Aviva Premiership Preview: 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

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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Joseph on the attack for Bath.

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.

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Francois Louw.

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 recruit, 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.

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England On The Rise

England have done, they’ve won a series in Australia. That game in Melbourne may well be the most significant moment in English rugby since England’s last win in Australia which just happens to be the 2003 World Cup final.

Eddie Jones has taken England from eight in the world rankings to second in a matter of months. Just back in October Australia were competing for the World Cup against the All Blacks whilst England were trying to work out how 2015 had gone so badly wrong, nobody expected this.

Not only has pride been restored to England but they have thumped the Wallabies and are now building a seriously powerful, abrasive, young squad.

One part of the squad that is doing particularly well is England’s back row trio. Following Jones’ appointment there were cries including from myself to drop Robshaw and Haskell, how wrong was I? They are the two best players from the opening two tests by a mile.

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Haskell has been standout.

Haskell has been totemic in defence and a handful in attack at the breakdown and around the fringes. The Wasps openside seems to have picked up a slight knock following the test in Melbourne but he has certainly played a significant part in wrapping up the series.

Chris Robshaw, a man reborn, many believed that once the Six Nations was over he would discard the Harlequins man along with Haskell. After the win in Melbourne how can he? Robshaw showed all the heart and dedication we have come to expect from him as a player. He also seemed to be a bit fiery in the game clashing with Australians on more than one occasion.

Joe Marler may well rue his decision to sit out the tour as Mako Vunipola has been superb, his scrummaging greatly improved yet still offering himself up as a crash ball carrier along with his hugely talented brother, Billy.

In the backs a partnership is flourishing between Saracens out half Farrell and Bath fly-half Ford. For a long time the 10-12 channel has been a problem for England but it seems Jones has fixed that problem.

He has adopted a New Zealand like system playing another playmaker at 12 which can be referred to as a second five eighth. Ford and Farrell both playmakers in their own right but offer different things in attack and defence.

Ford looks more relaxed with Farrell on the field, Farrell takes the kicking duties allowing the young fly-half to play his natural attacking game. Farrell can sit deeper with Ford at 10 which suits his style more allowing him time to make decisions bring his big forward runners into the game.

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Ford and Farrell. friends on and off the field.

This is all down to Eddie Jones, Monday to Friday the week is fine tuned to give England the opportunity to win games every seemingly throw away comment, every training exercise, every selection call is engineered to help the team win the game.

Jones is an expert he manipulates the media, he man manages to perfection, the praise he has heaped on Haskell and Ford has seemed to push both of them to new levels in an England shirt.

He tells others to work harder and that has worked to with players such as Billy Vunipola and Marland Yarde now blossoming.

He has built a core of around 23 or 24 players he knows what they can do and they can rest assured should they continue to perform they will continue to play. Eddie Jones can thank Lancaster for introducing the likes of Watson, Farrell, Ford, Kruis, Vunipola and Nowell to international rugby but let himself make them international superstars.

It will be interesting to see if Jones is willing to take a gamble on any players in the third test. I’d like to see one or two given a go but with the core to remain the same. A whitewash would be truly something.

My England 23 for the final test

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain) 3 Dan Cole 4 Maro Itoje 5 Joe Launchbury 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 Billy Vunipola

9 Danny Care 10 George Ford 11 Marland Yarde 12 Owen Farrell 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson 15 Alex Goode

16 Jamie George 17 Ellis Genge 18 Kyle Sinckler 19 Courtney Lawes 20 Teimana Harrison 21 Ben Youngs 22 Henry Slade 23 Elliot Daly

Eddie’s Eleven

Eddie Jones is close to naming his first set of players to try and rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s rugby superpowers. With the Six Nations happening next month Eddie Jones has been given permission to change just eleven (including Sam Burgess) of the players that crashed out of the World Cup in October.

The fact that Ian Ritchie who’s tenure at the Rugby Football Union has been marred by controversy and ultimately failure has only allowed eleven changes is in itself moronic. How can Eddie Jones make his mark on a team full of deadweight that have overseen England’s worst ever World Cup.

Ian-Ritchie-RFU-chief-executive

RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ricthie

As well as the enforced change of Burgess, Henry Slade, Kieran Brookes, Jonny May will all have been changed due to injury. This leaves Eddie Jones with just seven real changes within the squad that can be used to improve.

If we look at replacement options surely Wasps centre Daly has to be included to replace the Rabbitohs star. Daly has proved this season that he has grown in maturity, his running lines are inventive and a breath of fresh air.

