Season Review: Bath Rugby
It’s been a season of much transition in the West Country at Bath Rugby, with a strong late surge that saw them qualify for the Europeans Champions Cup and just miss out on the Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-finals.
There have been highs and lows but when all is done and dusted, Bath finished in sixth, level on 56 points with both Harlequins and semi-finalists Northampton Saints.
Perhaps the most significant events at Bath over the last 12 months have been at the top of the tree – Todd Blackadder beginning and ending the season as director of rugby but now departing to take charge of Japanese side Toshiba this summer.
Club stalwart and former lock Stuart Hooper has long been earmarked for the post and, after acting as general manager, succeeds Blackadder as DoR, to be joined by Neal Hatley after the World Cup, and with Luke Charteris becoming lineout coach.
To miss out on the semi-finals by a whisker may have been frustrating but you feel Bath are moving in the right direction, and securing Champions Cup rugby while key men Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni have all spent long periods out injured is undoubtedly a huge success.
In Europe this season, Bath finished third in their Champions Cup pool behind semi-finalists Leinster and Toulouse – they might’ve progressed further had a win against the French side not slipped through their grasp at the Rec but things are building nicely for next season.
There have been many highs for Bath this season and at the Rec, the best examples of these came courtesy of an 18-9 win over champions Saracens in March – and 29-17 victory over Wasps in May.
That win over Wasps came with both sides motoring towards semi-final rugby and in hugely dramatic fashion, with a surging comeback in the final ten minutes that saw Zach Mercer grab a double and Joe Cokanasiga get the other to secure the bonus-point win.
There were also key impressive victories on the road – three of them, in fact – as Wasps were downed at the Ricoh in December, Harlequins fell 37-32 at the Stoop at the beginning of the season and Leicester pipped 32-21 at Welford Road on the final day.
Watson, Cokanasiga and Beno Obano had all struck in Leicester to set up that win, with Jacques van Rooyen the 77th-minute hero that stole the victory, and, incidentally, Champions Cup rugby and the perfect sign off for Blackadder.
As mentioned, it’s been a strange season for Bath. The likes of Watson, Joseph and Rokoduguni have led this team for so many years now but spent most of the season out injured, likewise Sam Underhill aside from a few standout performances.
Step forward Zach Mercer, Dave Attwood and Ruaridh McConnochie, who have all more than picked up the baton.
Attwood is a long-term servant and after a brief spell at Toulon last year, returned to Bath this season and led from the front all the way.
Mercer, still only 21, has been nothing short of miraculous and after being tipped for greatness in his formative years, has been the dominant force on the pitch far more often this season, with impressive work-rate and a nous for grabbing crucial tries.
Meanwhile McConnochie, who has now signed a long-term contract, arrived from the sevens circuit and has had a stellar season.
The likes of Cokanasiga may have earned more press through tries and with England, but McConnochie has simply been first class on so many occasions.
— Ruaridh McConnochie (@ruaridhmcc) June 5, 2019
More on that man Cokanasiga, who enjoyed a first season in the top flight with London Irish last year but has now come into his own in a breakthrough first term in Bath.
Eight Gallagher Premiership Rugby tries have followed, as has a strong international claim with stunning performances against Japan and Australia in the autumn – the giant speedster will now look to build on a superb season.
A pair of young back-rows have also impressed this term – Levi Douglas is 23 but now more experienced after nine league appearances and Miles Reid, just 20, is Bath’s academy player of the year after five appearances.
Who’s in for 2019-20?
Reid, alongside Will Vaughan and Sam Nixon, has been promoted from the academy for the season ahead.
Joining them in Bath’s senior squad are some interesting new additions, with forward Josh McNally arriving from the Exiles and mighty back-row Mike Williams from Leicester.
There are a trio of additions in the front row, also – Lewis Boyce from Harlequins, Will Stuart from Wasps and Christian Judge from Cornish Pirates, fresh from wining the double on loan at Saracens this season.
Who’s out for 2019-20?
Bath matchday squads will have a different look about them in 2019-20, with the likes of Jack Wilson, Cooper Vuna, Anthony Perenise, Max Lahiff and Kahn Fotuali’i all released.
Lock Charteris is retiring to become lineout coach and engine room partner Atwood joins Bristol Bears.
It’s time to witness more of these moments, because every minute counts…every moments matters.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) May 8, 2019