Where Did It All Go Wrong?

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.

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Semesa Rokoduguni is stopped by Newcastle.

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.

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Does Banahan Fit the Bill?

Bath Rugby recently saw the departure of inside centre Kyle Eastmond as he moved north to the Ricoh Arena. This leaves Bath rather light in the centre department as Ollie Devoto has also moved on.

The question the coaches now face is who will play at 12? There are a number of options, Kiwi, Dan Bowden is able to play 12 and he offers George Ford (if he is still here come September) that second playmaker the England fly-half is used to.

There is also England under-20’s star Max Clark. Clark is a talented young player and his physical presence coupled with a surprising turn of pace make him a scintillating prospect for Bath and England fans alike.

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Matt Banahan is an option to play 12.

Another option which is viable is that of shifting Priestland to 12, again it offers Bath two playmakers in the backline which was a hallmark of Bath’s play in the successful 2014/15 season.

All of these options are open and offer slight variations on each other but all come with their pitfalls. Bath have very few outright centres as we approach the season’s beginning and the question remains will the coaches have time to draft in a new recruit to fill the void left by Eastmond and Devoto.

The final option is Matt Banahan. The 6’7” winger is a powerful carrier and he’s among the fastest in the Bath squad.

He is one of Bath’s longest serving players and at 12 would offer a crash ball option that as  a Premiership club you clearly need to get your backline moving forwards. Banahan’s crashing runs would in turn open space for the really quick men outside him, when those players include Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Jeff Williams, Semesa Rokoduguni and Tom Homer, that is a quite beautiful vision for Bath fans.

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Banahan is no stranger to scoring tries.

The giant wing is not just this brute either if he sees a gap he has the pace to exploit spaces left by careless defending, okay his step is not as electric as Eastmond and his tactical awareness not as precise as Devoto but he has the attributes of a Premiership standard 12 and a good one at that.

It looks as though Bath’s long summer is beginning to come together with coach announcements expected within the week. The club must accept that this season will be one of rebuilding and then we can look to what the future may hold.