He has some real pace probably due to the time he spent at fullback, his pace and running lines have shown some of the best defences in Europe crack such as Toulon and Leinster. Daly’s ability to smash the ball over from 60 plus metres is also a hugely handy attribute in international rugby.

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Elliot Daly escapes the clutches of Dave Attwood

Another man that has to be considered after being practically ignored for there last four years is Kyle Eastmond, granted the centre is not having the best of seasons with Bath who are struggling to regain the form of last season which surely will click at some point.

Eastmond’s dazzling footwork is a joy to behold watching him dance his way through defenders was one of the high points of last season. His electric feet and turn of pace make him a nightmare to defend against.

To replace the injured Jonny May there is only one contender in my mind that man is Saracens flyer Chris Ashton. How many tries does this man have to score to be in the England squad?

He is on fire and scoring for fun in north London with the players inside him offering a few kicks ahead and his knack of popping up in the right place at the right time make him an invaluable finisher, just what England and Eddie Jones may be looking for. He will score tries and plenty of them.

The loss of Brookes who looks to be the next big thing in the England scrum is a shame, there are few players who can scrummage like the Saints tighthead. The only option in my mind is Wasps prop Jake Cooper-Wooley who has done a sterling job up in Coventry.

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Kieran Brookes will miss the Six Nations due to injury

Due to the lack of real talent at tighthead and the way Dan Cole was ripped to pieces by Saracens pack mean Cooper-Wooley may well be thrown into the deep end in the absence of Brookes.

So there are the first four:
OUT: Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
IN: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Jake Cooper-Wooley, Elliot Daly (both Wasps), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Assuming Nick Easter is included so England will have a 32 man squad for the Six Nations that gives us six back row spots to work with. This will come as no shock but in my mind there is no place for Robshaw, a huge work rate and extraordinary passion unfortunately does not win you international rugby matches.

My favourite English opened right now has to be Kvesic and with other contenders in the mix like Clifford, Fraser and O’Connor, Haskell also has to go. Kvesic is an unbelievable openside, a ‘traditional’ seven.

He has been brilliant for Gloucester which is why they find themselves in a pretty strong position so far this season. Kvesic has struggled to really break into the England squad despite being around the team for long enough. His turnover rate is astonishing and he’s not shy of a big hit either.

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Matt Kvesic in action for Gloucester

Jack Clifford would be my replacement for Haskell. A lot has been spoken about Jack Clifford being England’s next openside and his skills. For me Clifford is a future England captain and his ball carrying and tenacity at the breakdown see him usurp Haskell.

Nick Easter, what a player. An example to players everywhere to never give up after being told by Lancaster in 2011 he would never again play for England four years later he is playing for his country in a World Cup.

A lovely story but he has to go, and there is only one man to replace him, Maro Itoje. The Saracens man who is just as at home in the engine room is my player of the season so far. His athleticism and leadership skills are making Saracens tick this season. Another contender for future England captain.

Itoje has to be in the squad, his form for Saracens is just the start of another wonderful journey.

Another summary:
OUT: Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
IN: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)

Only four changes left and so much left to change with three changes alone going on the back row you can imagine how much more I have left to change.

Rob Webber has to call time on his England career, he isn’t up to the standard at the moment. His replacement fairly straight forward Dylan Hartley also my captain.

The playing side for Hartley is exemplary he is excellent in the loose an abrasive in the set piece a really good player. The behaviour does however border on thuggery at times and although this may seem contradictory this is why he would be my captain.

The hard edge that made Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back feared not just by the opposition but by the young players in their team for example a certain Jonny Wilkinson is something Hartley has in abundance.
One player that has to go purely due to the fact I feel he has offered little to the squad since his debut back in 2012 is South African born Brad Barritt.

He has not been good enough, hugely influential for his club and solid for England but not spectacular. Rather than induct another centre into the squad I would have a fly-half come in purely because I think Danny Cipriani. It is still a mystery to me how the Sale out half didn’t get selected for the World Cup following a great display in the warm-ups.

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Danny Cipriano training with England prior to their 2014 tour to New Zealand

His form for Sale has been wonderful and he is the reason his team can compete at such a high level this season for Ford and Farrell to be selected and he be left in the north west would be a travesty.

The one cap wonder Semesa Rokoduguni has to be in the squad, he must be having déja vu after once again a scintillating start to this season. His ability to either bash or dash his way to the try line make him a real asset to whatever team he is playing in be it Bath or England.

He would replace Jack Nowell, yes Nowell has been great for Exeter but the fact is he’s not quick enough to be an international winger. Exeter fans would disagree but look at the other three wingers I have picked Rokoduguni, Ashton and Watson would Nowell really trouble any of them in a foot race.

