Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Are the playoffs a realistic aim?

Five down and four to go! 
When the Premiership season restarted it seemed that fighting for a top-six spot was the obtainable target for Bath, sat in sixth sandwiched in the middle of the pack with 14 points separating second down to ninth. A particularly frustrating and mediocre season for Bath had been brought to a halt thanks to COVID-19, coming off the back of hiding by Exeter the break was probably needed (although 160 days due to a global pandemic may have been a tad excessive). 
It's certainly given time to get an almost fully fit squad, which has been something that has eluded Bath for many seasons, going into the restart there grew a little sense of positivity.squeezing 9 games into 7 weeks squad rotation and management was going to be essential and well planned, adding the appointment of Neal Hatley to head coach it was going to be interesting to see how the remaining season would pan out.

It has certainly come to fruition that the break and restructure was indeed a bonus, four out of five wins and three of which have been bonus point wins. The forwards have been worth their weight in salt and become a beastly force to be reckoned with, backed up with a top-class scrum half and a winger who can't help but keep scoring it's going pretty damn well.....apart from the old school classic Bath slip up against Wasps, all in all, a very promising restart. 

Suddenly, Bath is now one of the form teams in the Premiership and having a serious sniff at a top-four finish and having a crack in the playoffs. But what are their actual chances of making the illustrious top four? 
With Exeter so far in front, you can almost discount them from the playoff battle. What you have left are four teams that will be battling for second, third, fourth and fifth. 

Here are the remaining fixtures for the 4 teams and how close the points are, there is a maximum of 20 points that remain up for grabs.

Sale - 55 points 

Bristol - 53 points
London Irish 

Wasps - 51 points

Bath - 50 points 

Casting your eyes across the remaining fixtures you could normally gauge who is going to beat who and how many points they'll take from each game, but this is far from normal times and unless you are well versed in the work of crystal balls it's going to be a tricky one. On paper, I would say that Bristol have the easier fixtures and possibly Wasps have the harder. 
The biggest standout of all of the remaining games is round 20, on the 13th of September, we see Wasps take on Bristol and Sale vs Bath, second vs fifth and fourth vs third. These fixtures will, without doubt, be the games that shape the top 4 and sort the wheat from the chaff.
A lot rests on selection and rotation, which DOR will get it right, which games will they target? The predictions will be difficult but I thought "why not" and decided to guess the final points tallies, who misses out on the playoffs?

Bristol - 72 points
Sale - 70 points
Bath - 67 points
Wasps - 62 points 
I will more than likely be accused of bias, which is probably true, but looking at those games it's the only way I can see it going. 

So the answer to the question "do I think Bath can make the playoffs?" 
Ultimately yes I do, but will they get any further? 

My crystal ball just fogged over.... 

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

An interview With Bath Rugby's DOR Stuart Hooper - Tom Dabinett

As with every Premiership Rugby team, Bath Rugby have had to deal with the new safety regulations and precautions surrounding the world of sport and Covid-19. 
Every day is a new challenge. From when Bath returned to Farleigh house in groups during phase one of the return to training procedure. Social distancing had to be strictly adhered to. One way systems were introduced as where hand sanitising stations. 
Last week Director of Rugby Stuart 
Hooper gave up a few minutes of his 
valuable time and I asked him about 
the return to training, the restart of the 
Premiership and managing player workload. 
TD: What has it been like adjusting to 
the Covid-19 regulations and how well 
have the players responded and 
adapted to what you have asked of 
SH: So first and foremost there’s lots of changes, the training ground looks different. I guess the one-way system and the social distancing that everyone experiences in supermarkets and cafes, 
that exists here as well. What we have to do is mitigate the risk of transmission, so within training there are bits we have to do. So obviously scrums, contact and that kind of stuff, but outside of that, it’s very much as per government guidance. Making sure there’s hand gel available, making sure there are oneway systems and people aren’t sitting together for lunch. It’s really different, really different for the guys but what we try to do is make sure we are on top of all of that so the training remains as consistent as possible. we make it's as safe as possible, so when the lads are on the field they can have the freedom to go and play. 
TD: On the subject of the players being able to go out and play, empty stadiums must really be strange. I know myself from watching the game on Saturday (London Irish game) I found it really strange, but from another point of view it might be easier for yourself and the players to communicate with each other on the pitch?
SH: Yeah there's definitely an element of that combination. The bench and the players on the side of the pitch can hear a lot more. Communication in that regard is easier. It is strange though like you said, you used the word strange, it's definitely weird. For years we all experienced the Rec when there’s a good tackle or a try the cheer that associates it, you find yourself looking around thinking where is it, it’s really bizarre. When any of us have been there before it'ss with a crowd so its a hugely different experience. 
TD: Is it harder to motivate the players and get them up for the game knowing there’s no crowd there? As like you said the atmosphere would obviously spur the guys. How has that been a disadvantage?
SH: 100% we’d much rather be playing there with supporters, and hopefully we can get people back into sporting events as soon as possible. I mean we and the players love the support at the Rec. The genuine 16th man moments when they get us over the line or they make that try-saving tackle for us, so it'ss allowing us to really energise ourselves which is good, because when we come back and lay the crowd on top of that, you know, we get another kick again. We can't wait for the day when we’ve got the supporters back in the stadium but for now we’re energising ourselves and making sure the moments in our game really push us through. 
TD: Okay, so one last question. With the fixture list being so congested, are you confident as a coaching team and as a playing group you are on top of game time and workloads and have you had any conversations with England regarding that as well as some of the guys will be away taking part in internationals and finishing the Six Nations?
SH: Our focus is obviously on Bath but lots of our guys will be involved with England. So we talk with Eddie and make sure our players have looked after. First and foremost for us, we want them to perform for us they want to perform for us. We’ve done a lot of work on what it looks like for the individual players and what their game time could look like. We have a plan but it'ss important we can react and guys can earn a right to play as well through training and what they do here at Farleigh. 
 Once again a massive Thank you to Shula from the comms department and Stuart for giving up his time to talk to me. 
(images from Bath Rugby)
Written by @tomdabs for BathBytes

