Joe Cokanasiga is in contention to return to action for Bath Rugby before the end of the 2019/20 season director of rugby Stuart Hopper confirmed today.
Hooper will be hoping his side’s season is still going come October 24 when the Gallagher Premiership grand final is scheduled to be played, but it looks like Bath fans will not have to wait that long to see their talismanic winger in action.
The Blue, Black and White are in red hot form having won six of their seven games since rugby returned in August from the five month lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That has seen the club climb the table up to third with two rounds of the regular season remaining.
However winger Cokanasiga has not featured for his club this season, despite it being the longest one in history, after injuring his knee while away with England on international duty last autumn at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
To make matters worse the winger continued to train on the damaged knee throughout the course of the tournament in Japan and played with it heavily strapped while scoring two tries against the USA in his only appearance of the tournament.
The result of which was Cokanasiga not only damaged his knee but caused secondary problems to his lower body and back which was overcompensating for the weakened area of his body as the 6ft 3in 18 and half stone back did more than 20km a week of running on his injured limped.
Bath Rugby’s medical team were furious with the RFU for the condition Cokanasiga returned to the club in, meaning he was unable to train and carry out basic athletic functions like squatting.
Now the powerful wide man is on the verge of making his long awaited comeback and reading between the lines it sounds like he could even feature on Tuesday night when Bath host derby rivals Gloucester Rugby at The Rec in front of 1,000 fans for the first time since the resumption of the league.
Cokanasiga last featured for Bath on the final day of the 2018/19 season when he scored a try as the Blue, Black and White snatched a famous late victory at Leicester Tigers to secure the final European Heineken Champions Cup place.
And despite having winger Ruaridh McConnochie in red hot form at the moment, Cokanasiga’s return would certainly give the Bath squad an extra boost as they look to make the Premiership final for the first time since 2015 when they lost 16-28 to Saracens.
Having the nine cap international back on the pitch will effectively feel like the club have made a new world class signing with the Fijian-born winger nominated for the 2019 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award before getting injured.
Discussing Cokanasiga, Hooper kept his cards typically close to his chest but said: “He is nearly available.
“And the update is he is close to being available.
“Obviously with the extended week we have got more training and we have got a couple more days to confirm the team and there will be a conversation with myself and the coaches tonight and tomorrow and we will make a call.
Pushed again for a little more clarity on the timeline of Cokanasiga’s return to the fold, Hopper said: “He will be in contention to play before the end of the season.”
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Currie travel to Troon with a five point lead at the top of the table and while these sides are both well on course to make the end of season top four title play-offs already, a lot is at stake in this one.
Marr do not lose many at home while they were hurt by a 38-12 defeat in the reverse fixture at Malleny Park back in September.
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“Currie have been playing excellent rugby and are top of the league on merit,” Redpath said. “They have an excellent leader in Fergus Scott and someone in Gregor Hunter that manages the game well.
Marr’s Craig Redpath
“There are not many games where we are the underdogs at Fullarton, to win this one we will have to produce the best performance of the season.”
With Conor Bickerstaff out long-term with a knee injury, Mackenzie Pearce takes up that role for Marr while Ryan Southern gets the nod at scrum-half for Currie.
“This is the strongest squad we have had out this season and all 20 players will need to be on form to get a win at Fullarton,” Chieftains head coach Mark Cairns said.
Elsewhere, third placed Edinburgh Accies are on the road to ninth placed Jed-Forest, seventh placed GHA are on their travels to fourth placed Hawick and bottom side Aberdeen Grammar host fifth placed Glasgow Hawks.
Eighth placed Musselburgh also host sixth placed Selkirk.
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CURRIE CHIEFTAINS are looking to make it 10 Tennent’s Premiership wins on the spin tomorrow [Saturday], but they know that to beat Marr at Fullarton Park they will need to put in their best performance of the season to date.
Ever since they lost at Hawick in early September, Currie have been unstoppable and – as a full fixture card returns to the top flight after a three week break for some – they have a five point lead at the summit.
They played last Saturday against Selkirk in a rearranged game while second placed Marr have not been in action since November 6th when they won at Hawks.
Both of these clubs are widely expected to make the top four play-off spots by the end of the regular season, but there is a lot on the line in this Troon meeting.
Back on September 11th, Marr were hammered 38-12 at Malleny Park in the reverse fixture and they will want to make amends for that while finishing top of the table still counts for something in terms of bragging rights, even if it doesn’t get your name on the trophy.
