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.

Week Two: Analysis and Round Up

EIGHT TRY BATH THRASH SORRY FALCONS

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.

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Semesa Rokoduguni scores one of his two tries.

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.

PLAYER RATINGS

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)

ACADEMY ADDITIONS

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.

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Australian, number eight Leroy Houston is set for a return.

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.

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George Ford has enjoyed a strong start for Bath.

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).

POTENTIAL 23

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

VERDICT

Bath by 25

2016/17 Preview

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson

Captain: Guy Mercer

Stadium: The Recreation Ground (Capacity: 13,500)

Last Season: 9th

Prediction: 5th

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.

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New DoR, Todd Blackadder.

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

George Ford

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.

Jonathan Joseph

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.

Francois Louw

Position: Flanker  Nationality: South African  Age: 31  Height: 1.90m  Weight: 114kg

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.

TRANSFERS 

IN (7)

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)

OUT (15)

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.

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New man, Taulupe Faletau.

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’s Chances

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.

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Todd Blackadder takes over from Mike Ford.

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.

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Devoto has joined Exeter Chiefs.

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.

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.