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Leicester vs Bath preview by Tom Dabinett

Leicester Tigers Vs Bath Rugby Preview. 

Referee: Karl Dickson 

Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Jack Makepeace 

TMO: David Grasshoff

Citing Commissioner: Tony Diprose



Tigers win

Bath wins: 29

Draws: 5


25/1/20 Premiership: Bath 13-10 Tigers 

5/10/2019 Premiership Rugby Cup: Bath 7-18 Leicester 

18/05/2019 Premiership: Tigers 31-32 Bath 

Last weekend both teams gave a good account of themselves. Although differing results. 

Bath ran out fairly comfortable winners 34-17 over London Irish at The Rec as Leicester made the 
trip down the M5 to Sandy Park to play Exeter, where the hosts got a hard-fought 26-13 win. 

I saw a big improvement in the Tigers’ performance, especially in the first 40, even with a few 
lesser-known names such as winger David Williams, full-back George Worth and back-rower 
Tommy Reffell in the starting line up. Although a couple of the more experienced heads impressed 
me, the likes of Dan Cole, the Youngs brothers and former Bath fly-half George Ford really took 
the game by the scruff of the neck before Exeter's organisation and cohesion shone through to 
take the win in the second half. I asked Tigers supporters Dan Pennington & Shaun Gibson for 
their thoughts on the game;

“Definitely an improvement. The first 35 minutes were brilliant and even when Exeter took charge 
a bit, we stayed in the game and heads didn’t drop. Definite shouts of recovery” Dan also shared 
his thoughts on the fixture this coming Saturday;

“I’m expecting a close game, any little extra improvement will be welcomed. The same level of grit 
and intensity and we’ll be in the hunt, but Bath are looking good. Saturday is a good chance to 
run out a few new plans before next season” said Dan.

Shaun added; 

“The way I saw it was very positive. First 20-25 our defence was very aggressive and knocking 
Exeter back for 6 phases a number of times. The line-out has been a major issue for a few 
seasons but it is already much improved. Clear signs of Borthwick’s signature. They (the players) 
seem much fitter and didn’t let going behind dampen the spirits and they kept going” 

I agree with Dan I think the game is going to 
be tight and how the two scrum-halves get 
on maybe the difference on the day. Ben 
Spencer (left) really impressed on his debut, 
scoring the first try of the game running in 
from his own 22 after intercepting a Curtis 
Rona offload. Spencer also controlled the 
game well with the speed of ruck ball he 
produced. He was calm and patient when 
needed and quick and zippy when attacking 
in and around the 22. His box kicking was 
exceptional. You can see the influence 
Richard Wigglesworth has had on him. The 
Bath game plan under Stuart Hooper this season has been what many consider as ’10 Man Rugby’ and to do this effectively you need a 
quality half-back partnership. With the addition of Spencer, we are well on the way to having just 
that. He’s going to get the chance to be the first 
choice 9 and the general every pack needs. On 
the other side of the coin, nobody knows how 
to control a game at Welford Road better than 
Ben Youngs (right).

