Aviva Premiership: Bath host Northampton Saints at The Recreation Ground
Last Updated: 02/05/14 10:38pm
Bath will look to secure an Aviva Premiership play-off berth as they welcome second-placed Northampton Saints at The Recreation Ground on Friday evening.
In a dress rehearsal for the Amlin Challenge Cup final, to be played on May 23, Bath could cement their first Premiership semi-final since 2010 with a bonus-point victory over the Saints.
Victory for Northampton however would confirm a home semi-final for the Saints and Samu Manoa admits they are eager to take their last four clash to Frankin's Gardens.
"This last month is crunch time," the Saints lock told the club's official website. "The boys are really up for it though.
"Bath are a good team and we know it's hard to play down there. They've got a good back line and a heavy forward pack but if we stick to our game plan and break them down, we'll hopefully be alright.
"We don't know yet who we are going to have in the semi but we want to be at home and performing well. That's important to us."
The hosts enter Friday's showdown as the form side having won their last four matches in all competitions, although Northampton have prevailed in the last five meetings between the sides.
Jim Mallinder's Saints recently bucked a three-match losing streak with victory over London Irish in their most recent domestic outings, while an 18-10 triumph over Harlequins in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup added extra momentum.
Friday's showdown could be a final appearance on home soil for Bath full-back Nick Abendanon, who joins Clermont next season, and the 27-year-old admits he is dreaming of a winning finale.
"No matter what happens I can certainly say that I have had a great time at Bath but, having said that, I would love nothing more than to end my career here with silverware," he told the club's official website.
"This is such a great Club and is well set up to have success and everyone at the Club is determined to get Bath back to the top.
"We have the Amlin Challenge Cup final to look forward to and now we have to make sure we get into the top four."
Stuart Hooper captain Bath on his 200th appearance and is joined in the second row by the returning Dave Attwood, as Paul James and David Wilson come back to form an all-international front row alongside hooker Rob Webber.
Carl Fearns gets the nod at blindside flanker in place of the injured Matt Garvey, while Guy Mercer lines up on the opposite side and Leroy Houston takes the No 8 jersey.
George Ford is partnered in the half-backs with Micky Young, while Anthony Watson starts and Matt Banahan occupy the wings, with Semesa Rokoduguni opting to feature in Saturday's Army versus Navy clash at Twickenham.
Meanwhile, Saints head coach Mallinder has made five changes to his side, with Ben Foden, Ken Pisi and Luther Burrell all returning to the back line.
Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood step up from the bench to take their places in the pack and the latter resumes captaincy duties after watching Northampton's victory over Harlequins from the sidelines.
Bath: 15 Abendanon, 14 Watson, 13Joseph, 12 Devoto, 11 Banahan, 10 Ford, 9 Young; 1 James, 2 Webber, 3 Wilson, 4 Hooper (capt), 5 Attwood, 6 Fearns, 7 Mercer, 8 Houston.
Replacements: 16 Batty, 17 Catt, 18 Perenise, 19 Day, 20 Fa'osiliva, 21 Stringer, 22 Henson, 23 Agulla.
Northampton: 15 Foden, 14 K Pisi, 13 G Pisi, 12 Burrell, 11 Elliott, 10 Myler, 9 Fotuali'I; 1 Waller, 2 McMillan, 3 Ma'afu, 4 Manoa, 5 Lawes, 6 Clark, 7 Wood (capt), 8 Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Haywood, 17 Denman, 18 Mercey, 19 Craig, 20 Dowson, 21 Day, 22 Wilson, 23 Collins.