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Johann van Graan: “Proud to see the people of Bath smile”

Bath Rugby Head of Rugby Johann van Graan is ‘proud’ to have put a smile on the faces of Bath fans following their return to the Premiership play-offs.

It’s been a tough few years at the Rec to say the least. The West Country outfit last reached the play-offs in 2020, and in the years since have finished 7th, 13th and 8th respectively; but they now have a home semi-final to look forward to.

Speaking to the media after his side’s 43-12 victory over Northampton Saints, van Graan said: “We started on the 11th of July, and I said it would be a journey. When I started I said ‘I hope to make a difference and I’m here to help’. This is a humbling experience, and I’m incredibly proud to see the people of Bath smile.

“To see the owner, the board, the staff, but most importantly the players and their family smile. They’re the ones that put in the work every day, it’s certainly been an amazing day.”

Whilst he pointed out it was a ‘humbling’ experience for himself, he was quick to shift the focus onto his playing group.

“I’m incredibly proud, but since the day I joined I said this will never be about me,” he said. “To stay in that top four through 18 rounds, that’s certainly some achievement by this group. It will stay with the squad of players, the staff, owner, board, CEO, everybody in the city.

He added: “It’s alignment and belief, sitting in vision and actually believing that something big can happen, so it’s certainly a big day for us at Bath.

The clash against Sale Sharks in two weeks time will be Bath’s first play-off game since 2020, and their first home semi-final since 2015.

Johann van Graan not taking Sale for granted

Johann van Graan-Credit: IMAGO

Credit: IMAGO

The play-off tie against Alex Sanderson’s side will be the third time the teams have faced each other this season. Sale won the first match 11-9, but Bath romped to a 42-24 last time out.

Despite this though, van Graan still knows the threat posed by the Sharks: “We’re taking nothing for granted, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. This will be a new experience for us. They played in the semi-final and the final last season and they’ve just gone away and beaten Saracens and is on a big day at the StoneX. For us, we’ll enjoy the experience.”

He added: “We’ll certainly attack it with everything that we have.”

If Bath are to reach their first Premiership final since 2015, they will need star half-back duo Finn Russell and Ben Spencer to stand tall once again, and van Graan was full of praise for the pair’s work this season.

“9 and 10 has been big for us through the season. Having Ben there firing, he scored the magic try (to book their place in the play-offs). He also converted that try, and then Finn having his calmness.

Russell was looking to be a doubt for the run-in following a ‘significant’ groin injury, but again van Graan lauded his return to full fitness.

“What Finn went through the last few weeks to get back into this position is phenomenal. That was a significant injury, but he literally worked day and night with our medical team.”

He added: “He’s one of the lads, and he puts his body on the line. Some of the hits that he made today on our goal line in the first half just shows how much he wants to be part of this team. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”