Bath Rugby look to have secured the services of flanker Sam Underhill from Ospreys from next season for a fee of about £150,000.
Sam Underhill joined the Swansea based province from Gloucester for two years ago so as to continue his education in Cardiff.
This move ruled out any selection for the England squad due to the selection policy put in place by the RFU to deter the best English players moving to France for a more lucrative paycheque.
Underhill has been in sensational form for the Ospreys and has been tipped for greatness by Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy.
The move to Bath would be hugely beneficial to Eddie Jones as that would give him the option of selecting a genuine, classic openside flanker. He would offer the back row some balance that is lacking with the combination of Chris Robshaw and James Haskell.
With Sam Underhill set to join Bath he will be playing in an environment that is already full of young, talented players. He would also be learning off someone of Francois Louw’s ability which can only be a benefit.
Underhill’s move to Bath could see the flanker playing for England as soon as the summer should his form continue. It is hard to see him not building on his already very impressive form.
The sky is the limit for Underhill hopefully he can achieve that while playing for Bath Rugby.
Bath enjoyed a fine start to the season and prior to the Wasps game on Christmas Eve, Bath had only lost two games.
Three losses later and the frustration is beginning to show, the players look to have a lack of focus, a complete loss of control.
One of the main things that has gone wrong is Bath’s tactical kicking game, Bath kick more than any other Premiership side, not necessarily a bad thing. At the start of the season George Ford was turning defences and steering his forwards around the park allowing himself to unleash the devastating strike runners in Bath’s backs.
At Newcastle and against Exeter, Bath are sending aimless long kicks downfield and what’s worse there’s no chase. You see players ambling after it, no pace, no urgency allowing the opposition time to set themselves and return the kick, often (as we saw against Newcastle) finding territory and touch.
Kicking for territory is all well and good but, you have to find touch, and I picked out George Ford but Ben Tapuai, Darren Allison, Jonathan Joseph none of them seem to be able to find touch or put enough height on the kick to allow Aled Brew or Semesa Rokoduguni to get some sort of chase on it.
The chasers though have to take some responsibility, if a kick is put long they should be busting a gut to get there and shut down the space available to the receiver. This would at least give the opposition less time to kick. One team that does the kick chase game extremely well is of course, Saracens.
Saracens execute this gameplan to perfection long kicks with two or three players in pursuit that wolfpack mentality, the desire to get there work for each other and win the ball back.
One good thing we have seen is the improvement in Bath’s discipline this season, there is no longer a barrage of penalties and nearly a yellow card every game. However there seems to be a lack of focus either in the opening stages or later stages of a game.
At Wasps, Christian Wade blitzed Bath with two tries in the opening stages, excluding those two tries the score was 26-26. The Exeter match, James Short scored two tries in the dying embers of the game before which Bath were leading 11-3. No second half points hurt Bath, no desire to kick on and kill the game.
Newcastle were certainly faster out the blocks last night, Bath looked to have dragged themselves out of a hole though only to get beaten due to a last minute Falcons rally.
Bath now have a break from the Premiership, they need to use this period to recharge and rethink. Bath have problems but they are rectifiable, they are still far better value than they were last season. They will come back and hopefully with a bang.
Bath’s first home game was definitely one to remember as devastating attack and powerful forward play saw Bath run in eight tries.
The scrum was on top straight away and that was how Bath got their first points with Ford converting the resultant penalty and then knocking over his third drop-goal of the season having grabbed two against Northampton.
The tries started to come after former Leicester winger Niki Goneva was yellow carded for deliberately pushing the ball into touch which gave Bath a penalty try.
George Ford was simply sublime, his kicking out of hand found space and touch time after time turning the Newcastle defenders. He also kicked six from eight conversions.
Rokoduguni scythed open the defence and scored a brace, Banahan plucked a Ford kick out of the air to score, the unbelievable Dave Attwood also got a brace, new recruit Stooke dotted down and local boy Kane Palma-Newport scored his first Premiership try.
Dave Attwood was sensational, his physicality is unmatchable and his carrying gave Bath front foot ball with Fotouali’i and Ford controlling the game expertly, the Samoan taking the pressure off Ford with his excellent box kicking game.
