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.

LOUW.jpg

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.

FALETAU.jpg

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.

Advertisements

England Series Significance

England have secured what could be possibly their biggest achievement since winning the World Cup in 2003 as they stormed to a 3-0 series victory in Australia.

England have been transformed by the brilliant Eddie Jones, he has made England a force among the best in the world. Of course the All Blacks are still number one but England are leading the chasing pack.

Players have also emerged from the tour as greats, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell are all now world class, I think you could argue at least two would get into the All Blacks team right now.

hask

James Haskell stood out over the course of the series.

The third test was by no means perfect, but neither was the first or second, but England won the games so none of that matters. England will grow and are already early favourites to win the Six Nations which will follow England’s four tests in November against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.

The back row were mightily impressive, Haskell and Robshaw are well and truly redeemed following this tour. Both were very high on the tackles made list every week and both showed such a huge amount of heart throughout June.

Couple those two flankers with the immense power of Billy Vunipola and there you have a world class back row. Vunipola has been England’s best player since Jones took over, his carrying and powerhouse runs give England some much needed go forward at vital points.

This tour has also seen the return of George Ford, the Bath fly-half was in inspired form for the duration of the tour. Since he replaced Burrell in Brisbane he grew, kicked well, managed the game well and got England playing in the right parts of the field.

Joe Marler will be ruing his decision to miss the tour, Mako Vunipola was sensational for the tour he was on fire, his carrying around the park have always set him apart but his tight game has improved so much over the last year.

forddddddd

Ford looked reborn in Australia.

The fact that as this was happening the England Saxons stormed to a 2-0 series win in South Africa and the Under-20’s won the world championship is a hugely encouraging sign for England and Eddie Jones.

England may have a break now but the hard work is not over, come November the journey continues as England push for supremacy in their four matches at Twickenham, all roads lead to Tokyo and Jones is very much aware of how he is going to get there.

My England 23 to play South Africa

15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Owen Farrell 11 Jack Nowell 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (C) 3 Dan Cole 4 Courtney Lawes 5 George Kruis 6 Maro Itoje 7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola

16 Jamie George 17 Joe Marler 18 Paul Hill 19 Chris Robshaw 20 Jack Clifford 21 Danny Care 22 Henry Slade 23 Manu Tuilagi

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.

hask

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.

both

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

One-Nil

Scorecard

Australia 28

Tries: Hooper (2), Folau, Kudridrani

Cons: Foley

Pens: Foley (2)

England 39

Tries: Nowell, Yarde, Joseph

Cons: Farrell (3)

Pens: Farrell (6)

England’s 39-28 victory over Australia is a huge step towards success in 2019 with their first win down under with Eddie Jones at the helm.

Firstly, James Haskell, doubted by many including myself has grown into one of the leaders since Eddie Jones took charge. Haskell was a target along with back row partner Robshaw following the World Cup.

Today the Wasps captain was immense in defence one hit he made on David Pocock was huge and a number of other crucial hits were made over the eighty minutes. Haskell also won a number of turnovers against Australia, the fact that Australia toor practically the same team apart only eight months ago is hard to believe after today.

The difference Eddie Jones has made to the team is immeasurable. He has changed what was a hugely underachieving back row into one of the best units in the world. Hartley has become a totem of self-control, Watson has evolved into one of the most dangerous finishers in world rugby, Vunipola is the best eight north of the equator and the second row pairing of Itoje and Kruis is unstoppable.

hask

James Haskell has been outstanding since Eddie Jones took over.

Today England opted to start with the power pairing of Owen Farrell and Luther Burrell, the fact Jones was not afraid to make the change early in the game the confidence he had to bring on Ford made the game.

Most coaches would not have had the courage to take Burrell off during the first half, the centre came off though and England bloomed. The playmaking skill of Ford and Farrell opened Australia up. Ford himself setting up two tries, one with a floated pass to Yarde and the subtle chip through for Nowell.

The Grand Slam winning combination has now beaten Australia in Brisbane, England’s highest ever total in Australia. The demons of the Tour from Hell look to have been put to bed now. The Suncorp Stadium has been conquered.

Farrell was outstanding off the tee only missing one kick, his passing game was beautiful it flowed allowing England to unleash the dangerous wide backs of Watson and Yarde. His defensive game was greatly utilised when Ford entered the fray, it allowed Farrell to step up and stop Kerevi and Kuridrani terrorising England.

fordy.jpg

Despite not starting Ford played a large part of the first test.

Another selection that is hugely controversial was that of Marland Yarde on the wing rather than Exeter’s Jack Nowell. Yarde though was excellent today his raw pace gave him a try and couple of important half breaks. His performance has surely won him a place in the team despite Nowell’s outstanding finish for England’s third try.

The series is not over and the second test will be a monumental battle as with the third, Australia will not just lie down. England though look to be improving at a rate of knots, the series is well and truly underway.

My England 23 for the second test:

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain) 3 Dan Cole 4 Maro Itoje 5 George Kruis 6 Chris Robshaw 7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola

9 Ben Youngs 10 George Ford 11 Marland Yarde 12 Owen Farrell 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson 15 Mike Brown

16 Jamie George 17 Matt Mullan 18 Paul Hill 19 Joe Launchbury 20 Courtney Lawes 21 Danny Care 22 Luther Burrell 23 Jack Nowell

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