I anticipate minimal changes from Bath, with 
the changes coming next week with 
Wednesday's trip to Franklins Gardens. I’m 
predicting a change in the second row. With 
Josh McNally, who was hooked off at half time 
against Irish dropping out of the 23 altogether 
with Elliot Stooke being promoted from the 
bench and returning academy graduate Will 
Spencer coming onto the bench against his 
former employers. Also would not be surprised if 
the loose-heads swapped places. With Obano coming into start and Lewis Boyce dropping to the 
bench. Saying that, Lewis Boyce did absolutely nothing wrong, but with the impact, Beno had off 
the bench I think it's hard not to start him this week. 

Leicester Tigers vs Bath Rugby or Bath Rugby vs Leicester Tigers has always been special, 
especially for my family as my wife, Hannah and her family (for some reason and for their sins 
support the Tigers)  

Bath Supporter Ryan North is looking forward to the game.

“ So Leicester Tigers away at Welford Road. For a long time, those words would strike fear into 
most Bath fans. But Bath have won there the last two seasons by small margins and despite 
Leicester being at the bottom end of the table it’ll be another tight affair. There’s bound to be 
squad rotation with the Northampton Saints game on Wednesday night and I’m interested to see 
what kind of side Bath put out with the way the table is. I’m going Bath by 4 COYB!”

So all in all supporters of both sides think it will be tight and looking at the results of the last 3 
times the sides have met then that would suggest it’ll be the case again on Saturday. Bath by 6. 

By Tom Dabinett for BathBytes 

(twitter: @tomdabs) 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

The lologistical mymystery tour

Premiership Rugby is back! After a 160-day hiatus Bath finally got kitted up and ran out on to the Rec ready to face London Irish.

It hasn't exactly been the smoothest ride this season and bonus points have been a mystical phenomenon for Bath, needing to get some much-needed points (especially after the last outing down at Sandy Park where a vigorous spanking was administered) Irish seemed like the best place to start.
First of all, I think we should all thank Saracens and their financial irregularities meaning we could welcome Ben Spencer to Bath. And what a performance to have on his debut, an interception try, great game management and accurate box kicking to put Irish under pressure, all in all a breath of fresh air that was very much-needed also awarding him a Man of the Match award. 
Five points in the bag after a 34-17 victory and almost the start that was needed for the restart. Spencer grabbing a 70-metre interception run in, 2 rolling mauls from line outs giving Dunn a brace crashing over the line, a borderline pornographic finish from JJ and finally Jack Walker took up the Hooker crashing over role for the 5th try.
Forwards looked an absolute force and will dominate most teams, apart from the backs scratching the butts for large parts of the game due to not receiving much ball plus taking the foot off the gas at the end of each half and conceding a try, all in all, it was a decent win to get back to playing and readying themselves for their road trip.

The gentle break-in is just a teaser for what comes next... A magical mystery tour to the East Midlands! A 300-mile round trip taking in the sunny climes of Leicester, Northampton and back to Bath to take on, the third spoke of the East Midlands wheel, Wasps. Logistics are going to seriously tested for the 9-day Mini-tour, there are many facets that need to be considered and the Bath management have certainly got their work cut out.

First stop is Leicester, nestled near the bottom of the table and quite thankful that Saracens had the book thrown at them several times before getting relegated and giving Tigers welcome salvation. Leicester fell to yet another loss at the weekend but to top of the table Exeter and the favourites for the title, only a miracle would have seen them get a win. With Tigers now sporting a sparkling new coaching set up plus the ability to step up that extra gear against Bath, it would pay to be weary but realistically Bath should be targeting a 5 point win. 

Now the fun really starts to begin! A trip down the M1 to face Northampton. Sat one place below Bath, on the same points with one less win after picking up the all-important bonus points, Saints are considered a much stronger opponent than Tigers. 
This game is the one that squad will be called into full force given a 4-day turnaround after what will be a brutal battle against Tigers and 5 days before Wasps. Saints were outplayed in most facets of the game against Wasps at the weekend seeing them slip down the table to 6th. 

Wasps were a very impressive beast against Saints and will face Bath at the Rec on day 9 of the mini-tour. 
A Bath squad returns home back to the Rec hopefully with very few injuries and ready to face the final of the East Midlands posse. This fixture I believe is the one that could make or break Bath's chances of a top 4 spot and the one that the coaching staff will earn their cash. 

