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.

JOSEPH

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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Aviva Premiership Preview: Exeter Chiefs

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Rob Baxter

Captain: Jack Yeandle

Stadium: Sandy Park (Capacity: 12,600)

Last Season: Runners-Up

Prediction: 3rd

Exeter Chiefs stunned everyone as they made the Premiership play-offs for the first time and went on to lose to Saracens in the final.

Baxter is known for his developing of young talent and with the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie finally gaining international recognition his plan seems to be working as he strengthens the squad with overseas talent.

NOWELL

Jack Nowell scoring for Exeter.

Exeter were happy to play expansive, attacking rugby by using their triumvirate of playmakers in the midfield all offering different styles. Gareth Steenson very much the measured controller, Slade the speedy creator and Ian Whitten the explosive link-man.

With the three outlets they can recycle ball quickly to set up two or three waves of attack one after the other sucking in defenders along with sending their big forwards ball carriers into the holes.

THREE TO WATCH

Luke Cowan-Dickie

Position: Hooker  Nationality: English  Age: 23 Height: 1.84m  Weight: 112kg

The young hooker has been pushing for an England place for a while and last season got a run in the team.

 

His work in the loose and effective carrying make him a valuable asset. He will overtake Yeandle as first choice if he can continue to produce the rugby that made him an international.

Jack Nowell

Position: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.77m  Weight: 97kg

Nowell’s defensive ability make him a useful winger to have in the side, he covers kicks well and also has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one despite not being the quickest of wingers.

A determined competitor and a man that will make his mark on the season without a doubt, expect to see him challenge for a Lions spot.

Henry Slade

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 92kg

The playmaker will provide pace and bravery in equal measure and with his ability to play 10,12 or 13 he is versatility personified.

SLADE

Henry Slade is versatile player

Arguably the most naturally gifted back in the league. He is determined to play for his country watch him challenge Owen Farrell and George Ford to break into the team. Exciting times ahead for the 23 year old.

TRANSFERS

IN (4)

Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs, AUS)

Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Greg Holmes (Queensland Reds, AUS)

Lachlan Turner (RC Toulon, FRA)

OUT (8)

Chrysander Botha (Welwitchias,NAM)

Alex Brown (USA Perpignan, FRA)
Adam Hughes, (Dragons, WAL)

Josh Jones (Salford Red Devils (rugby league), ENG)

Bryon McGuigan (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Jerry Sexton (London Irish, ENG)

Lewis Stevenson (Connacht, IRE)

Brett Sturgess (Ampthill, ENG)

Lachie Turner is an impressive coup the former Australia international is a real talent,  Ollie Devoto adds to a plethora of playmaking options in the already saturated Exeter midfield.

TURNER

Turner scoring for Australia.

None of the departures will be too much for Exeter. More of a cutting of the deadwood than any major moves away.

My Exeter Chiefs 23

15 Lachlan Turner 14 Jack Nowell 13 Henry Slade 12 Ian Whitten 11 James Short 10 Gareth Steenson (Captain) 9 Will Chudley

1 Alec Hepburn 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 3 Tomas Francis 4 Damian Welch 5 Geoff Parling 6 Don Armand 7 Julian Salvi 8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle 17 Ben Moon 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Dave Ewers 21 Dave Lewis 22 Sam Hill 23 Olly Woodburn

Exeter should comfortably qualify for the play-offs again and don’t expect them to lie down in Europe either.

Seven Debutants for Six Nations

Today Eddie Jones named his squad for the Six Nations and his first squad since he took over following the departure of Lancaster.

Eddie Jones was only permitted to make a small amount of changes to the squad that crashed out of the World Cup after three lacklustre, boring, stodgy performances that left England fans questioning who picks the team?

Eddie Jones’ changes include seven uncapped names Paul Hill, Sam Hill, Ollie Devoto, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Josh Beaumont and Jack Clifford. All young vibrant players but you could certainly question the inclusion of Devoto and Sam Hill, both these players however it is important to note are covering for Tuilagi and Slade both of whom would have been included had they been available or fully fit (in Tuilagi’s case).

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Maro Itoje in action against Clermont Auvergne.

I question why Jones includes a centre that doesn’t even start for his club. Devoto is often left to ponder the wonders of the universe sat on the bench whilst Jonathan Joseph (included in the squad) and Kyle Eastmond start for Bath Rugby. Surely Kyle Eastmond is a better fit, he has at times this season shown the form of last season, his blistering pace and agile feet make him almost impossible to deal with.

Sam Hill, a strong ball carrier possibly so the loss of Tuilagi won’t be felt too hard by England. His kicking game is also something to admire but with the kicking ability of Ford, Farrell, Daly and Goode already in the squad it begs the question what does Sam Hill have to offer? One player I think does merit a go in the England squad is Australian born Ben Jacobs from Wasps.

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Ben Jacobs in action against Gloucester.

The Wasps centre now qualifies on residency and the centre has been playing well, his crash ball running lines and defensive capabilities have complimented Daly well in the midfield for Wasps this year, he would surely add more to the squad than Sam Hill.

The reintroduction of Chris Ashton is a great move, the Saracens wing is scoring for fun in north London and he is certainly a player that is wonderful to watch. Ashton will be hugely influential in this England team and let’s hope he can rediscover that scoring touch in the white of England.

Another winger back in the squad after some time out is Harlequins flyer Yarde. He is fast and powerful, but look at the other options available, Rokoduguni is in fine form for Bath, Lewington is flying for London Irish and Matt Banahan looks like the man he was a few years ago.

Yarde is no better than those three wingers neither is Nowell, Jack Nowell is slow, he doesn’t possess the pace to be an international winger. His talent stretches to being a high level club player but no more than that. He offers nothing to the squad that suggest flair or finishing ability.

England's wing Jack Nowell scores Englan

Jack Nowell crosses the line for England.

The inclusion of Chris Robshaw is possibly the selection that causes the most confusion in my head. I don’t understand how following not only a poor display as an openside, but a shambolic display as a captain can Chris Robshaw remain in the side.

 

To me he represents all that was wrong with the previous England regime. His inclusion undermines this supposed overhaul we are experiencing.

My final talking point involving the squad is around the much discussed inclusion or exclusion of Danny Cipriani. Eddie Jones opted to leave the Sale playmaker out of the squad, good move or poor decision?

Eddie Jones only selected two fly-halves and looking at the make-up of his squad it is hard to see who he could have dropped to include Cipriani. And to drop either the mercurial George Ford or fiery Owen Farrell would have been a travesty.

Hopefully in the summer on the tour to Australia Eddie Jones will have room for the fly-half but for now he’s best developing his game further and continuing to press the golden boys (Ford and Farrell) of English rugby.

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Danny Cipriani was unfortunate to not make the cut.

A squad that England can be proud of and hopefully one that can do the nation justice in the upcoming Six Nations.

Follwing today’s announcement my England 23:

1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens) 2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton) 3 Paul Hill (Northampton) 4 Joe Launchbury (Wasps) 5 Courtney Lawes (Northampton) 6 Maro Itoje (Saracens) 7 Matt Kvesic (Gloucester) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Danny Care (Harlequins) 10 George Ford (Bath) 11 Chris Ashton (Saracens) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath) 14 Anthony Watson (Bath) 15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

16 Jamie George (Saracens) 17 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 18 Henry Thomas (Bath) 19 Jack Clifford (Harlequins) 20 Josh Beaumont (Sale) 21 Ben Youngs (Leicester) 22 Elliot Daly (Wasps) 23 Alex Goode (Saracens)