Bath celebrated Todd Blackadder’s second season at the club by qualifying for the top tier of Europe again, but missed out on a golden opportunity to reach the quarter-finals of that competition and possibly bring silverware back to the Rec.
Last Season: Despite qualifying for the Champions Cup by virtue of a last day thrashing of London Irish, Bath’s 2017/18 season was worryingly tumultuous. In beating Wasps and Leicester away from home, Todd Blackadder’s men looked like top 4 contenders, but Bath also lost a number of games at the Rec that should have been won. They did, however, manage to deal with a heavy injury list fairly successfully in finishing 6th.
Strengths: Whenever you come up against a side which boasts Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni in the back-line alone, you can prepare for a difficult game. There is serious quality in this lineup, especially when you consider the back rowers as well, but with Rhys Priestland and Khan Fotuali’i steering the ship from halfback, Bath are able to control games as well as win them with moments of class.
Weaknesses: Last season Bath often looked lost going forward; it appeared that they were too reliant on moments of individual brilliance to win them games. This is a problem when Joseph and Watson go on international duty (or injured, as Watson will be for the first part of the season), and a back-line is left without a plan. Otherwise, Bath’s front row looks short of quality, especially with Nick Auterac’s departure and the long term injury to Beno Obano, which can be an issue over the course of a 22 game season.
Recruitment Rating: Bath have signed a number of decent players who can fill the previously large void between the star men and their replacements: Joe Cokanasiga, Jacques van Rooyen and Will Chudley look to be particularly shrewd acquisitions. The starting team should be similar to last season’s, but Bath will miss Matt Banahan’s priceless versatility in the wake of international call-ups and injuries. 8/10.
Key Man: Amid an ever-changing back-line, Rhys Priestland has a vital role to play in helping his side transition seamlessly between internationals and squad players. He’ll be assisted by the fact that the men inside and outside him, most likely Fotuali’i and Jamie Roberts respectively, will be present for the whole season. Matt Garvey is a man who always stays under the radar of opposition fans, and as club captain, he has a key job in a side devoid of leaders.
Young gun to watch: Darren Atkins made five appearances in the Premiership last season, but the England u20 star will be looking to push on, especially given the fact that Anthony Watson is out for the near future with an Achilles injury. Jack Walker will also be attempting to mount a claim for starting in the hooker position.
Prediction: Despite finishing 6th, Bath’s season felt slightly stale, and they haven’t improved their first team substantially enough to have a serious chance of improving greatly. With their rivals’ admirable transfer business, Bath could easily find themselves down the table in 7th.
Ins: Jackson Willison (Worcester Warriors), Lucas Noguera Paz (Jaguares), Victor Delmas (Colomiers), Darren Atkins (promoted from academy), Ruaridh McConnochie (England 7s), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Will Chudley (Exeter Chiefs), Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish), Alex Davies (Yorkshire Carnegie), Jacques van Rooyen (Lions).
Outs: Matt Banahan (Gloucester), Josh Lewis (Dragons), Ben Tapuai, Nick Auterac (both Harlequins), James Phillips (Sale Sharks), Nathan Charles (Melbourne Rebels), Rory Jennings (London Scottish), Will Homer (Jersey Reds), Kane Palma-Newport (Colomiers), Shaun Knight (Rouen), James Wilson (Southland), Jeff Williams, Guy Mercer (both released).