Scrum-half is a really tough place at the moment for England with four or five contenders for just three places. My choice would be to drop Wigglesworth for Joe Simpson.

Wasps although inconsistent have looked sharp in the backs and the catalyst for that is the lightning quick Simpson. His service isn’t bad either and that earns him a place alongside Youngs and Care.

That completes our changes:
OUT: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)
IN: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Semesa Rokodugnuni (Bath Rugby), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Notable mentions must go to Will Chudley who I hope to see on that plane to Australia in June. Dave Attwood who if he wasn’t injured would be in this squad at the expense of Parling. Dave Ewers and Thomas Waldrom both of whom would be in the squad if there was more space. Manu Tuilagi who had he played more would have been in the squad but he has been out of action for a long time and hasn’t starred for England since 2014.

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My England Squad for Six Nations

Bold indicates starting XV

Props: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jake Cooper Wooley (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Davey Wilson (Bath Rugby)

Hookers: Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Locks: George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

Flankers: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Number Eights: Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Scrum-Halves: Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Fly-Halves: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby)

Centres: Elliot Daly, Ben Jacobs (both Wasps, Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Wings: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Semesa Rokoduguni, Anthony Watson (both Bath Rugby)

Fullbacks: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

England Out But Hope On Show

England had a tough World Cup campaign and it finished with flattery against Uruguay as a stale performance saw England win 60-3, a flattering scoreline for the host nation.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England's 10 tries.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England’s 10 tries.

The performance though did have some pleasing elements, for one the performance of Exeter’s playmaker Henry Slade who has been unbelievable for his club and it is a mystery as to how he has been overlooked until England’s final ‘dead rubber’ as it were. Slade’s passing and running game was quite something to behold and outside Ford who finally got his chance once again was good with the ball in hand if he did falter off the tee.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Farrell kicked well as he always does, a masterful display of kicking. Joseph’s introduction saw England change, the midfield now looked sharper and an unbelievable piece of inspiration from the Bath centre set up Watson’s 2nd try against the minnows. Joseph’s pace and feet make him a real threat and it is a shame we did not get to see more of his dazzling skill in this World Cup.

Another player who looked good was the Saracens fullback, Alex Goode, he has had no chances in this World Cup despite a stellar season for the Premiership champions. He added a playmaking option to the midfield already laden with Ford, Farrell and Slade.

England showed some sort of attacking intent and hunger which had not been seen against Wales or Australia. Some flair, bravery and guile, a hunger to win and win well. They looked in control with flowing passing, good running lines and a couple of wonderful tries.

The performance had it been against any of the other top teams in the world would have been a horror show but the glimpses we saw of Ford and Slade combining along with the magic from Watson, Joseph and Nowell may well have been the dawn of a new English backline.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Forget the power based game, England need a team that can attack, so Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell are good players. But what would you rather England produced a crash up the middle or scything breaks round the outside? I know what I would rather watch, I may be slightly biased but after witnessing some amazing backs interplay last night I think it’s clear which way England must go following this World Cup’s conclusion and the likely resignation of Lancaster.

The forwards need a complete reshuffle and need a nasty streak, something that other teams fear, they need to emulate the fear factor Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back provided in 2003. England have some of those figures ready to step into the breach.

They need their scavenger, the Toulon exile Armitage, they need to find a way of bringing him into the squad without seeing an exodus from the Premiership. Burgess is a back row and he can be played there England need to address that as well. The back row has been a real point of weakness for the last 4 years.

The coaches all need to go, Lancaster has failed, Rowntree’s scrum has been bullied by Australia, Wales and France, Farrell has been involved in refereeing disputes and there is the obvious nepotism claim (which has been heard loud due to rumours of Ford, Slade and Goode running rings round Barritt and Burgess) and Catt’s bust up with Cipriani leaves him out of the set up.

Rob Andrew and Ian Ritchie also have to call time on their stays at Twickenham, they have to leave and England have to bring in Sir Clive Woodward as a Director of Rugby, he is the only man for the job a sentiment echoed by Dallaglio. England have deep rooted problems that must be sorted out there is a long list of people to shoulder some of the blame but last night we saw a glimpse of a brighter future.

