at least, a far tougher play-off proposition - Wasps at Adams Park.

But Bath are in the kind of form that suggests any fear factor should lie with the opposition, not a team currently scoring tries for fun and playing such a complete all-round game that it borders on exhibition rugby.

Saracens boss Alan Gaffney acclaimed Bath’s devastating offloading game following the 66-21 drubbing, which featured six first-half tries as the home side rattled along at a point a minute.

And even in the tense, rarified atmosphere of a white-hot west country derby, Bath - or Gloucester, for that matter - are unlikely to desert those attacking principles that make both clubs such exciting box-office attractions.

Lipman, a certainty to be named next Tuesday in England’s New Zealand tour squad, said: “We need to keep the momentum going. It is a long season, but if you don’t win something at the end of it - we are so close now - it is back to square one, back to the drawing board.

“We keep in mind that we haven’t won anything yet, so we have to keep the ball rolling and hope to get the silverware at the end of the season. I think they (Gloucester) will have the motivation of going out there on Saturday and saying ‘let’s not give Bath anything.’

“They are a pretty dangerous team. It is a west country derby, and they might go out there with the attitude of just enjoying their rugby and playing the type of rugby they know they can play.

“They will be very tough, but we love tough games. We love playing against Gloucester and they love playing against us, so it’s a game where they hurt us and we hurt them.”
Lipman, arguably in the form of his life, is an integral element of Bath’s perpetual motion rugby.

Saracens could not handle him - neither could Sale in the previous week’s Challenge Cup semi-final - but he puts team success before individual glory.

Lipman added: “Things are coming together. It has been a long season, and the boys are just realising what is at stake here. We realise we can actually win something, so getting that home play-off will be our goal on the way to hopefully winning the Challenge Cup and then, hopefully, the Premiership.”

Bath head coach Steve Meehan has made three changes from the side that swept Saracens aside, with wing Andrew Higgins, centre Tom Cheeseman and prop David Flatman all starting, while England wing Lesley Vainikolo returns for Gloucester following a hamstring strain.

Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan said: “These games are one-offs. I think it will be pretty special between two clubs who are capable of playing some rugby, and that is a great testament to the Guinness Premiership as a whole.”

“The biggest pressure comes from within the group because we want to successful.

“Our victory over Wasps does not mean we have solved everything, but it was significant in our development and we must try and back that up. We made a statement against Wasps, but it’s not like we have crossed that hurdle and won’t make a mistake again.

“We want to finish top because that would mean a huge amount to us over a nine-month season, and then we can move into the play-offs. This is a huge game for us, and we will be ready for what should be a fantastic occasion. If both teams turn up and play, then it could be a great game.”

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