Our French connections tell us it would be a mistake to underestimate a Montpellier side for whom the European Challenge Cup provides their only route into next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Montpellier have international-class backs in Antony Bouthier, Arthur Vincent, Vincent Rattez and Alex Lozowski, while the forwards aren’t too shabby either, with Guilhem Guirado leading the side from hooker and the likes of Paul Willemse packing down behind him.
For whatever reason, though, Montpellier have failed to click under Philippe Saint-Andre and they are fighting for their survival at the bottom end of the Top 14, lying in 12th place, albeit on a bit of a winning run, before Covid caused their last two matches to be called off.
Neither have they covered themselves in glory in Europe. Dismal defeats to Leinster and Wasps in the Champions Cup were followed by less-than-impressive wins against Glasgow and Benetton in the Challenge Cup, to set up Saturday’s showdown at The Rec.
Montpellier have not played since that 31-25 quarter-final win against the Italians but they have been able to train and their defensive record suggests they will be a tough nut to crack. Only second-place La Rochelle have conceded fewer points and tries than Montpellier in the Top 14 this season.
One area where Bath have struggled of late is in the scrum. The scrum penalty count has gone against them in the narrow win against Leicester and in defeat to Wasps but they should enjoy a bit of respite this weekend as Montpellier don’t tend to put teams under that much pressure, winning the second least penalties on their own feed in the Top 14.
For Bath, it could be a game of patience but they look all the stronger for having Will Stuart, Taulupe Faletau and Ben Spencer back in the starting XV and victory should be theirs for the taking.
Bath: 15. Anthony Watson, 14. Joe Cokanasiga, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Cameron Redpath, 11. Will Muir, 10. Orlando Bailey, 9. Ben Spencer, 1. Juan Schoeman, 2. Tom Dunn, 3. Will Stuart, 4. Josh McNally, 5. Charlie Ewels (c), 6. Taulupe Faletau, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Zach Mercer.
Replacements: 16. Jack Walker, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Henry Thomas, 19. Elliott Stooke, 20. Josh Bayliss, 21. Miles Reid, 22. Will Chudley, 23. Max Clark.
Montpellier: 15. Anthony Bouthier, 14. Julien Tisseron, 13. Johan Goosen, 12. Arthur Vincent, 11. Vincent Rattez, 10. Alex Lozowski, 9. Benoit Paillaugue, 1. Enzo Forletta, 2. Guilhem Guirado (c), 3. Mohamed Haouas, 4. Florian Verhaeghe, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Nico Janse van Rensburg, 7. Yacouba Camara, 8. Alexandre Becognee.
Replacements: 16. Bismarck Du Plessis, 17. Grégory Fichten, 18. Titi Lamositele, 19. Tyler Duguid, 20. Fulgence Ouedraogo, 21. Cobus Reinach, 22. Handré Pollard, 23. Vincent Martin,