My 33 Man Squad for Six Nations

Props Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (Northampton), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath)

Hookers Ross Batty (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton)

Second Rows Dave Attwood (Bath), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Geoff Parling (Exeter)

Flankers Steffon Armitage (Toulon), Dave Ewers (Exeter), Will Fraser, Maro Itoje (both Saracens)

Number Eights Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Ben Morgan (Gloucester)

Scrum-Halves Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Fly-Halves Danny Cipriani (Sale), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath)

Centres Kyle Eastmond, Jonathan Joseph (both Bath), Henry Slade (Exeter), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)

Wings Matt Banahan (Bath), Jonny May (Gloucester), Christian Wade (Wasps), Anthony Watson (Bath)

Fullbacks Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

That brings both a balance and some excitement along with some nasty forwards, this is of course if form is the same as last season only time will tell.

Next Up, World Cup

England’s warm-up games ended with a win over Ireland in London, an important win with England opening their World Cup campaign against Fiji in 11 days time.

England have answered loads of questions in their win over Ireland and Lancaster will now have a very clear picture of who will take to the field to play Fiji on 18th September. England dominated the match against Ireland and although they scored 2 tries they could easily have had 2 more had Youngs passed backwards or Farrell had the vision to throw the right pass.

Pool A is most certainly the toughest of the 4 pools, England look sharp and being at Twickenham gives them a huge advantage going into the ‘Group of Death’. Wales are strong and although Rhys Webb is a huge doubt and Halfpenny is out of the World Cup following injuries when they faced Italy they still pose a threat. Australia are always dangerous and their win over the All Blacks a few weeks ago demonstrated just how deadly they can be.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Even Fiji look good and their massive victory over Canada is a sign that they are not a write off and could challenge the big 3 of Pool A. Uruguay are likely to be the whipping boys of the group, they could be the victims of 4 heavy defeats and stand little chance of winning any game.

England look like they could be on the brink of going some way in this 2015 World Cup, maybe even to the final and there is a very real possibility of that happening should they top this tricky pool. The win over Ireland has shone a light on which players must be in that dressing room as the roar of the fans brings Twickenham to life at the start of 7 weeks that will change the face of world rugby in some way.

Jonny May has to be picked on the wing, Watson will start that much is assured but May must get the nod over Nowell. His try against Ireland was wonderful a display of power from the Gloucester flyer sees him surely shoot into the forefront of Lancaster’s mind. The devastation he can cause defences is both delightful and scary at the same time he makes light work of even the best defensive wingers. His try against the All Blacks in November and his performance against Ireland show this.

Mike Brown must remain as fullback despite the efforts of Alex Goode, yes Goode did play well against France but the mercurial Brown has to stay at his best he is among the best fullbacks in the world. The Harlequins star could well be the difference between a win or a loss. He is something special and along with Watson and May could form a worryingly devastating back three.

Tom Wood and Ben Morgan surely will start, Wood must start after his massively impressive game at Twickenham. He is undoubtedly a talented flanker with much in his armoury that England have only scratched the surface of. Morgan proved his fitness and budged his way into the squad ahead of the massive Vunipola who can be deployed as an impact player off the bench. As a Wales back with tired legs you don’t want Vunipola running at you that would scare the living daylights out of any player in that pool bar possibly giant Fijian Nadolo.

Tom Youngs finally answered his critics with a big game, the line out was better if scrappy as was the scrum. He will start but George may well overtake him over the course of the tournament as he gains more caps. The Saracens hooker is looking more like an international hooker with every minute he plays and Bath’s Webber is being edged out the squad rightly so.

The final question was answered overwhelmingly by the Bath maestro Ford. He was sublime, his sumptuous kick to Watson for England’s try was art, it was beautiful I as an avid rugby fan and self proclaimed connoisseur could say that kick was the epitome of fine art, the Michelin star dish of tries. It was something special. Ford has this little bit of pace this silky running and flair filled fun game that just sparks a team to life which was shown by the the way Bath played last season. One point in the game where it showed why Ford should start was when he wasn’t even on the field. Farrell (a good fly-half in his own right) threw a bad (because it was behind him) and poorly judged miss pass to Mike Brown. Had Ford been on the field England would have probably scored he would never dreamed of throwing a miss pass when he could instead exploit the shortage of Irish numbers so Brown could walk over the line.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

England are there they have their answers, they know now who they must pick to make their way to Twickenham in 31st October when (hopefully) England will be playing in their 4th World Cup final.

The race to Twickenham is well and truly on.

My England 23 to face Fiji: 1 J.Marler 2 T.Youngs 3 D.Cole 4 C.Lawes 5 G.Parling 6 T.Wood 7 C.Robshaw (C) 8 B.Morgan
9 B.Youngs 10 G.Ford 11 J.May 12 B.Barritt 13 J.Joseph 14 A.Watson 15 M.Brown

16 J.George 17 M.Vunipola 18 D.Wilson 19 J.Launchbury 20 B.Vunipola
21 R.Wigglesworth 22 O.Farrell 23 A.Goode

Bath Must Take Chance to Take Place at Europe’s Elite Table

Bath Rugby, a club steeped in history much like their opponent in Saturday’s semi-final Leicester Tigers. Bath have finally got their wish with their first home semi-final in the Premiership and it seems as though the cash of millionaire Bruce Craig and the recruitment of Mike Ford is paying off.