Edinburgh Accies, Hawick and Glasgow Hawks are the three clubs who look set to fight it out for the other two top four spots. Third placed Accies are on the road to ninth placed Jed-Forest this weekend with fourth placed Hawick at home to GHA in seventh. Hawks, in fifth, travel to bottom side Aberdeen Grammar and will be eying up five points.
In the other game this weekend, eighth placed Musselburgh host Selkirk who are sixth.
This Saturday marks the start of three weekends of fixtures before the winter break, so there should be plenty of twists and turns between now and December 11th.
Musselburgh: Finlay Thomson is out with injury so James Ferguson moves in from the wing to centre and Sandy Watt starts out wide. Props Craig Owenson and Colin Arthur return to the front-row with Super6 Premiership player pool man Kieran Watt back in the second-row after a head knock. Greg Leitch and Ruaridh Young come onto the bench after impressive performances with the 2nd XV.
Selkirk: Two changes to the starting team, both in the pack. Andrew Renwick is rewarded for recent performances off the bench and starts in the second-row while Scott McClymont returns after injury in the back-row. Both Ethan McVicker and Robbie Chalmers, the latter part of the Super6 Premiership player pool from Heriot’s Rugby, could make their first appearances off the bench.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“It’s clear that our last five games have not gone how we wanted, but the break has allowed us to take stock and recharge some batteries. We have worked hard for three weeks on areas we felt were letting us down, so Saturday’s challenge against Selkirk will give us that chance to prove to ourselves – and supporters – that we can turn the tide in a positive manner. We know that we have to be super sharp against Selkirk as they can exploit any chances we present them with, but we have prepared well to give ourselves the best chance of winning and kick start our season …” – Graeme Paterson (Musselburgh)
“After a disappointing first half last week we won the second half 12-0 against league leaders Currie so we’ve taking a lot of positives out of the performance. We know Musselburgh have been hard to beat at home this year, so we’ve got to play well to beat them …” – Scott Wight (Selkirk)
VERDICT: Musselburgh head coach Graeme Paterson references the last five games and his side have lost all of those, indeed you have to go back to 2nd October to find their last win. The recent break will have helped them reset while Selkirk have been playing regularly and in their last four games they have won two, drawn one and lost one.
Musselburgh will be out to prove a point, so a narrow home win.
KEY BATTLE: Robbie Shirra Gibb versus Hamish Janes
TEAM NEWS –
Jed-Forest: Winger Robbie Shirra Gibb and centre Dom Buckley come into the backline with Edinburgh Rugby Academy player Matt Russell at 10. Clark Skeldon, former Scotland Sevens man Darren Gillespie and Paulo Ferraira join the pack.
Edinburgh Accies: Hamish Janes returns on the wing and Ross Lile drops down to the bench. Matt Walker and Callum Reid return to start at seven and eight respectively, while Southern Knights Super6 player Shaun Gunn replaces the unavailable Cole Imrie at looshead prop. Cameron Bain returns to take his place on the bench.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“In our last game against Selkirk we started off in the second half playing with pace and purpose and got points, but we made mistakes thereafter. We will look to be better this time …” – Scott Tomlinson (Jed-Forest)
“It was nice to have a week off to recharge and we now refocus for what will be a hell of a challenge at Riverside Park this weekend …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
VERDICT: Jed were disappointed with their showing at home to Selkirk on November 12th and will be glad to have another home game to try and make amends. Accies have won their last three games, but you feel like they are still to find that complete performance, especially away from home – this could be their moment.
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Hawick: Edinburgh Rugby Academy player Ben Evans gets a first start on the wing, replacing Morgan Tait who drops to the bench. A reshuffle in the back-row brings Connor Sutherland in for his first start at seven for a number of games after a strong performance for Edinburgh under-20s versus Glasgow during the league break. Tom Hope is back in and starts at tighthead prop, with Rory Smith added to the second-row.
