What a difference an offseason can make.
That is the tale of Bath Rugby in the 2023/24 Premiership season.
In Johaan van Graan’s second season in charge, the West Country team have gone from a team that was at times brutally unwatchable to a daring-do band of try scorers.
Now sitting pretty in 2nd position on the Premiership table, the Dyson-powered club have firmly put last season’s 8th-place finish to rest.
Certainly, the addition of the world-class magician Finn Russell, has aided the processes significantly. But Bath’s overall evolution in van Graan’s second season has been mightily impressive.
In The Coach’s Image
The former Springbok assistant coach and Munster boss looks to be setting up the squad in his ideal vision.
Whilst Russell is the marquee name in the squad, the likes of Thomas Du Toit, Will Stuart, Beno Obano and Charlie Ewels make the van Graan game plan work.
During his time with Munster, van Graan’s teams regularly pushed towards the latter stages of competitions only to be found wanting.
This was partly due to the game plan relying heavily on big ball-carrying forwards that weren’t always present in Limerick.
When Plan A failed in the face of the bigger sides in European competition, Munster were found wanting.
Yet, with the budget and removing selection constraints, van Graan is slowly building a team in his vision.
Adding wrinkles to this game to include a more well-rounded approach is clearly something van Graan has developed since his move to England.
Again, having a man of Russell’s pedigree to pull the string is a key component.
Coaching Melting Pot
In the backline, van Graan’s most significant addition may be off the pitch as he brought in attacking maestro Lee Blackett.
The man who scored the Premiership’s fastest-ever try as a Newcastle Falcons player has brought the best out of the likes of Ollie Lawrence, Orlando Bailey and Cameron Redpath.
Combining Blackett’s backline creativity with van Graan’s pragmatic forward dominant approach could prove to be a winning combination.
Elsewhere on the coaching team, van Graan’s long-term assistant JP Ferreira is overseeing the defence. A role he held for a decade with the Lions from Johannesburg and then for five seasons with Munster.
To date, the Bath defence has not been overly spectacular, conceding an average of 24 points per match.
Yet as with Munster, it may take a moment or two for Ferreira’s system to bed in with a squad that has several new faces this season. During his time in Limerick, the South African led Munster to the best defence in both the Pro 14 and Champions Cup in the 2018/19 season.
The Derby Try
Lawrence made the initial break from within his own 22m for the particular try this weekend.
Fittingly, Redpath would be on his shoulder to accept the offload before finding arguably Bath’s player of the season thus far, Ben Spencer.
The 31-year-old scrumhalf would streak away to finish off a sublime bit of counterattack. Securing back-to-back derby victories after consecutive defeats is a significant confidence boost ahead of a top-of-the-table clash with the Sale Sharks this weekend.
Off to the races 💨
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) November 20, 2023