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Matt Banahan’s backing Bath masterplan

Matt BanahanSam Burgess’s Union integration will not detract from Bath’s charge for silverware, according to winger Matt Banahan, who believes the former League superstar is close to cracking his new code.

Burgess admits the switch has been “much tougher than expected”, while the likes of Kyle Eastmond, Ollie Devoto and Jonathan Joseph have been making way for the new boy, potentially upsetting the balance of Bath’s exciting midfield.

But Banahan told The Rugby Paper: “I don’t think having Sam in midfield has made too much difference to us. He can do a job, whatever we ask him to do, and you’ve still got ‘JJ’ and Kyle who have been tearing holes in defences all season.

“Sam’s said himself that learning Union is a bit bigger than he thought and fair play to him for that, but he’s in there doing the analysis like everyone else so the detail of the game will come to him very quickly – of that I have absolutely no doubt.

“You’ll have to ask the other guys if it’s bothering them but if a team’s winning, I don’t think it matters whether guys are getting minutes here or there. If a team’s going backwards you might look at who’s playing, but our squad is doing very well.

“I don’t think anybody’s got any qualms or questions about Sam, you’ve sometimes got to just leave it in the coaches’ hands. It’s their decision, we just get on with it. A lot of stuff relating to Sam is media pressure but we’re not worried about it.”

For his part, Banahan is revelling in being part of the “best Bath squad” he has been involved in.

Having arrived at the Rec from London Irish in 2006, the Jersey-bred flier is the only member of the current side to have lifted silverware in a Bath shirt – the European Challenge Cup in 2008.

But he is convinced further honours are imminent, insisting: “It’s been seven years now and we definitely want to be winning stuff. If we keep playing how we are there’s no reason why we can’t.

“Making the Challenge Cup final (against Northampton) and coming so close to reaching the play-offs last season proved to a lot of boys that we’re good enough, it just takes time to develop a winning culture which all the top teams do.

“This year, we know we are as good as the top four teams and we’re ready to battle with them to win things. Being in finals and semi-finals won’t come as a shock to us now and it’s definitely the best Bath squad I’ve been involved in here.”

Banahan’s dependability in attack and defence means he remains one of the first names on the team-sheet. But he admits he went through hard times after being dumped from Stuart Lancaster’s England following the 2011 World Cup.

“That was definitely a career low point,” says the 28-year-old, who earned 16 England caps under Martin Johnson. “Sometimes your face fits, sometimes it doesn’t and it took me a good year to figure out that my face might not fit.

“I didn’t think I did too much wrong at that World Cup and then I get dropped, whereas sometimes now they talk about ‘credit in the bank’ and people don’t get dropped.

“It took me a long time to get my head around that, but then you realise you’ve got a job at your club and playing well for them is your priority. That’s what you must concentrate on and I have a young family, so I get to spend more time with them as well.

“With England, I was spending 22 weeks away from home each year, which is quite a big ask. If it came round again I’d love to do it and you have to maintain that hope, but at the moment I just want to be playing well with Bath and winning cups.”

Banahan feels for clubmate Semesa Rokoduguni, who made his England debut against New Zealand but was promptly discarded after suffering a minor injury.

He believes others can feel hard done by Test-wise, too, saying: “I don’t know how Dave Strettle has not been included over the last 18 months.

“He’s been one of the most consistent wingers in the Premiership for the last six or seven years and I don’t know what he’s done wrong. He just hasn’t got the recognition he’s deserved.

“Dave’s in the same boat as I am, and possibly Chris Ashton, and the same thing’s just happened to Semesa Rokoduguni – you give somebody a cap but then leave him on one just because he had a minor injury!

“It was a big thing for him to play against New Zealand and we all want Roko to do well, but he’s in a hard place now and has to find his form again for us.

“Hopefully, he will put it back on the pitch again, show why he’s one of the best finishers in the Premiership and get another England call.”

Bath’s quest for European silverware takes them to Toulouse next week for a must-win tie against the four-time Heineken Cup winners.

He added: “We’ll find out where are and if we can win these last two games against Toulouse and Glasgow, we’ll be in with a shout of qualifying.”

NEALE HARVEY

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