Bath are well and truly on the right track and the backs look back to their exciting best coupled with a powerful pack and youthful fearlessness, this team have exciting times ahead.
1 Nick Auterac (8) 2 Ross Batty (7) 3 Kane Palma-Newport (8) 4 Luke Charteris (7) 5 Dave Attwood (9) 6 Charlie Ewels (6) 7 David Sisi (7) 8 Zach Mercer (8)
9 Kahn Fotouali’i (8) 10 George Ford (9) 11 Matt Banahan (8) 12 Max Clark (7) 13 Jonathan Joseph (7) 14 Semesa Rokoduguni (9) 15 Tom Homer (8)
16 Tom Dunn (7) 17 Beno Obano (6) 18 Max Lahiff (6) 19 Elliot Stooke (7) 20 Tom Ellis (6) 21 Chris Cook (6) 22 Rhys Priestland (6) 23 Jeff Williams (6)
Prior to Bath’s thumping win academy duo Will Homer and Max Clark were added to the senior squad.
Clark has made a statement in his opening two matches of the season stepping into the team as if he were a regular first team player. He is physical, abrasive and fast, he is balanced well with the electric, pacey Jonathan Joseph.
Will Homer performed admirably at the tail end of last season, he has searing pace and does the basics of a scrum-half extremely well.
HOMECOMING FOR HOUSTON
Fan favourite Leroy Houston is returning to Bath Rugby following a brief spell with Australian franchise Queensland Reds, who he joined in May in a bid to make Cheika’s Australia squad but he is yet to earn his first cap.
Houston will take over from David Denton due to the Scottish international having to undergo surgery which could keep him out for up to four months, so Houston should be around until Christmas at which point he will return to Queensland.
MERCER PLAYS SIGNIFICANT PART
Number eight, Zach Mercer played some excellent rugby, he carries well with power and strength.
He made some really important inroads against Newcastle, the Bath back rower is explosive and powerful and didn’t look at all out of place playing in the Premiership.
Charlie Ewels also played a large part and Kane Palma-Newport was excellent in the scrum. Levi Douglas, Beno Obano and Tom Ellis all made a contribution towards the thrashing.
With the squad rather small it is inevitable that the team will have to introduce a number of the younger and academy players into the senior team over the course of this season.
FANTASTIC FORD HAILED
After the brilliant performance of George Ford, Todd Blackadder was quick to point out the performance of his fly-half. Ford captained the team superbly and the faith Blackadder is showing in him seems to be putting the England international on this whole other level.
Dean Richards also was full of praise for the 23 year old saying that he should have been awarded the man of the match award which instead went to Dave Attwood (who was also excellent).
1 Nick Auterac 2 Ross Batty 3 Kane Palma-Newport 4 Luke Charteris 5 Dave Attwood 6 Matt Garvey 7 David Sisi 8 Zach Mercer
9 Kahn Fotouali’i 10 George Ford 11 Matt Banahan 12 Max Clark 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 15 Anthony Watson
16 Tom Dunn 17 Max Lahiff 18 Henry Thomas 19 Charlie Ewels 20 Elliot Stooke 21 Chris Cook 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Jeff Williams
Bath’s long wait to win at Franklins Gardens was ended on Saturday as the boys in blue, black and white triumphed 18-14, thanks to the boot of George Ford.
Powerful work from the front five in the scrum, led by Henry Thomas and the lineout, led by Dave Attwood deprived a powerful Northampton backline of front foot ball.
Carrying from David Denton and Dave Attwood also gave Bath momentum which George Ford converted into 18 unanswered points until Chris Cook received his marching order for not retreating ten metres.
Cook’s indiscipline was much to the delight of his opposite number Nic Groom who touched down twice on debut to earn Northampton a losing bonus point, Stephen Myler converting both of the kicks.
Kahn Fotouali’i was impressive all over the park with his physicality and game management. Equally Clark outside Ford added some much needed explosive power to the midfield.
