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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
Bath endured a challenging 2015/16 season but with that behind them and a fresh start ahead although Bath’s cards remain close to their chest with regards to appointing a coach a number of new faces have already been added to the Bath squad.
Signed From: Yorkshire Carnegie
Honours: England U16, U17, U18, U19 and U20
The England under 20’s captain is a hugely promising hooker and could fill the void left by Rob Webber who has joined Sale Sharks. Walker is a very athletic hooker expect to see him make the odd burst upfield over the course of the season.
Michael van Vuuren
Signed From: Leicester Tigers
Honours: South Africa U20
Another addition to the front row brings valuable experience from Super Rugby as well as a short spell at Bath’s oldest rivals Leicester. The 24 year old will hope to become a big part of the team and try and push for a place alongside youngsters Walker and Dunn and the experienced Ross Batty.
Signed From: Racing Metro 92
Honours: Wales U19, U21 and Wales
A hugely experienced lock who has been massively influential for Wales over the past 12 years since making his debut. The lock studied at the University of Bath before moving back to Wales to play professional rugby. He should be able to provide experience to replace that lost by retiring captain Stuart Hooper.
Signed From: Gloucester Rugby
Honours: England U20 and England Saxons
The young lock is another addition to the tight five for Bath. His loan spell at London Irish showed just what an asset he can be in the line out despite an awful season for the Exiles. Bath will be hoping the former Gloucester lock can build on that potential shown whilst he is at the Recreation Ground.
Position: Number Eight
Signed From: Newport/ Gwent Dragons
Honours: Wales U20, Wales and British and Irish Lions
Faletau the biggest name arriving at Bath after Wales’ tour of New Zealand. He is a force of nature regularly making World XV’s around the pubs and clubhouses of the world. With both Mafi and Fa’osiliva leaving the club he should more than fill the void and at only 25 he still has many years left in him.
Signed From: Northampton Saints
The Samoan man should be a good addition to Bath and could act as a mentor to Bath’s three young scrum-halves. His pace set him apart and he should be able to provide the quick ball to the backs that was lacking last year.
Signed From: Cardiff Blues
Honours: Wales U20
Not much is known about Bath’s young winger. He is 6’4” and 16 stone so looks a real threat. The Welshman looks like a real man for the future as he joins up with a rather strong Welsh contingent at Bath.
Bath Rugby endured a tough season and that culminated in the sacking of head coach Mike Ford among controversial circumstances off field as well as on field problems.
Bath have got a long summer ahead and with a coach expected to be announced in the coming weeks it looks as though next season could be one of rebuilding and overhauling at the west country club.
The club should be strengthened by a plethora of high quality recruits including international number eight Faletau, exciting scrum-half Fotouali’i and the promising hooker Jack Walker.
The club will see this season as a time to make a team capable of consistently challenging for the top half or maybe even the top four. The play-offs is likely to be out of reach for the time being but in the future Bath may well see this season as a crucial building block in their development.
All teams that win titles do of course have to go through the building phase and this season that is the aim for Bath Rugby.
You could argue Bath are in a good place to start that process with a good crop of youngsters in Adam Hastings, Levi Douglas, Will Homer, Darren Atkins and new signing Jack Walker along with players like Denton, Faletau, Joseph and Ford plying their trade in Bath. This is a blend Saracens as a blueprint have perfected and a plan Exeter are leaning towards.
Bruce Craig has the money to make Bath the team they want to be, now it’s down to the players and whoever the new coach may be to earn their money and do their talking on the pitch getting Bath back to where they need to be.
Potential Bath 23: 1 N Auterac 2 J Walker 3 H Thomas 4 L Charteris 5 D Attwood 6 D Denton 7 F Louw 8 T Faletau
9 K Fotouali’i 10 G Ford 11 J Williams 12 M Banahan 13 J Joseph 14 S Rokoduguni 15 A Watson
16 M van Vuuren 17 N Catt 18 D Wilson 19 E Stooke 20 M Garvey 21 C Cook 22 D Bowden 23 T Homer
Mike Ford has finally been dismissed, the former England defence coach has been sacked following a season which has seen Bath go from sensational, attacking play advocates to being underachieving, lacklustre and frankly useless.
As well as this off field incidents have marred this season for Mike Ford with even rumours that he had lost the dressing room.
Bath need a new coach and they seem to be talking to South African Johan van Graan a major part of the South Africa coaching set up which reached the World Cup semi-finals under Heyneke Meyer another man that Bruce Craig is believed to be in negotiations with.
Van Graan was already being looked at by Bath prior to the dismissal of Ford after the capture of Neal Hatley by England, the South African seemed like a good fit to take over the role at the Recreation Ground as Hatley departed for Australia.
Van Graan is believed to be on the verge of signing a deal which if rumours are to be believed could offer him a much larger role than was first assumed as he could now become interim head coach which would suggest the man Bath want is still performing duties elsewhere.
This could allude to Todd Blackadder believed to be among the frontrunners for the job, Blackadder is still with the Crusaders and will remain with the Christchurch franchise until the end of the Super Rugby season.
Bath Rugby will be hoping deals can be done swiftly so that this interruption to what looks to be a summer of rebuilding is not to be blown ever further off course.