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!