Considering the space between the games, the time travelling and the strength of the opposition team selection is going to be a very tough gig. To add to that the RFU have joined up with the RPA and come up with a few extra tweaks for "player welfare" 
For the 2019-20 season:
• No player will play more than 180 minutes if selected in a matchday 23 on three occasions in a week
• No player will start all three games in a week
• No player will be selected in more than six matches in the seven games between 14 August and 13 September
• A player’s training load will be managed if they are selected in three matchday squads in any given seven-day period

In addition, at the end of the 2019-20 season, there will be:
• A three-week break for all players, except those in the Premiership Final who will receive a two and a half week break and one and a half week preparation for Round one
• No pre-season friendlies for clubs in the Premiership or European finals
• England players will receive a one-week break after England v Italy and two weeks following their return to clubs in December

Who will Hooper and Hats choose for each game? How do they get the strongest side they can for each game allowing enough rest between each fixture? Good luck guys, rather you than me! 

Friday, 15 May 2015

National eligibility protecting home grown talent?

Welcome to a can of worms and I'm now going to slowly and gently open it.

There has been a smidgen written in the press regarding English players playing abroad, hello Mr Armitage and Mr Abendanon, the debate is a lengthy little show and is endlessly rolling on. Rules state you play in England to play for England, it's simple but effective and aimed at protecting the Premiership from Players fleeing to sunnier climes and reaping some extra cash. We would love to see the best home players playing in England, so if a player chooses cash over country that's their decision to make but understand the consequences.

Blah blah blah we've gone over it a million times so let's move on to a different side of the eligibility argument.......the residency rules!
Before everyone jumps, I know it's not the RFU's ruling it comes from the hands of World Rugby, but it doesn't mean the RFU have to use it in their selections.

"Subject to Regulation 8.2, a Player may only play for the senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team, the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team and the senior National Representative Sevens Team of the Union of the country in which:  
(a) he was born; or   
(b) one parent or grandparent was born; or   
(c) he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing."

Live in the country for 3 years or more, play for no other nation previously and boom you're now English! 
The RFU say they want to protect English teams and talent by keeping the players in England, then pick a player who has come from another nation to play rugby here, anybody get an air of hypocrisy from the RFU?

Please don't panic and believe I've gone all Farage-like, I am not completely against the whole concept. I believe it's something that needs to be looked into, 3 years just isn't enough. If you have emigrated to England and had education here that is a step it the right direction or Lived here for more than five years, only 2 years longer but shows a different level of commitment.

Nathan Hughes is one of the most recent player who has shown as interest in donning the red Rose and turn his back on his native Fiji. Why defect away from your own nation? Where is the pride? Born and raised in a country yet a more notable nation becomes a better option of success and jumps on that bandwagon. 
The same could be thrown in the direction of Rokoduguni, another Fijian who has joined the ranks of exile English rugby players. There is a little difference with Roko as he's currently serving in the British army even doing a stint out in Afghanistan. Bath picked him up while he was representing the Army at rugby and has since represented England. 
Both are ultimately taking the same option but different stories behind their choice, yet one seems a more justified reason. This is evidence that there are flaws and loopholes in the system.

Hendre Fourie is a prime example how the 3 year ruling doesn't work, came to teach eventually left after UKBA threatened to deport him. A farce in its self, he was eligible to play for England yet unfortunately had to retire due to injury before gaining citizenship. Eventually he was granted permission to stay but he returned to South Africa with his wife and (English born) daughter.

It is not the RFU's rules but they have an option to use it perhaps they should take stock look in the mirror and realise the hypocrisy they are serving up.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Could Bath end up like a wounded Gazelle ready for lions to pounce.

It's the ultimate honour to be picked for your country. Traditionally every player strives to pull on their nation's colours, run out and represent their country with pride and passion, in sport it's the ultimate accolade.

Bath have had some cracking performances this season against Tiger's and Sarries, some shaky games with a spirited come back and then Glasgow Warriors (less said about that the better). In their latest outing they may of lost to Toulouse, Bath never stopped fighting despite injury issues, the 16th man of the Rec definitely playing it's part.
Amongst the indifferent games Bath have had there has been some scintillating rugby played and a handful of players are reaping their rewards for it. Bath are seeing a season where promising talent is finally living up to their potential, and rightly getting to sport the Red Rose of England.