The substitutes did not let up and Palma-Newport and Auterac continued the demolition of a shaky Northampton scrum. Tom Ellis also featured early on because of an injury to Faletau performed excellently in his recently adopted back row role.
1 Nathan Catt (7) 2 Ross Batty (6) 3 Henry Thomas (8) 4 Charlie Ewels (6) 5 Dave Attwood (7) 6 Matt Garvey (6) 7 David Denton (7) 8 Taulupe Faletau (5)
9 Kahn Fotouali’i (8) 10 George Ford (9) 11 Matt Banahan (6) 12 Max Clark (7) 13 Jonathan Joseph (6) 14 Semesa Rokoduguni (7) 15 Tom Homer (6)
16 Tom Dunn (6) 17 Nick Auterac (7) 18 Kane Palma-Newport (7) 19 David Sisi (6) 20 Tom Ellis (7) 21 Chris Cook (4) 22 Rhys Priestland (6) 23 Jeff Williams (5)
BACK ROW HEADACHE
The injury to Faletau was compounded by Scotland international Denton also picking up an injury at Franklins Gardens. This means we could possibly see academy back rowers Levi Douglas or Zach Mercer feature this weekend.
The two injuries at Northampton will hurt that much more due to club captain Guy Mercer still nursing a strain picked up in training and with Springbok Francois Louw still away with the South Africa team playing in the Rugby Championship.
Tom Ellis performed well when called upon after Faletau went off and Garvey and Sisi are more then capable back rowers, hopefully both Faletau and Denton will return to action soon.
ACADEMY PLAY PART IN WIN
No less than six academy players finished the win over Northampton ranging from Kane Palma-Newport in the front row to Max Clark in the centre.
It looks as though that number will be bolstered by a back row inclusion this weekend and also the prospect of Scotland under 20 star Adam Hastings and young scrum-half Will Homer who both impressed as they made their senior debuts last season.
Bath have signed Wales international Aled Brew until the end of the season. A smart move as Bath currently only have three senior wingers in the side, Matt Banahan, Semesa Rokoduguni and Jeff Williams.
Bath are also expected to announce the capture of two centres by the end of the week, one of them largely believed to be former Crusader, Robbie Fruean. The Kiwi looks likely to join up with his former coaches Tabai Matson and Todd Blackadder later this week.
The other could be either Toulon centre Maxime Mermoz or this mystery Australian centre. Mermoz was a potential signing over the summer but interest cooled after he announced he wanted to stay with the French giants.
The mystery Australian has been a point of speculation for Bath fans, but three names come up time and time again, those are Berrick Barnes, Ben Tapuai and Anthony Fainga’a. Any of the three would represent some shrewd business from Bath’s new coaching duo, after the departure of Kyle Eastmond (Wasps) and Ollie Devoto (Exeter).
GOOD NEWS Luke Charteris, Dan Bowden and Anthony Watson who all missed the Northampton game with minor injuries are expected to be available for selection against the Newcastle Falcons for Bath’s first home game of the season.
Charteris a big name move over the summer and he could partner either Dave Attwood or Charlie Ewels in a strong second row also bolstered by the arrival of former Gloucester lock, Elliot Stooke.
1 Nathan Catt 2 Ross Batty 3 Henry Thomas 4 Luke Charteris 5 Dave Attwood 6 Matt Garvey 7 Tom Ellis 8 David Sisi
9 Kahn Fotoauli’i 10 George Ford 11 Matt Banahan 12 Max Clark 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Semesa Rokodugnuni 15 Tom Homer
16 Michael van Vuuren 17 Nick Auterac 18 Kane Palma-Newport 19 Charlie Ewels 20 Levi Douglas 21 Will Homer 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Anthony Watson
Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson
Captain: Guy Mercer
Stadium: The Recreation Ground (Capacity: 13,500)
Last Season: 9th
Bath had an awful season last time out only managing to finish 9th in the Premiership a poor return having made the final in the 2014/15 season.
There is a sizeable number of international stars at the Recreation Ground and the squad looks strong if not that deep. The only worry for Bath is the hole left by the departures of Kyle Eastmond and Ollie Devoto in the midfield leaving Dan Bowden and Jonathan Joseph as the only senior centres in the squad.
