Bath Rugby 2021/22 has been a season that as much as they may want to, the club can never forget. Not only do they sit bottom of the Gallagher Premiership with just two rounds remaining, but the number of landslide losses they have been subjected to is simply unacceptable for a club with such history and resources. There are so many issues with the club right now that need to be addressed. Many are hoping the incoming Johann Van Graan can be the saviour Bath is desperately looking for. Edward Munro-Martin analyses what has gone wrong at the club and why despite current results, there are reasons for optimism.
Player quality in the Bath Rugby 2021/22 squad
With the financial backing of Bruce Craig, Bath will always be near the top echelon of the salary cap. As such fans and management alike will expect the blue, black, and whites to have one of the premier squads in the division. However, that has simply not been the case this season. This does not mean Bath lack the big-name players you see littering the team sheets of Saracens and Leicester. Bath possesses superstars in Faletau, Underhill, Joseph, Watson, and others. This means a squad of players outside the matchday 23.
Sam's back in the XV 💥
How much do you love seeing this man in 🔵⚫⚪? pic.twitter.com/0pDgsn81Z1
— Bath Rugby (@BathRugby) April 30, 2022
With everyone fully fit Bath has 19 players capped internationally in the 15-man code and others with international sevens experience. Therefore, they have the talent that should be able to get them over the line in those tight games but unlike those at the opposite end of the table, they have struggled to replace these injured stars with players of a similar calibre.
Every squad has their injury troubles and so this cannot be an excuse for one of their worst seasons in the professional era. Bath Rugby in 2021/22 has struggled though to deal with them. The solution to this issue of player quality is a combination of going into the market and picking players who will improve the squad’s level of performance as well as developing the players already at the club’s disposal into better individuals and a better team. With recent salary-cap adjustments, the second of these two options is now the most appealing.
Getting the best out of players
The topic of player quality segues nicely onto the fact Bath has not been getting the best from their squad. Against Gloucester at the weekend, Bath had 10 players with international experience in their starting lineup and yet only Sam Underhill emerged from the match with anywhere close to a positive performance. The hope is that Van Graan can fix this monumental problem but he will not have complete control. Stuart Hooper will continue as Director of Rugby at the club despite his increasingly poor track record in the role. Hooper was a fantastic player and led Bath to their most recent final in 2015 but he has shown no positive signs since stepping into a coaching position.
Darkest day in the shirt, the video people may of seen post game of Hoops and I was purely me venting frustration that as a players group we haven’t/don’t learn. The situation we find ourselves in now as a group.
Thank you for all the continued support , stick with us
— Tom Dunn (@tomdunn92) May 2, 2022
Bath has played with no obvious playing style, they have leaked the second-highest number of points, scored the second-fewest, and won the least amount of matches. These results mean that the areas in need of improvement are obvious. Sadly it is tough to see an area of the game Bath can use as a foundation to build on.
Moving away from the increasingly questionable choice to keep Hooper anywhere near the Bath team going forward, the players themselves need to take some level of responsibility moving forward. With two international halfbacks who between them have won four European Champions Cups marshalling a litany of attacking talent outside them, Bath should not be offering so little in attack. Scoring no points in one of the most important matches in the club’s calendar is as unacceptable as conceding 64. Gloucester was not a small blip in an otherwise solid if unspectacular season either. Bath has suffered cricket score defeats to Saracens, Exeter, Wasps, Northampton, and Leicester as well.
Wow. Just wow.
A 𝐡𝐮𝐠𝐞 Derby Day victory!
Enjoy that one? 😅
🍒 64 – 0 🛁 | #GLOvBAT pic.twitter.com/bgkCp9JDfF
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) April 30, 2022
A greater impact should be expected in the forward pack too. When you have a player with experience of playing for Wales and going on three Lions tours, you expect him to not only put in exceptional individual performances but to raise the level of those around him too. Instead, Bath has a pack that has struggled for any real form of dominance this season. It has a reputation of being timid rather than terrifying, porous, not powerful, ill-disciplined not indomitable. Incoming player movement should help somewhat to alleviate this issue but the players need to start playing with some pride in the jersey on their chest and a level of aggression and precision that has evaded the West-Country outfit this season
Reasons for hope
High-quality youngsters for appearing for Bath Rugby in 2021/22
Many clubs have benefitted from several breakout stars this season and Bath is no different. In the backs, Ojomoh, De Glanville, and Bailey have been the shining lights in Bath’s dreary tapestry of performances.
Bailey has impressed so much that Jones saw right to bring him into the national setup during the Six Nations. There have been numerous cries for the other two to join him in the future as well. Ojomoh has shown he can be a serious threat ball in hand. Then the added distribution skills in his game have led to the young centre filling in at flyhalf when required. De Glanville has fought his way through the most congested area in Bath’s squad to be regularly deployed at fullback. His work on the counter-attack has been the spark for much of the club’s attacking flair while his work in defence and under the high ball is a significant reason that Bath has not conceded even more points.
These players are of the perfect age to build a backline around that could last for the next decade. If the right players are placed around them and they continue to improve, it may not be long before Bath is climbing back up the table.
Upfront there has not been quite the same level of success from the younger players. There are a couple of bright prospects in the forwards though. Miles Reid has continued to show why, in a losing cause, he could be a stalwart for the years ahead. In addition, Ewan Richards is another showing that, despite not being at the required level yet, he is another player Bath could be looking to as a future star of their pack if his small amount of game time this season is anything to go by.
Let's go @milesreid8! 💥 pic.twitter.com/qGuWhQZlPm
— Bath Rugby (@BathRugby) April 30, 2022
Bring in the new Bath Rugby
Out with the Bath Rugby of 2021/22. Bath will look to the incoming Johann Van Graan and JP Ferreira to be at the forefront of the push for better results. These men worked at Munster together and will hope to bring the passion and physicality associated with the men from Cork to their new team in Bath. Ferreira especially has his job cut out as he joins to take charge of the club’s defence. The pair have also had a hand in the recruitment for next season. They have brought in more experienced players who will be able to provide on-field leadership that has been missing.
Bringing Dave Attwood back to the club he called home for eight years is a clever bit of business. He will show the younger players what it means to play for Bath while bringing some grit to the pack. Chris Cloete is a man Van Graan knows well from their time at Munster together. He is another experienced player but is still very dynamic and will add hugely to Bath’s efforts going forward. His greatest strength though may be his work on the floor as he excels at winning the ball back. The combination of Cloete and Underhill may yet prove as exciting as when Francois Louw was at the club.
𝙍𝙀𝙏𝙐𝙍𝙉 𝙊𝙁 𝙏𝙃𝙀 𝘼𝙏𝙏 💙
✍️ We are delighted to confirm @Dmjattwood will re-join the Blue, Black and White this summer!#WeAreBath 🔵⚫️⚪️
— Bath Rugby (@BathRugby) March 31, 2022
In the backline, Van Graan has taken another player across the Irish Sea in the form of ex-Saracen Matt Gallagher. Furthermore, there is another South African addition in the form of scrumhalf Louis Schreuder. He is another who will add control to Bath on the field and help the less experienced players develop.
This season has been great at the top of the Gallagher Premiership. Bath fans will be thankful that there will be no relegation though. Next season needs to bring results as another season of mediocrity will likely see the coaching merry-go-round set off again. There is cause for optimism though as a group of promising young players continues their development and a new head coach brings a potentially fresh approach to Farleigh House.
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