PLAY-OFF-STYLE pressure will arrive a week early for Bath at the Stoop tomorrow (3.15pm) and flanker Guy Mercer is determined Bath’s Twickenham ambitions won’t founder just a few hundred yards away from headquarters.
The winner-takes-all clash against Harlequins, whose base is just across the road from the site of the May 31 Aviva Premiership final, pitches Bath into the sort of one-off occasion the squad are going to have to get used to if they are to realise their ambition of hoisting the league trophy aloft later this month.
Mercer admits Bath face a virtual ‘quarter-final’ ahead of what they hope is a play-off last-four meeting to come and has spoken of the desire among the players not to see their progress derailed in the final regular-season match.
“One of the things we talk about is why would you put all that work in?,’’ said the 24 year old bac rown.
“We’ve worked hard for 40-odd weeks now and why would we put in that hard work and sore bodies and nights in hotels waiting for games and missing family functions - do all that and then turn up somewhere and not mentally apply yourself?
“Also, there are guys dropping out of the team through injury, guys who have given everything and you are not going to be the one to let those boys down. It’s brilliant the team buying in to that attitude.’’
Harlequins can snatch the play-off spot away from Mercer and co by claiming victory tomorrow but Bath, beaten only once away from home since October have become battle-hardened road warriors.
The flanker added: “It’s a great way to set-up the last week.
“Everyone gets excited about semi finals, but now we’ve got a quarter final before that so it’s a good test for us in terms of pressure.
“All the games (from now on) are going to be away so it’s another nice rehearsal for us going into it. Quins are a top-quality team, at this end of the season as well when it’s dried up a bit and guys are jumping around a bit. With all that footwork and moving the ball as they do, it’s a big test for us.’’
Only the top two of Saracens and Northampton, plus improving Sale have lowered Bath’s colours on their travels in the league this season and Mercer added: “Everything has been backed up by the foundations we’ve laid here. It comes from early on with us putting strong teams out in the A league and took those games seriously.
“Every time you play for Bath it is about winning, not making up the numbers. The whole attitude they are building here now just serves to make us stronger whether we are at home or away. We’re looking for wins, not just to give a relatively good account of ourselves.’’
NEWS FROM BATH'S CRUNCH CLASH AT HARLEQUINS AT WILTSHIRETIMES.CO.UK/SPORT TOMORROW