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Why Rugby-loving neutrals will hope Bath continue to run hot

22 May | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Why Rugby-loving neutrals will hope Bath continue to run hot

Mike Ford's men have reinvigorated the England team and revived club rugby's sleeping giant.

TWENTY-FIVE years ago it would have passed unnoticed. Bath giving up eight players to an England squad on the eve of a major club semi-final.

They were kingpins back then, English champions so often it was worthy of note only when they fell short. Which, for the record, was just twice between 1989 and 1996.

Then the game turned professional and for the next couple of decades they spent their days – rather like Liverpool football club – being reminded how much better they used to be than they are now

Those years of hurt might be at an end. On Saturday Mike Ford’s side play host to Leicester in the second of two Aviva Premiership semi-finals. They are hot favourites to advance to their first final since 2004.

With good reason to. Not only because they scored 72 tries in the 22-game regular season, compared to Tigers’ paltry 37. They scored them whilst reinvigorating the England team.

Jonathan Joseph came from nowhere to fill a hole in England’s midfield and finish leading try scorer in the Six Nations. George Ford, a 22-year-old fly-half, was handed the conductor’s baton and pretty much immediately got England’s back division playing a merry tune.

For a couple of years now Bath have told anybody prepared to listen that they are a decent side in the making. Now we know it to be true. 

Their latest success story is Sam Burgess. If ever there was a coaching achievement of which Ford, Toby Booth, Neal Hatley and Darren Edwards should be proud, it is getting the rugby league legend into England’s World Cup training squad within seven months of switching codes.

Burgess is a force of nature, a sportsman blessed with the most extravagant gifts of athleticism. But translating those into a different sport at the elite level has been a real accomplishment.

Burgess has had his doubters. Even now you can go into any pub and find someone pouring scorn on Stuart Lancaster’s decision to call into his squad a guy who has yet to decide if he is a forward or back.

But, crucially, Bath have believed in Burgess from the off and been clear about the path he would follow. They said they would start him at centre then move him into the back row. They stuck to their guns and the faith they have shown has reflected in the 26-year-old’s growing self-belief.

“We’re very much at Bath about what he can do, rather than what he cannot,” said Mike Ford. Which, in a nutshell, explains the club’s philosophy.

Gone are the days of Bath being weighed down by their past. This is a new breed, setting their own standards, looking forward rather than back. High time too.

They might yet end the season empty-handed, either lose to Leicester this weekend or to  Northampton or Saracens at Twickenham. But I suspect the rugby-loving neutral will hope they don’t. They are a breath of fresh air.