Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Bath Trio to start first test in New Zealand

The tour of New Zealand hasn't exactly been the smoothest planned operation in English rugby, timing and injuries have caused issues with players availability to travel. With some of Lancaster's preferred players unable to make the first test it has left the door open to a few of the fringe players to step up and show their worth and throw their name in the hat for next years Rugby World Cup.

A Trio of Bath rugby players have grabbed the chance and been handed their chance to line up against the All Blacks in the first test. Rob Webber, Davey Wilson and Kyle Eastmond have all been given their chance to show the rest of the world what they do for Bath on the biggest stage available- in New Zealand against the number one team.

Kyle Eastmond has been missing in Baths colours for a few weeks, possibly due to injury or a mild ticking off for his apparent behaviour in the Amlin Cup semi final against Wasps. Regardless of his omission to the squad on the final run in to the end of the season he has landed his place in the starting line up. Bath fans are very aware of the his skills and ability to find a gap then exploit it, give him the ball and his feet move like he's the Michael Flatly of rugby. 
Earning his debut for England last year on the English tour of Argentina as a substitute, but it was his second cap where he announced himself on the international stage. England out to grasp their first test win in Argentina for 32 years handed Eastmond his first start and made sure he was remembered for his performance. England ran out as convincing victors, winning  26-51 and Eastmond scoring possibly the the try of the series, a couple of his renowned steps and he carved open their defence leaving him to race to to the line fighting off covering defenders.
Eastmond will be lining up beside Manu Tuilagi for the first test, potentially a great pairing, uniting the big bash boy of Tuilagi complimented by the pace and guile of Eastmond could help open up some big gaps that hopefully England will be able to capitalise on.

Injury has hampered Rob webber's career, teetering around the fringes of England hopefully it looks like he could be in for a stint in the England squad. Dylan Hartley considered as England's first choice hooker isn't available for the first test Webber will take the lead hooker role. Webber's main competitor for the 2nd place hooker behind Hartley is Tom Youngs, Youngs hasn't travelled to New Zealand due to personal reason giving Webber the opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and show his ability as one of England's top hooker's. Since the new scrummaging rules have been introduced and hookers have had to learn to be hookers again Webber has come into form whereas Tom Youngs seems to have had a dip. 
Webber received his debut for England in the Six Nations in 2012 bit tore a muscle in his shoulder, leaving him sidelined for 10 months. In his 10 month break he made the move from Wasps to Bath but had to wait until January to get back to the action and sport the Blue, Black and White of Bath, taking to it like a duck to water. The England tour to Argentina came at the same time as the Lions tour of Australia, taking Hartley and Youngs along with them. Webber nestled into the England squad and his great ball carrying skills saw him help England to the tour win and in the second test he grabbed his first international try for England. Again returning from a nasty looking injury he received nearing the end of the season he's again fit and raring to go just in time to face the All Blacks.

Nestling alongside Rob Webber in the front row for England is ' always the Bridesmaid never the Bride' Davey Wilson, who is ready to take his bouquet to the alter and take centre stage. Wilson always seeming to be the understudy to Dan Cole can give Stuart Lancaster something to think about for next years World Cup, Cole is out of action now until the autumn with a neck injury, this is Wilson's opportunity to  make a mark and potentially steal the job away from Cole.
Bath's pack this season has been one of the most domineering in the Aviva Premiership, led from the front by Webber and Wilson. Such a strong ball carrier we have been treated to some brilliant bullocking runs and even grabbing a few tries, a guy that size shouldn't be able to shift like that! Wilson is such a mobile prop but you don't seem to notice it, every breakdown you can guarantee he'll be there and making a big impact to the ruck or maul, a silent assassin on the pitch but an incredible technically able and aware player.
Only 10 of Wilson's caps have come as a stating role, backed up by his 24 appearances off of the bench. He is considered as one of the best tight head props in the Premiership and since joining Bath from Newcastle at the back end of the 2008/09 season he has just kept growing as a player, very rarely having an off day. 

