As full time blew in Bath’s game against Leicester at the Rec it was clear that something was different this season. The ten time champions hadn’t just been beaten, they had been systematically torn apart in a 45-0 whitewash that made even the casual rugby observer take note of how Bath have started the season. Now six games in, Bath sit fourth in the Aviva Premiership table with four wins, the most notable of which being that demolition of Leicester to add to another impressive home win against last year’s runners up Saracens two weeks later.
Simply put, there’s something different about the West Country men this year. Last year saw a lot of ambition and some nice rugby but nothing to show for it having missed out on trophies and the premiership play offs. In the last six games, however, there has been a bite about Bath’s game, some guile and a little bit of French ‘jouez’ entertaining the crowds. The George Ford, Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph axis in the midfield have been firing on all cylinders. All have now put their name firmly into the hat for England selection this autumn with their magnificent running rugby, sharp footwork and intelligent ball handling. Joseph and Eastmond look the best centre partnership in the premiership and have scored seven tries between them. The backs are looking so good even Gavin Henson has been showing glimpses of his old self, playing a crucial role at full back in Bath’s victory against Saracens.
The real difference has come in the pack this season. They have been more powerful, quicker across the field and all round more impressive. Dave Attwood has been the focal point dominating at the lineouts, carrying ball all over the park and making some thundering impacts. He sits in a front five who all are or have the capabilities to be international players. Bath Uni 1XV Coach Rob Webber, in particular, has shaken off injuries to reassert himself into the national selector’s minds. The back row meanwhile, have also been impressive; Leroy Houston is just a monster and Guy Mercer has been strong at open-side flanker. With South African Francois Louw still to come back from international duty and Carl Fearns from injury the rest of the season is looking promising.
There will still be a number of challenges throughout the year though. First is how they can deal with European competition. With Glasgow and then Toulouse there is a lot to play for; two losses and some injuries may throw their fantastic start into decline. Equally testing will be how they deal with international call ups and the upcoming wet and muddy conditions. Conceivably Bath could lose their whole back line to England duty as well as some key forwards, so it will be a test of their strength and depth and we’ll see how they deal with such a challenge.
Finally, the spectre of the giants below them will remain. Leicester have been shocking so far this season but with twenty seven injuries they will bounce back and be a threat. Similarly Harlequins aren’t likely to remain in seventh for long and will soon be hot on Bath’s heels. Yet, if they can play with the same speed and accuracy that they started the season with then there is no reason why we won’t be seeing Bath in the top four of the table for the coming months.
Photo credit: Kafuffle