London Irish v Bath: Francois Louw returns and Stephen Donald may feature
Francois Louw is returning to the Bath starting line-up for today’s Aviva Premiership clash with London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
Louw, who has been on international duty with South Africa in the Rugby Championship, comes into the back row, with Carl Fearns shifting to the blindside and Simon Taylor to No 8. Ben Skirving is named on the bench.
There are also changes in the front row. Nathan Catt starts at loosehead and Anthony Perenise comes in on the other side of the scrum for Davey Wilson, who suffered a knock in training.
Lee Mears keeps his place at hooker while Stuart Hooper and Dominic Day in the engine room complete the pack.
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Outgoing fly-half Olly Barkley starts, with Stephen Donald named on the bench for what could be his first appearance of the season.
Tom Biggs and Kyle Eastmond line up on the wings. Ben Williams and Dan Hipkiss continue in the centres and Nick Abendanon is again named at full-back.
Whilst London Irish have yet to win this season, Bath head coach Gary Gold is under no misconceptions of the threat they pose for Bath.
“We know that Irish are a very good side, who will obviously be looking to get off the mark, which actually makes them more of a potent threat for us.
“They have an unpredictability we will have to react to, and it will require us to be on top of our game in all areas to do that.”
Centre Williams says his confidence as a player has never been higher after shedding more than a stone during pre-season.
Like fellow inside centre Matt Banahan, whose knee injury has opened the first-team door for Williams, the hard-hitting back has been on a weight-loss programme under the guidance of the club’s new high performance manager, Allan Ryan.
Williams, who now tips the scales at 15-and-a-half stone, has had more than his share of injuries during his young career but believes he is more resilient than ever thanks to a fresh fitness regime.
And that, he says, is bolstering his confidence.
“Allan came in with strict, high standards and you have to abide by them, otherwise it’s not good enough,” said Williams.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight. Physically I feel fitter. I’ve lost nearly seven kilos since the start of pre-season. I feel like I’m moving quicker and in my head I feel better as a result.
“I’m a lot fitter than I was and although I’m faster I’ve not lost any of my strength. It was a good pre-season to lose that bit of weight.
“It’s pretty similar to what happened with Matt. He and I were worked hard to get down to those weights and now it’s about keeping to them.”
Williams made his first appearance of the season last Friday against Northampton, following Banahan’s injury a week earlier, and was pleased with his evening’s labours, if not the result.
“I thought I did the basics well – tackling hard, running hard and giving 100 per cent,” he said.
“I’d been training well and the opportunity came around and I was confident. I’d gone into games before where I hadn’t been feeling too confident but I felt pretty good going into that match.
“I’d been working hard and just hoping that my chance would come. Matt was very good after he picked up his injury, he has always been very supportive of me. We are good mates. He just told me to take my chance.”
Young fly-half Tom Heathcote is about two weeks away from a return to fitness after suffering medial ligament damage in his knee during Bath’s first pre-season match against London Welsh.
Bath, away to London Irish, 3pm, today: Nick Abendanon; Kyle Eastmond, Dan Hipkiss, Ben Williams, Tom Biggs; Olly Barkley, Michael Claassens; Nathan Catt, Lee Mears, Anthony Perenise, Stuart Hooper (capt.), Dominic Day, Carl Fearns, Francois Louw, Simon Taylor.
Replacements: Ross Batty, Paul James, Kane Palma-Newport, Dave Attwood, Ben Skirving, Mark McMillan, Stephen Donald, Jack Cuthbert.