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Johann van Graan looking at his players first ahead of make-or-break clash against Harlequins

Bath Director of Rugby Johann van Graan insists he is focusing solely on his playing group this week, despite numerous mouth-watering match ups with Harlequins.

A lot of the build-up will centre around the clash between Marcus Smith and Finn Russell, however fans will also be treated to the likes of Ben Spencer, Danny Care, Andre Esterhuizen, Ollie Lawrence, Alex Dombrandt and Alfie Barbeary-who van Graan confirmed was available for selection-all going head-to-head.

Speaking to the media ahead of the game, van Graan insists his focus is solely on his team and what they can do: “I think you look at your players first. We’ve developed a squad that can compete and a squad that are hungry to get better. We’ve got special players in our group.”

Quins have a star-studded backline, but a lot of the focus is on Springbok centre Esterhuizen. The World Cup winner is renowned for his ability to get over the gain line, and is arguably one of the best centres in the Premiership; but Bath also have a centre in red-hot form of their own in Lawrence.

Lawrence has similar attributes to that of Esterhuizen, but van Graan said he will resist the urge to shift Lawrence across to the 12 shirt to neutralise the effects of the South African powerhouse.

“Andre’s is a very good ball carrier; but we won’t have any special plans, we’re not looking to go out of structure. We are in week 43 now of our season (including pre-season), so we’re going to stick to what we do well.”

“We’re coming up against a very good team and specifically a very good inside centre, so whatever plans we make we’ve got to be able to deal with them and we’ll back our structures.”

Johann van Graan on Bath’s new attack

Copyright: xTomxSandberg/PPAUKx PPA-061430 Credit IMAGO

Since van Graan’s arrival, and particularly this season, Bath’s attack has come on leaps and bounds. Finn Russell has been a breath of fresh air at fly-half, Ollie Lawrence has provided an explosive punch in the 13 channel, and now even forwards like Miles Reid, Ted Hill and Alfie Barbeary are providing a new attacking threat.

It might be easy for Bath to play their cards close to their chests about their improvements, but van Graan believes the ‘no numbers approach’ has helped them get success this season.

“I think if you look at the way our backline have performed; I’m going to give an example, our first try on the weekend Matt Gallagher scored but if you look the three and four phases before that he played at nine, he made two passes at nine and worked same way and he received the short pass to go and score the try.

“Yes we’ve got certain guys in certain positions, but once it opens up there’s no numbers on our backs. I think the game has moved on so quickly.”

His team aren’t the only ones adopting this more fluid attacking philosophy, with Quins and Northampton also adopting similar styles, and van Graan believes this is quickly becoming a game-wide trend.

“18 months ago, defences were on top right across the world; but if you just look at all the different competitions at this stage, the Japanese league, Super Rugby, Top 14, the URC and the Premiership, teams have definitely put pressure on defences and teams are scoring tries.

“You get very few low-scoring games because the quality is so high. Attacks have definitely moved on.”

Van Graan also feels his team have really come on in attack, which has helped their overall success in the league so far: “I’d like to believe that we’ve made some good decisions over the last 10 to 11 months, in terms of what we do with our attack and how we move our game forward.

“As you’ve seen on the weekend, I thought we scored some fantastic tries in different ways We can score from close range but we are pretty dangerous now from about 50-60 yards out as well.”