Bath's Summer Tourists
Faletau: best Lion?
By P G Tips
July 21 2017
With all the recent speculation about new signings (or lack of them), it is easy to forget that a number of the Bath squad were in representative action a few weeks ago. While their colleagues have been sunning themselves on the beach, or on the physio table preparing for another attritional season, nine Bath Rugby players were on tour with various teams. Here’s how they did – and what their summer experience could mean for Bath in the coming season.
A tour that some feared might involve no Bath players actually saw three representatives – who all did well. The Bath trio between them clocked up the third highest game time per club- second to Saracens among English Premiership clubs.
“Best player in a red shirt” according to Jeremy Guscott, Faletau was an ever present in the Tests, top tackler and fourth highest carrier. His immense “engine” enabled a mountain of work, even when some pundits felt he was not “visible” enough. Took his Test try well at a crucial time. Bath should definitely be lifted by his form.
Denied a Test try by Savea’s interception, Watson nonetheless was the back who scared New Zealand the most. His tricky footwork and eye for a gap saw him beat more defenders than any other player. Now at world class, his confidence will have grown – he just needs a midfield to get him the ball.
Apparently a late call up, JJ scored a super try in one of the early matches and narrowly missed a match winner at the death against the Highlanders. In contention for a Test bench spot, but lost out to Daly when Gatland reshuffled his backs. Will have gained valuable experience and, hopefully, motivation to push on for another strong season for club and country.
England took on Argentina in their own back yard shorn of 30 players through Lions calls, injury or suspension. A tough ask for an adventurous selection where Eddie Jones put faith in youth.
Given the responsibility of calling the lineout and showed up well in both Tests- against a Puma pack that is a feather in the cap. Scored a good try in the second Test. Fifth choice at best in an area of riches for England, but at 22, with 5 caps, one for the future – a future that is fast approaching. Should be a regular Bath starter in the AP and his experience should enable him to be a key influencer.
Missed the first Test through injury, but played a prominent part in the hard defensive effort for 60 minutes of the second. His performance, described as “underwhelming” by Guscott, drew praise from Eddie Jones. His tackling, reminiscent of Peter Winterbottom, was pretty impressive for one who had only 27 minutes representative experience against the Barbarians before his Test debut in Santa Fe. The link play and carrying game will come. Will learn from and understudy Francois Louw. Could be the answer to Bath’s need for swift turnover ball.
When we see him next it will be in Tigers’ colours. His club form appeared to fizzle out at the end of the domestic season, amid rumours of a difference of tactical opinion with Todd Blackadder. Had a tactically astute tour and seemed to have rediscovered his skill with ball in hand and on the break. He will have to be very carefully policed in the opening fixture!
Another back rower the pundits wanted to see more from, the England U20 Captain still managed to seem like a one man team at times in Georgia. If he did not appear to be an 80 minute dynamo, his interventions were telling all the same – crucial lineout steals, tries both early and late in tight games and the vital turnover to close the match against Australia. The heartbeat of the team, it visibly hurt him that a side shorn of 7 first choices for the Argentina tour and further hit by 5 injuries to key players, could not win the final against the “Baby Blacks”. Looks to have an excellent future- the question is where his best position in the back row is.
A frequent bench choice, he carried well and offered an extra lineout option. Can play at lock or flank. Shows plenty of potential, but will need to avoid the injury curse that has struck some of his predecessors like Ovens and Sisi. Can hope for some first team action this season.
A late call up after injuries to Aspland-Robinson and Crossdale, Darren got 12 minutes off the bench against Australia, then was chosen as starter for both Semi Final and Final. Showed pace, elusiveness and in the humbling of the final, commendable bravado in trying to take the game to the young Kiwis. Should get a chance or two in international windows.
All nine gained valuable experience at various levels from their summer rugby. Faletau, Underhill and Mercer in particular rose to higher challenges and with Louw fit and firing after his first full off season and pre season in six years, Bath’s back row options look as exciting as they have been for many years. Let’s hope the returning eight players can bring the best of their summer form into the coming Premiership season.pqs: qs:
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:08:09:08:17:34 by CoochieCoo.