GHA: Grant Mollison and Charlie Lonergan come back into the squad at full-back and centre respectively, with Max McFarlane moving out to the wing. In the forwards, Adam Kerr is back in the second-row with Walker Graham in the back-row. Luke McCutcheon returns to the squad on the bench.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We have had a good two weeks of training during the break and the players are ready to get back into league action. We were very disappointed at the start of the season when we went down by a point up at GHA and we know exactly what they will bring, they are an exciting team and will be up for this one. We have to match that and push for a big performance in front of what will be a decent crowd with it being Farmers’ Day down at the club …” – Matty Douglas (Hawick)
“After two great results for the club we now switch our attention to Hawick who haven’t played for a couple of weeks and will be looking to return to winning ways. We don’t underestimate the challenge that is front of us this weekend away to a strong, physical side. We have to match them up front and in every aspect of the game with a controlled and disciplined performance, which is definitely achievable with the squad we have this week …” – Trevor Carmichael (GHA)
VERDICT: An intriguing clash for a number of reasons. The two sides shared 61 points in Glasgow in September with GHA winning by just a point, the home side are back after a three week break and the visitors played as recently as last week up at Aberdeen Grammar. This should be another entertaining game with Hawick’s desire to win in front of what is shaping up to be a healthy home crowd the deciding factor.
Aberdeen Grammar: Edinburgh Rugby Academy player Cammy Scott takes over at 10 and Sam Knudson pushes into the nine position. Aaron Robertson comes into the starting pack for the first time this season and will want to take his chance whilst Nat Coe moves from second-row to six.
Glasgow Hawks: Ewan Bulger will make his Hawks debut as part of the Super6 Premiership player pool system from Ayrshire Bulls. Ali Rogers starts at loosehead prop having played well for the Glasgow under-20s, scoring a brace of tries. Back-row Lewis Stewart is given the captaincy having made a big impression since joining Hawks from Biggar. Joe Strain comes in at 10 for the injured Liam Brims. Fraser Gosse and Jamie Thompson both return from injury and come onto the bench.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“With the weather forecast to be the way it is we are expecting fairly physical forward battle. Hopefully conditions allow a game of rugby to develop, but we will need to match Hawks physicality if we are to get the better of them …” – Ali O’Connor (Aberdeen Grammar)
“Having watched the last few games, Aberdeen are clearly making steps in the right direction. It’s always a difficult ask with the travel and they have some quality, nonetheless if we have aspirations to push for the top four it’s a game we have to win …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: Aberdeen Grammar really targeted last week’s game against GHA and gave it their all, but they still lost and it may have knocked the wind out of their sails. Cammy Scott to 10 will be interesting, but as Hawks head coach Andy Hill says, they need to win this kind of game to be serious top four contenders. They should be able to do that even without playmaker Liam Brims.
Marr: Matt O’Sullivan comes in at inside-centre to replace the injured Conor Bickerstaff (out for the rest of the season with a ruptured ACL) and fit again Sinjin Broad returns at scrum-half. Fraser Grant and Rory Jackson move from the back-row to replace the injured David Andrew and Harry Murray in the second-row. Blair Jardine returns from injury and starts at hooker and Curran McMillan drops to the bench. Mackenzie Pearce is the new captain.
Currie Chieftains: Ryan Southern starts at nine with Paddy Boyer on the bench and Joe Reynolds at 13. Jamie Forbes has re-joined the club from Watsonians Rugby’s Super6 squad and is on the bench. Ryan Stewart, AP McWilliam and Ewan Stewart, the latter from Boroughmuir Bears as part of the Super6 Premiership player pool, join the squad this week and provide strong back-up on the bench to an unchanged starting pack.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“After a good win away to Glasgow Hawks three weeks ago we are looking forward to the challenge against Currie at Fullarton. They have been playing excellent rugby and are top of the league on merit. They have an excellent leader in Fergus Scott and someone in Gregor Hunter who manages the game well. There are not many games where we are the underdogs at Fullarton. To win on Saturday, we will have to produce our best performance of the season …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
“This is the strongest squad we have had out this season and all 20 players will need to be on form to get a win at Fullarton. The last time we played Marr at Malleny they were struggling with a sickness bug so I am sure they will be motivated to give a better account of themselves. The loss of skipper Conor Bickerstaff will be tough for them as he has been a massive part of their success, but they have strength in depth and multiple leaders so this will galvanise them. It’s set up to be a very exciting contest …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: Currie were involved in what many thought was the best game of the season against Hawick on November 6th – and they could be involved in one that overtakes that on Saturday. Since the advent of Super6, these two clubs have become the standard bearers in the Premiership. It will be a big day for Matt O’Sullivan, filling the boots of Conor Bickerstaff at 12 for Marr, while Ryan Southern has a real job to do having been handed the Currie number nine shirt ahead of Paddy Boyer.
‘Fortress Fullarton’ is very rarely breached, but this could just be a tight away win after a belter of a contest.