It has been a long time since Bath could boast such a wealth of international players in their squad.
Rob Webber
Davey Wilson
Dave Attwood
George Ford
Kyle Eastmond
Jonathan Joseph
Samesa Rokoduguni

Making the first draft into the England camp, with an additional selection made on Sunday including another two Bath players-
Anthony Watson
Henry Thomas

Adding that to Agulla (Argentina) and James (Wales) who are also on international duties Bath lose 11 players during the Autumn internationals.

Bath's. November fixtures
01 Nov - 15:00 London Welsh (H)
08 Nov - 16:30 Exeter (A)
15 Nov - 17:00 Newcastle (H)
22 Nov - 15:00 London Irish (A)
28 Nov - 19:45 Harlequins (H)

It is great for the players and for the club to gain such recognition in which they are to be truly commended for it, but it does leave a sizable gap in the Bath Ranks.
Bath are already missing Fearns, Garvey, Louw and Fa'osiliva due to injury and Houston on a suspension Bath certainly have a very depleted squad.
Hopefully for Bath their depth in squad will be able to fill some voids, but a tough few weeks could be ahead for the boys in Blue, Black and White. 

In fairness Bath and other teams have capitalised on other sides such as Northampton, Saracens, Tigers and Harlequins who in the past have been hammered with international duties. Now it's Bath's turn lets see how they handle the pressure.
Fan's will always hope to see their nation win over all else, but always have a second eye on their chosen club. The Autumn internationals can be a major disruption to some teams as it runs along side the normal rugby season, potentially it can be damaging to their campaign but players playing against some of the biggest teams in the world will certainly aid their development.
It will be hard for Bath but it's a hurdle they have to overcome and time for the other players to stand up and be counted, as has been shown by the young and talented Charlie Ewels.
With injuries in the back row the second row teenager stepped up and earned his first starting debut against Toulouse, off the back of his performance is now tipped to captain Bath against London Welsh in the LV=Cup this weekend.
With such depth in the squad Bath could scrape though unscathed during the international period, but it will be a true test of the club! 

Pictures courtesy of @onsideimages http://onsideimages.photoshelter.com

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Bath's backline bucking the trend

As a bit of a traditionalist I've always loved the way that rugby has been a sport for players of all sizes and ability.
You had the big bulky guys as props, the little hard nuts as the hooker, the big fearless back rowers, tall lofty second rows and Terrier like nippy scrum halves. Whereas your backs were the less physical but had pace and ability to run and avoid tackles with their jinking feet, stick the guys who can run like a whippet on the wing and the guy who can get a good hard tackle but still packing a bit of pace in at full back.

Obviously with most sports there comes evolution, rugby is possibly the biggest example of this since turning professional. Rugby is their job, therefore they need to be the best they can. Fitness, strength and skills now are imperative, these guys are now machines.

One man who turned rugby on its head and potentially the most evolutionary player in rugby was the "man mountain" Jonah Lomu. A 19st 6'5" tank that can move like faecal matter off of shovel. Suddenly everyone looked up and noticed that the big guys weren't just forwards but can serve a purpose in the backs, eventually leading to the "crash ball" backs.

Bath this season appear to be going against the trend a little (until the arrival of Burgess, whenever that will be) with much success. Almost a return to old school rugby.
Predominantly a back line of Cook/Stringer, Ford, Eastmond, Joseph, Rokoduguni, Woodburn/Watson and Henson/Arscott we've seen a return to some scintillating running rugby from Bath.

There has been a few cameos from Banahan, and as much as I rate him as a ball carrier, he's possibly been the least effective of Bath's Backs. Would Burgess realistically bring much more dynamism to Bath's backs? possibly not, would he make an effective back row ball carrier? Definitely! For me I believe Mike Ford's original diagnosis for him to play on the flank or at no8 would make sense.

Many pundits and ex-player's have stated there isn't a better centre partnership in the Premiership this season than Eastmond and Joseph, their link up work is phenomenal. It's another dimension that Bath have brought back to rugby, teams have learnt how to tackle the "bash" boys in the backs and how to close them out of the game, the step and pace has become as issue to tie down.

Kyle Eastmond being awarded Aviva Premiership player and try of the month for September shows a player of that ability can have more impact in the game. Using the forwards as the impact players linking up with the backs is being performed well at Bath, it also helps having the standard of forwards they have. From 1-8 in the pack have good carrying skills and know how to pop a good offload.

The almost rugby league clatteresque style that is becoming more part of the game, so far this season has been overshadowed by "the step", slick hands, guile and tenacity! Long may it continue and we are spoilt with more free running expansive rugby.