With Bath’s playmaking stars of George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have been stars for not only Bath but also England. Add to that a deadly cocktail of Anthony Watson, Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni and the power of skyscraper Matt Banahan and you have a backline most clubs would die for. The entertaining and potent backs have racked up 72 tries and have only lost one league game at home this season and that was to Northampton Saints during an international window that meant Bath were missing key players, of course Northampton were as well but without Bath having a real back-up for the Premiership player of the year George Ford they struggled to get any go forward.

Matt Banahan  making a break against Mogliano

Matt Banahan making a break against Mogliano

Bath have also developed a pack that are nasty something every pack needs, a pack that could rival the pack that contained players like Borthwick, Grewcock, Mears and Humphreys but now Bath have players like Louw, Attwood and Burgess and of course Bath’s standout forward this season. Australian number eight Leroy Houston who won the most recent forward of the month award. With their first choice tight five they have driven some of the best packs in Europe into the ground such as Toulouse and Glasgow. Having had NRL convert Sam Burgess turn his hand to being a flanker has only added to this vicious pack as Sam Burgess showed powering through the Gloucester defence to score last weekend.

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Bath Rugby now have a shot at winning the title when they take on Leicester Tigers at the Recreation Ground. Last time Leicester came to play their bitterest rivals at the Rec Bath thumped the Tigers 45-0 in a thrilling contest when the lethal backs tore apart a rather mediocre Leicester defence in a powerful, absorbing display which showed what this red hot Bath side are capable of.

Bath have not won the league title since 1996 when professionalism was at a primal stage in it’s development following this transformation in 1995. Leicester have reached the play-offs ten times a record. The Tigers often roar into the play-offs and will not be an easy task for this Bath side. Bath have a huge chance this year to take their place as on of Europe’s elite by winning the most competitive league in the world.

Bath the only side with a clean bill of health in the play-offs and they have a home semi-final as the season comes to a close. The West Country side have also played the best brand of rugby out of the top 4 and have shown how powerful and precise their forward pack can be. They also now have a maturing fly-half whose inconsistency of last term a now just a memory as he marches his team around the field allowing the Bath forwards to get the ball rolling before the brilliant fly-half unleashes the tricky footwork of Joesph, the pace of Watson or the power of Banahan as defences can only look on.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

Why England Need To Look South

The three best opensides in world rugby right now, David Pocock, François Louw and Richie McCaw, all three of which ply their trade in the Super 15. They are what us here in England would class as a ‘classic’ 7 or ‘southern hemisphere’ openside.

We have a ready made man to join the three best in the world that man is the Toulon flanker, Stefan Armitage who has been one of the rouge et noir’s star players over the past few seasons as they have become European powerhouses. Unfortunately England continue not to pick the flanker due to England’s selection policy of only picking players based in England.

You only have to look at the Premiership though to see that we need a southern hemisphere style 7. The top 4 teams at the moment all have a player in that mould, Calum Clark at Saints, Burger for Saracens, Louw at Bath and Julian Salvi at Leicester, while current England captain and opened Chris Robshaw’s Harlequins languish in 8th. At Harlequins they have another option much like Armitage, Luke Wallace who in November made the breakdown a living hell like Michael Hooper and David Pocock can for opposition.

It may be time for Chris Robshaw to move on, the man has had his day, and yes his commitment to the cause in unquestionable, as a leader, captain and role model he is second to none but as a 7?

The World Cup is just around the corner and Lancaster would be foolish not to select the Harlequins flanker as his captain for this World Cup or would he? With 2 of the finest opensides in the world David Pocock and Sam Warburton lying in wait in the group stage it could be tough for Captain Chris. Pocock is not alone as a great Australian 7 they also have Michael Hooper who has been Australia’s choice as of late due to Pocock’s injury nightmare.

It is high time Lancaster used the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause on selection policy and brought Steffon Armitage into the World Cup squad, he doesn’t have to start the Toulon flanker but if Robshaw is having rings run round him by Pocock or Warburton they will need an alternative and that alternative should be the Toulon openside.

Well Lancaster it’s up to you but England are going to need to adapt and bring in an ‘old school’ 7 at some point whether it’s now or after the World Cup is a question only Lancaster can answer.