One more member of the Bath squad has squeezed his 'petit' frame into the squad for the first test is second row Dave Attwood. Another member of Bath's solid pack this season who has bolstered the front five this season. Attwood a fan of the West Country starting in his home city of Bristol, then moving to Gloucester before making his way to Bath in 2011. 
Lineouts, scrums open play in fact anywhere on the pitch Attwood is a solid attribute to the Bath team, potentially one of their best players in the 2013/14 campaign. He isn't any new comer to the All Blacks as he gained his debut against them back in 2010 when he came on for Palmer in the 16-26 loss at Twickenham.
Attwood is competing for one of the most contested position in the England team, with the likes of Lawes, Parling and Launchbury to contend with he must make the most of any game time he gets. The Bath fans are very much aware of his ability and when he came on for England in the Six Nations we saw little flashes then, including a sweet little offload. 

It's going to be a tough series to try and win, it's certainly no mean feat to go to New Zealand and win in their back yard. There is a possibility of victory and as we know the All Blacks can be beaten! 

All pictures courtesy of  Onside Images

Monday, 2 June 2014

Heathcote deserves to be first violinist not second fiddle

It's always refreshing when you get a bright young talented player come through the club you support, a player who you can see has an abundance of talent. Tom Heathcote has been one of those players.

Heathcote was nominated for the LV=cup breakthrough player last season for his outstanding performance in the first round against Newport & Gwent Dragons, with 2 try assists and hitting 8/8 kicks. Despite having many top performances for Bath he was left playing second fiddle to Bath's "World cup winning" fly half Stephen Donald, grabbing game time while Donald suffered injury. Whether it was pressure from above or the coaches selection Bath still stuck with Donald although the young contender kept putting ing better performances, this is something I doubt we'll ever properly know. With the announcement that Donald was heading east to Japan the hope was that Heathcote will get a fairer crack of the whip and get much more deserved first team game time.


Heathcote was born in Inverness making him eligible to follow an international career for Scotland as there is a wealth of talent fighting for the England 10 shirt. As Donald was announcing his departure Bath were announcing the poorly kept secret the George Ford was due to join the club for the 2013-2014 season. Bath were now going to be gifted with two potential world class fly halves, both very young with very bright future and the ability to develop with the club. Youth and potential ability has been Bath's agenda for their signings of resent, growing players and a team to become a great side that can return to the top for the foreseeable future, this was met by great hope and expectations by the supporters. 

As the 2013-2014 season progressed Heathcote was getting very few appearances for Bath and generally featuring in Bath's United team, where as usual he shined. During the Premiership season Heathcote only featured in four games and missed out on even getting on the bench. The coaching staff opting for Ford with Henson or Devoto as utility backs to fill the void if Ford was injured, even Kyle Eastmond was drawn in to the fly half role rather than Heathcote. So why was this talented potential Scottish fly half being omitted from the team sheet? Yet another question which will remain unanswered. 
In the run up to the Amlin Cup final news was filtering out that Ford would not be going on the England tour of New Zealand as he will require shoulder surgery after the final. With Ford carrying an injury into the game many expected to see Heathcote at least feature as a back up 10, yet again no sign on the team sheet. 

Saracens have Owen Farrell as their first choice fly half and Charlie Hodgson as their second, they believe in rotation and Hodgson still gets plenty of game time and still shows flashes of the top class 10 he was, basically they have faith in their players and use them accordingly. Saracens also have Bosch as a long distance kicker and if Farrell is off par on kicking (very rare) he can step up to the mark.
Bath have also have an abundance of players who are very talented with the boot- Henson, Devoto, Heathcote and Eastmond who was a kicker in league. Surprisingly even when Ford had an off day from the tee nobody else stepped up and took the duty on to ease the increasing pressure from a still very young Player. 

Speculative rumours began circulation earlier in the season that Heathcote was looking at Edinburgh and vice-versa, a very strong move to further his international career with Scotland. With the complete lack of first team appearances and continuous playing second fiddle it hasn't come as any surprise that the move has gone ahead, and really who can blame a player who has aspirations which are being hampered. 

One very concerning issue is Bath at the moment are left with only one specialised fly half and a few covering utility backs. This leaves the club on very tentative ground in regards to Ford, he is more than likely going to be spending extensive time away on international duties, there is also possibility of injury, this could leave Bath very high and dry. 
Will Bath draft in another fly half and if they do will they be happy to play the role that Heathcote has played over the last few seasons?

I'm sure many of the Bath faithful will agree with me in wishing Tom the best of luck for the future and look forward to seeing him fulfil his ambition and featuring for many years in the Scottish team!