The Recreation Ground has become accustomed to an attacking gameplan executed with fluency and pace as we saw the season before last. A devastating three quarters is lethal when given space. The whole operation kick started and led by fly-half, George Ford.
One of the only positives from last season came in defence, despite finishing in 9th Bath was among the best defences in the Premiership when it came to conceding tries. Whilst Bath leaked penalties for the most part teams found it hard to break Bath down.
THREE TO WATCH
Position: Fly-Half Nationality: English Age: 23 Height: 1.75m Weight: 84kg
The Bath out half is a real talent and he suffered last year low on confidence and bereft of inspiration the backline faltered. Then in Australia he showed us the player he really is with a pack going forward and with none of the focus on his kicking he flourished.
Ford is the best attacking fly-half in the league without a shadow of a doubt. There were question marks over his defence but the doubters have now been silenced after a string of important defensive display notably the first test in Australia.
Position: Centre Nationality: English Age: 25 Height: 1.83m Weight: 91kg
Another of Bath’s England contingent. The outside centre has treated us to some moments of sheer brilliance. His dazzling footwork and trademark outside arc make him one of the most devastating strike runners for Bath.
What tends to go unnoticed is his defensive work rate, he doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous jobs. He will be key for Bath this season.
This man is amongst the best opensides in the world as he shows time and again for the Springboks. His southern hemisphere mindset of how the breakdown should be controlled is perfect to provide Bath’s backs quick ball.
Louw is bound to get his plaudits again this season and when he returns after the November internationals it will feel like a completely different team.
Luke Charteris (Racing 92, FRA)
Harry Davies (Cardiff Blues, WAL)
Taulupe Faletau (Dragons, WAL)
Kahn Fotouali’i (Northampton Saints, ENG)
Elliott Stooke (Gloucester Rugby, ENG)
Michael van Vuuren (Leicester Tigers, ENG)
Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)
Horacio Agulla (Castres Olympique, FRA)
Luke Arscott (Bristol Rugby, ENG)
Dominic Day (Toyota Verblitz, JAP)
Ollie Devoto (Exeter Chiefs, ENG)
Kyle Eastmond (Wasps, ENG)
Jonathan Evans (Llaneli Scarlets, WAL)
Alafoti Fa’osiliva (Worcester Warriors, ENG)
Brett Herron (Ulster, IRE)
Stuart Hooper (Retired, RET)
Leroy Houston (Queensland Reds, AUS)
Amanaki Mafi (NTT Shining Arcs, JAP)
Max Northcote-Green (London Irish, ENG)
Will Spencer (Worcester Warriors, ENG)
Rob Webber (Sale Sharks, ENG)
Tom Woolstencroft (Wasps, ENG)
The capture of Wales duo Faletau and Charteris is a huge coup for Bath further bolstering Bath’s impressive back five of the pack. Samoan international Fotouali’i is a good addition, he has serious pace and can act as another playmaker.
The loss of Devoto is huge, he along with Eastmond leave a void for Bath to fill. Losing Houston to Super Rugby is also a shame, the fan favourite was an effective carrier. Hooper ends his career, he will remain at Bath in a coaching capacity.
My Bath Rugby 23
15 Anthony Watson 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Dan Bowden 11 Matt Banahan 10 George Ford 9 Kahn Fotouali’i
1 Nick Auterac 2 Ross Batty 3 Davey Wilson 4 Luke Charteris 5 Dave Attwood 6 David Denton 7 Francois Louw (Captain) 8 Taulupe Faletau
16 Michael van Vuuren 17 Nathan Catt 18 Henry Thomas 19 Charlie Ewels 20 Matt Garvey 21 Chris Cook 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Jeff Williams
Bath definitely have the quality of player and coach needed to succeed at Premiership level but this looks as a season for building and establishing goals for the coming seasons.
Bath Rugby is undergoing a major overhaul this summer with the new coaching team, new players and even a new stand.
After finishing ninth last season the fans will be demanding much more from their side this season.
