'Don't Re-Invent the Wheel' - Ben Spencer: Bath Captain Recalls His Saracens Success As He Leads for Premiership Play-Off vs Sale - Ruck

‘Don’t Re-Invent the Wheel’ – Ben Spencer: Bath Captain Recalls His Saracens Success As He Leads for Premiership Play-Off vs Sale

Bath captain Ben Spencer is ready to lead his side into the upcoming Premiership semi-finals, as the blue, black and whites take on Sale Sharks this Saturday. Spencer knows what it takes to reach the mountain top of English rugby, as he is a four time Premiership champion following his time at Saracens.

Spencer lifted back-to-back Premiership trophies with the Londoners on two occasions, as Sarries successfully retained the league title in 2015 and 2016 as well as in 2018 and 2019. Spencer is set to call upon his triumphant experiences as he leads his Bath teammates into the incoming semi-finals, and discussed how it is important to not overthink the decisions, and prepare as best as Bath can before taking on the Sharks.

Ben Spencer of Bath Rugby during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and London Irish at the Recreation Ground on 21 May 2022. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I think we’ve spoken a little bit about this week, something what you don’t want to do in semi-finals is try and reinvent the wheel, and sort of go inside of yourself and play completely different to the way that we played it all year, and the way that you got yourself into the position you have had before.

“So that’s something that we’ve spoken a lot about this week, is about sticking to our game plan and trusting that, that will be enough. So yeah, hopefully, we can put our best game out there the weekend and say that’ll be enough to get us over the line.”

Spencer is set for a well-matched battle at scrum half, as he gets set to go toe-to-toe against Guss Warr for the Sharks. Sale are bestowed with two exciting young number nines, as head coach Alex Sanderson could deploy England hopeful Raffi Quirke at any given moment against Bath.

Sale Sharks player Raffi Quirke looks for a gap during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints at the AJ Bell Stadium on 15th October. Photo: Steve Bond/PPAUK

In a recent Bath press conference, Spencer was informed on how Guss Warr recently name-checked the Bath captain as the Premiership’s best scrum half, to which Spencer was suprised by such praise from this weekend’s opposition.

“That’s kind of him! Probably don’t expect him to say that on Saturday. He’s probably going a bit under the radar this year. So then he’s a bloke who turns out week in, week out for them. He’s one of their better players. So they’ve got class across the board and we know it’s going to be a huge physical battle and sort of one that we’re relishing. They’ve got class across the board and we’ve got to be right on it from the get go, to come out with the right result on Saturday.”

“I think what Sale have done really well this year, is their kicking game and they’re attacking kicking game. I think both of them (Warr and Quirke) have led from the front in terms of that. A huge threat for us this weekend is the aerial battle.

Sale Sharks player Guss Warr distributes during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs at the AJ Bell Stadium on October 1st. Photo: Steve Bond/PPAUK

“It took probably 40 minutes for us to sort that out, when we played them at home a couple of weeks ago. So we know we’re gonna have to be on that right from the start. They’ve got incredibly talented wingers in in (Tom) Roebuck and (Arron) Reed, who were probably two of the best wingers you can get in the air. So, that’ll be a huge step for us as of this weekend, so hopefully, we’ll be on that.”

Having traded home wins at the Rec and the AJ Bell Stadium, Spencer knows what to expect from the Sharks as they approach the semi-finals. The England international recognises that Alex Sanderson will send his hard-hitters all guns blazing towards Spencer and his halfback partner Finn Russell.

“I think he’ll target nine and 10. I think he sees that as a way for us to get into the game. So you know, I fully expect for the Sale lads to probably get stuck into me and Finn quite a bit. But no, upmost respect for Al (Alex Sanderson) he’s an unbelievable coach and it’s no coincidence they got to the finals last year and they’re in the top four again this year.”

Ben Spencer, Captain of Bath Rugby watches the scrum during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears at the Recreation Ground on 17 November 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Since arriving in Somerset at the start of the 2023/24 season, Finn Russell has established a neat axis alongside Ben Spencer in blue, black and white. The flying Scotsman has become a household name in no time for the Bath faithful, and Spencer gave an insight as to what it has been like to spend a year distributing the ammunition to the self-professed ‘Lionel Messi’ of rugby.

“All credit to Finn, really. I think sometimes it’s a bit of a roller coaster playing with him.
You sort of never know what to expect at times. But you know, one thing I do know about him is he cares a lot and he wants to win a lot.

“For him to come into the side and give always a confidence of belief, a mindset of mindset of like, just having the confidence to back yourself, That’s shone throughout the team. Like, he gives the guys inside and outside of him so much confidence around their own game. That, it just oozes through the team and I can’t speak highly enough of him at the moment.”

Finn Russell of Bath Rugby during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester Rugby and Bath Rugby at Kingsholm Stadium on 10 November 2023 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Spencer sounded off the conference by giving his thoughts on how Johann van Graan has turned the club around as Director of Rugby. The Bath boss has took over the reigns near the end of the 2022 season, following the departure of Stuart Hooper after a disappointing campaign. With Bath now solidly in the play off places and eyeing up their first Premiership title since 1996, Ben Spencer discussed van Graan’s influence and how he’s got a total by-in from the squad.

“The biggest challenge Johann had when he came to club, was getting everyone on board, and all the players on board. He managed to do that so, so quickly. And you know, you can tell the way we wanted to play the game

“In the first half an hour of Johann’s first game in charge. So to get that buy in from the lads, as soon as he came in, that sort of speaks for itself. But then in terms of management and the way he goes about managing people who are not necessarily (in the match day) 23 every weekend, I’d imagine it’s a pretty tough job to manage 60 lads and trying to fit 23 into a team each week and can keep everyone happy.

Johann van Graan, Head Coach of Bath Rugby celebrates after winning during the Investec Champions Cup Match between Bath Rugby and Racing 92 at the Recreation Ground on 7 January 2024. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“So he’s managed to do that. I think this is probably the best in terms of the group has since i’ve been at the club, and that speaks volumes to the person that he is.”

“I think obviously there’s been some some tough years and some pretty dark days down the line, but we’re in a great place at the minute. I’m loving it at the club, I’m loving my rugby, love living around the town so I can’t speak highly enough of the club really.”

Spencer then gave an insight as to how he was awarded the captaincy armband, following the early days of van Graan’s appointment to Director of Rugby. In a unique approach from the 44-year-old, van Graan did not appoint his leader from a solo decision, and laid out the opportunity for anyone witht he ambition to captain the club to come and state their claim to him.

Ben Spencer, Captain of Bath Rugby with fans during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at the Recreation Ground on 26 March 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Spencer jumped at the opportunity to lead Bath from the front, and recalled the conversations which took place as he pitched to be the South African’s man in charge. Spencer was delighted to receive the captaincy for the 2023/24 season, and believes that he is not the only leader in the Bath team, with plenty of supporting voices alongside him.

“When Johaan came in, he sort of opened it up to the group and just said, ‘look, if you’ve got ambitions to captain the club. Come see me in my office, we’ll have a chat.’ I was definitely hungry for the opportunity. I would say the great thing about this group is I don’t feel like I’m the only one that leads.

“There’s lads who lead with their actions. They’re not necessarily the most vocal in the group, but there’s other people who when they speak, they get people’s attention. So, it’s definitely a big weight off my shoulders, from that point of view that other people to lean on.”