Misfiring Bath and George Ford create England problems for Eddie Jones
All kinds of awkward questions hung in the air after . Not only will the home side now spend Christmas stuck in a lowly ninth position in the table but some of their international candidates have chosen an unfortunate time to lose form. George Ford, for one, can only hope to check out the tape of a grim game the fly-half will be desperate to forget.
The Bath owner, Bruce Craig, will also be twitching as he contemplates the immediate future. , with the looming home and away pool games against Wasps suddenly pivotal. Lose and their season will be in danger of disintegration, with European qualification for next season not guaranteed. Finishing outside the top six would be a significant blow for a club with Bath’s bottomless resources.
It is all a far cry from last season, when Bath were Premiership finalists and Sam Burgess was still a union man. , with its frequent collapsed scrums and meagre ball-in-play time, but his departure back to league has coincided with a noticeable dip in the squad’s collective confidence. No one is suffering more than Ford, who looked ill at ease on a windy day and threw the costly interception pass that allowed Luther Burrell to steal the Saints’ crucial try after 47 minutes.
Many sides would probably have withdrawn their misfiring 10 at that point but Mike Ford did not send on the experienced Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland until five minutes from the end. Even then it was the inside-centre Ollie Devoto who made way, with Ford Sr’s reluctance to substitute his son prompting raised eyebrows among a record crowd of 13,506.
Jones, one suspects, would have been less tolerant and may already have concluded from the league standings that Saracens’s Owen Farrell is a better bet at 10 for England against Scotland on 6 February, coincidentally the week after Saracens and are due to meet in the league. Perceptions can change rapidly but unless Bath’s front five can establish a sturdier platform Ford will find life becoming steadily harder.
His father is also uneasy about the disproportionate impact of the scrum on matches at this time of year, having witnessed a dirge of a first 40 minutes pock-marked with time-consuming resets. “We didn’t get everything right but the scrum’s having too big an influence on the game. It’s just a lottery. Referees don’t know what’s going on. It’s ruining the game. But we’re not playing well enough. We’re better than that.”
There was, however, no disputing the set-piece strength of a Northampton pack lacking Courtney Lawes, Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood and Alex Corbisiero. Lawes is due back against Racing 92 this week but players such as Alex and Ethan Waller, Mikey Haywood, Jamie Gibson and Paul Hill are filling the gaps splendidly. Alex Waller has just become the first player to feature in 100 consecutive games while Kieran Brookes continues to state a forceful case at tighthead. “It’s great to see our young English lads developing and improving,” said Jim Mallinder, their director of rugby. “They have been the dominant forwards in every game we’ve played.”
Corbisiero, sadly, is and will not be a realistic international contender again unless he can stitch together a run of injury-free games. For Bath, J but Anthony Watson looks increasingly like a Test full-back and Semesa Rokoduguni is the kind of powerful winger Jones tends to favour.
The way Rokoduguni left the pony-tailed Ben Foden sprawled in his wake for Bath’s solitary try is unlikely to escape the new England coach’s notice but it was not enough to save the home side from a fourth defeat in their last five league games courtesy of JJ Hanrahan’s 73rd-minute penalty. “There was a pin-drop silence in the dressing room afterwards,” Rokoduguni said. “Everyone was just gutted with the way we performed.”
Bath Watson; Rokoduguni, Joseph, Devoto (Priestland, 75), Banahan; Ford, Cook (Matawalu, 59); Auterac (Lahiff, 64), Webber (Dunn, 64), Thomas (Wilson, 55), Ewels, Ellis (Mercer, 70), Garvey, Louw (capt), Houston (Denton, 56). Try Rokoduguni. Pens Ford 2.
Sin-bin Thomas 35.
Northampton Foden (capt); Elliott, G Pisi (Myler, 66), Burrell, North; Hanrahan, Fotuali’i (Dickson, 59); E Waller (A Waller, 51), Haywood, Brookes (Hill, 64), Paterson, Day (Matfield, 59), Gibson, Harrison (Craig, 76), Dickinson.
Try Burrell. Con Hanrahan. Pens Hanrahan 2.
Referee C Maxwell-Keys. Attendance 13,506.