Having swapped Mike Ford for Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson Bath have brought in two experienced, clever coaches. Blackadder has spent years honing his craft at one of New Zealand’s most successful franchises the Crusaders and was joined by Matson just two years ago.
The experience the former Crusaders duo will bring will be hugely beneficial, a southern hemisphere perspective will give Bath a new view on the game.
The West Country club have bolstered the pack this year bringing in Wales duo Luke Charteris and Taulupe Faletau, England under-20 hooker Jack Walker, former Leicester forward van Vuuren and promising lock Elliot Stooke.
In the backs Bath have brought in Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotouali’i and 22 year old winger Harry Davies from Cardiff but it is widely expected a couple of other players will join the club now Blackadder and Matson have arrived in Bath.
The city expects and with the squad they have at their disposal Bath should be fighting for a top half finish this season. They could finish higher but with this season being one to rebuild and restart.
A top half finish would reap the reward of a place in the Rugby Champions Cup which is Europe’s premier rugby competition.
With squads like Saracens, Leicester, Exeter and Wasps the top four is a very big ask.
Bath also will still have concerns about 12. The departures of Ollie Devoto and Kyle Eastmond to Exeter and Wasps respectively have left the resources at 12 rather empty.
Overall it is an intriguing time for Bath fans, patience may be needed and Bath fans should not be expecting miracles overnight. It will take time but should the coaches get Bath firing soon intrigue could become expectation.
Bath have their man, or to be more accurate men as today it was announced that Crusaders duo Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson would take over at Bath as director of rugby and head coach respectively.
The coaching team have an impressive record especially Blackadder who took the Christchurch based franchise to two Super Rugby finals in eight years and is an expert in guiding his team to play-offs.
What will Blackadder bring?
A question that will be looming large in Bath fans’ minds.
Blackadder will bring a number of things. Firstly the Crusaders are focussed on being the most well conditioned team in Super Rugby.
Bath Rugby will be extremely well conditioned, they will be at peak physical condition through extensive sprint drills, gym work and explosive training exercises.
This conditioning aspect will make Bath more efficient, more powerful, more cohesive and a generally fit unit.
Blackadder will also bring a very strong focus on keeping the ball. Bath’s forwards were outmuscled and at times humiliated by the opposition.
It is fair to say that Blacadder’s Crusaders pack has had some real stars in it over the years most recently the likes of Sam Whitelock, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read all double World Cup winners.
That is some force but the potential is the same with this pack, Louw is one of the best openside flankers in the world. If Bath can build a unit that is strong on ball retention around Louw, Bath will be a strong force in attack.
Ball retention also revolves around having a mobile tight five, Bath have some players that could fit that mould.
Nick Auterac, Ross Batty, Charlie Ewels, Dave Attwood, all of them are already quick over the ground and if coached correctly could fit the Blackadder mould perfectly.
What will Matson bring?
For rugby fans in the northern hemisphere, Tabai Matson is a relatively unknown quantity.
All fans need to know is that Matson has been working very closely with Fiji since before the World Cup as the attack coach.
Is this a sign that Bath fans could finally see the best of former Glasgow scrum-half Niko Matawalu? Matawalu is an exciting player with some really good skills and at 27 he has his best professional years coming to him.
Matson should be able to let the Bath backs express themselves different to the rugby league hybrid way Bath had before under Mike Ford.
The 43 year old will try to blend his attacking credentials and individual brilliance of some of Bath’s backs with a controlled approach which will be helped by current Bath coach Darren Edwards.
How will Bath Rugby fare?
The impossible question, having recruited late I think it is unrealistic to expect Bath to be winning the championship this year.
Top four is possible but I still think an unlikely prospect, Bath with this stage of rebuilding must aim for the top half though, anything other than a Champions Cup spot is failure for Bath this season.
Expected Bath XV: 15 Anthony Watson 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Dan Bowden 11 Matt Banahan 10 George Ford 9 Kahn Fotouali’i
1 Nick Auterac 2 Jack Walker 3 Henry Thomas 4 Luke Charteris 5 Dave Attwood 6 David Denton 7 François Louw 8 Taulupe Faletau