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Johann van Graan created 'something special' at Bath

REACTION: Bath Head of Rugby Johann van Graan described his side’s achievement in securing a home semifinal in the Premiership play-offs as a “humbling experience”.

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A 43-12 victory over table-topping Northampton Saints allowed Bath to take full advantage of Saracens’ surprise defeat at home to Sale, who will now travel to the Rec on June 1.

Bath finished bottom of the table in 2022 and eighth last season, but this term were never out of the top four and a delighted Van Graan said: “When we started on July 11 I said it would be a journey and that I hoped to make a difference.

“It was a humbling experience today to make the people of Bath smile, to see the owner, the board and the staff but, most importantly, the players and their families smile.

“We’ll enjoy this win, get away for a few days because there is a bit of a break, then reconvene later in the week and start our planning process.”

Although glad of the home draw in the play-offs, he added: “Nothing is taken for granted in sport. We are certainly not going to get ahead of ourselves.

“This will be a new experience for us while Sale played in a semifinal and final last season and they’ve just gone away to Saracens and beaten them at the Barnet Copthall.”

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Van Graan singled out Ben Spencer and Finn Russell for special mention, especially after the Scotland fly-half’s remarkable recovery from a groin injury.

Van Graan said: “No.9 and No.10 for us have been big positions.

“What Finn went through to get to this position after just a few weeks was phenomenal.

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“That was a significant injury and literally day and night he worked with our medical team.

“We left no stone unturned and the fact he played 70 minutes against Newcastle and 60 minutes more-or-less today is an absolute testament to the man.

“Nothing is ever a problem for him, magnificent attitude.”

Skipper Spencer paid tribute to the team, adding: “To be the only team that’s been in the top four all year and to have that consistency of performance, I couldn’t be prouder to lead these boys, to be honest.

“Johann has something special at this club and he’s created a real good environment, a great culture that all the lads are buying into.

“There were a lot of dark days in the previous seasons and credit to the people who come and support us week in, week out and through thick and thin.

“They’ve carried us over the line in a few big games this year. But we’ve won nothing yet.”

Northampton Director of Rugby Phil Dowson spoke of the need not to be distracted ahead of their semi-final against Saracens.

He said: “We know the talent, we know the history, we know the players leaving Saracens, so there’s going to be some narrative around that.

“We’ve got to ensure that we focus entirely on our performance, making sure we take any lessons out of today and that what we’ve built during the season comes to the fore.”

He added: “It was frustrating [against Bath] and a bit disappointing because although we made a lot of changes we felt that we had enough quality in the group to put up more of a challenge if we stayed close and put them under pressure.

“We have to make sure now all our energy is focused on the semi-final.

“The Friday match adds a bit to it, in terms of the energy and Franklin’s Gardens particularly in the second half of the season has been jumping so it should be a fairly lively atmosphere.”

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