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'It looks pretty on TV but someone has to catch up with them after a 40m break and hit the ruck'

Bath second row Stuart Hooper doesn’t mind chasing around his illustrious colleagues in the backline.

Hooper is part of an underrated Bath pack.
Hooper is part of an underrated Bath pack.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

PLAYING IN FRONT of Europe’s most exciting backline must give you a lot of confidence going into games… but racing after a rampant Jonathan Joseph to secure possession at the breakdown must keep the Bath pack fitter than almost any other unit around.

Bath captain Stuart Hooper is hopeful ahead of his first trip to the Aviva Stadium to play Leinster in this Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final, and some of that confidence comes from the knowledge that their attack can unlock almost any defence.

Mike Ford has his son George, Joseph and Anthony Watson at his disposal and that is just the internationals who featured in the recent Six Nations.

Kyle Eastmond, Matt Banahan, Semesa Rokoduguni and Sam Burgess could all feature behind the scrum too.

And as the second row joked to The42, having so much gas in the wide channels means the forwards have to be very alert to any raids from deep. If the Bath backs play champagne rugby, then Hooper and his mates are the waiters who help serve it to the masses.

“It looks pretty on TV but someone has to catch up with them after a 40m break and hit the ruck,” he laughs.

Before the Six Nations, Bath were already one of the form teams in Europe – their five-try sojourn to Toulouse was one of the most devastating attacking displays of the season so far.

Source: Total Rugby/YouTube

But Ford, Joseph and Watson have all matured massively in the last two months and Bath should be an even more formidable side when they face Leinster.

“I was massively proud of what the boys achieved during the Six Nations,” Hooper said.

“They were able to transform their form with Bath onto the international stage and players can’t always do that.”

However, while Bath excel in the open field, Hooper was keen to point out the contribution the pack have made during the season.

Francois Louw is a potent poacher at openside while the rest of the forwards have given their team-mates behind the scrum a solid platform to launch attacks from.

Hooper said he doesn’t mind the backs getting the majority of the media coverage because his colleagues at the coalface are content with their performances.

“You can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” Hooper said.

“You have to make sure your nuts and bolts are good. Your set-piece and your kicking game have to be spot on too. But we train in a way that when chances come up, we think we can take them,”

“We [forwards] are a key part of the game,” he continued.

“What we do isn’t quite as pretty but the good outcomes, like tries and linebreaks, only come about if we do our jobs right. We take a lot of pride in how we’ve performed.”

With so many twentysomethings in the backline, the age profile of the Bath team is quite low. But at 33, Hooper is very much one of the squad’s veterans. He jokes that the guys ten years his junior ‘keep him young’ and says he doesn’t mind taking orders from his 22-year-old out-half who was of Communion age when he started his rugby career.

George Ford clears his lines George Ford took another leap forward during the Six Nations. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

“I actually like it,” Hooper said in reference to taking orders from Ford.

“I think a vital part of a successful team is having an out-half who can control a game. I’m definitely happy to be told where to stand in a match when I am knackered after 60 minutes.”

The elder Ford has done a good job at tailoring a game plan to suit his personnel this season and Hooper observed that while his background is as a rugby league defence coach, that also means there are few better people able to unlock an opposition rearguard.

“I think he [Mike Ford] is always looking to improve in different ways and he isn’t just a defence guy,” Hooper said.

Mike Ford has a look at the pitch before the game Mike Ford previously coached the Irish defence under Eddie O'Sullivan. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

“But because he does have a rugby league background he knows how to thwart attacks, but he can also flip it around and knows how to break down defences. Mike and Toby Booth [Bath attack coach] are very creative and they get the best out of those guys.”

Many Leinster fans expect the province to play the kind of rugby that Bath have made their calling card this season, and it will be interesting to see how Leinster’s attack fares this Saturday.

For his part, Hooper thinks Leinster are still very threatening with the ball in hand.

“They’ve a lot of world class players and obviously they have lofty standards where their fans want them to compete year on year,” Hooper said.

“For me, they have been one of the best attacking teams in Europe over the last few years.”

Do you remember the time Leinster travelled to Bath and played the perfect game of rugby?

A brief history of Leinster’s European rivalry with Bath

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