With Mike Ford leaving club after four years, the rumour mill is whirring as to who will fill his boots as Bruce Craig's next head coach at The Rec
By Alex Shaw
Just a year after being named coach of the Year at the Aviva Premiership awards – and eight months after signing a new contract – Mike Ford is looking for a new job.
It’s a testament to just how cataclysmic Bath’s 2015/16 season has been that Ford being deemed surplus to requirements, just a season after leading the club to the Premiership final, has occurred. Expectations were heady coming into the campaign but controversy struck when Sam Burgess scuttled back to rugby league, and results went from bad to worse for the West Country club.
From their middling league position, which at one point almost threatened to dump them into the relegation dogfight, to their meek pool stage exit from the European Rugby Champions Cup, little to nothing has gone right for Bath this season. Forwards coach Neal Hatley leaving for a role with England and the departures of Amanaki Mafi and Alafoti Faosiliva due to off-field indiscretions further stained the club’s reputation.
That said, Ford’s vacated head coach position, or a director of rugby slot should Bath wish to restructure, is as appetising a position as there is in club rugby. The club still has a plethora of talented players, a large and loyal fan base and fantastic training and stadium facilities at Farleigh House and The Recreation Ground.
Bath owner Bruce Craig is not the most patient of owners and certainly likes to be involved in the day-to-day running of the club, but that’s not something that ever put off any manager wanting to work at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich and it’s unlikely to deter anyone who sees resurrecting Bath from this season’s slump as the perfect addition to their coaching CV.
We take a look below at some of the available candidates to fill the role.
There will undoubtedly be plenty of speculation linking Bath with the former England coach and given the success Lancaster had with the likes of George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson, it’s not the worst of fits. Stuart Lancaster has seemed keen to get back into rugby, having spent a short time working with the Stormers, as well as being linked with a host of southern hemisphere positions and the until recently-vacant DoR position at Harlequins.
Both Lancaster and Bath like their rugby with plenty of width but with Bath overplaying their hand in that department this season, Craig may not see Lancaster as the right man to invigorate the changes needed at Bath to see them prosper. If Lancaster were to secure the position, don’t be surprised to see the recently retired Stuart Hooper take up a position on Lancaster’s coaching staff, as the lock played under Lancaster back during his Leeds Carnegie days.
Meyer represents a different approach to the one that Lancaster or Blackadder would bring. He would offer a much more forward-centric and direct approach and given that the pack has been a weakness for Bath all season – the additions of Luke Charteris and Taulupe Faletau should certainly help – it could be a welcome change in tack for a back line that became all too predictable without the dual-threat of a dominant pack to work behind.
The South African has been out of work since he and the Springboks parted ways after the Rugby World Cup last year, with his lack of transformation in the squad, rather than his results on the pitch, believed to be the driving force behind his departure. Meyer has previously worked in England, having had a short stint with Leicester Tigers, but was required to end his tenure prematurely due to family illness back in South Africa. He has publicly said how much he enjoyed his time in the country, however, and he could be an intriguing target to bolster Bath’s weaknesses.
The New Zealander has been at the reigns of the Crusaders for the last seven years and though the franchise has failed to win the Super Rugby title during that period, the team has made it at least as far as the semi-finals in six of those seven seasons. Blackadder has said that this season will be his last in Christchurch and there may be an air of destiny about the side this year as they currently sit atop the Australasian conference – with the number one overall seed – and are playing a very effective and very attractive brand of rugby.
If Craig could lure Blackadder to Bath, it would be one of the more exciting coaching hires in the Premiership in recent time. He fits with the playing style that Bath have implemented since Gary Gold left and like Lancaster, seems well-suited to the personnel that Bath have at their disposal.
The Frenchman has taken his fair share of flak for the performances of the French national team in recent years but his time at club level, particularly the five years he spent at Sale, were a lot more successful. Saint-André orchestrated Sale’s first and only Premiership title back in 2005/06 and delivered not only results, but also a style that was easy on the eye.
Sir John Kirwan
John Kirwan resigned from the Blues last year after three lacklustre years at the franchise, paving the way for Tana Umaga to succeed him. In fairness to Kirwan, he inherited a talented but fairly fractious squad and lessons learned in that stint would certainly seem to help him if he were charged with resuscitating Bath in 2016/17.
Sir Graham Henry
This is certainly a long shot but Craig is not afraid to make a splash and would have the financial muscle to try and tempt Henry into returning to the northern hemisphere. The former All Blacks coach is currently helping out with the New Zealand Warriors NRL side and clearly still has the coaching bug in his system.
Apart from roles with the Barbarians and World XVs, Mallett has been out of coaching since he left the Azzurri in 2011. He returned to South Africa to spend time with his family and work as a pundit with SuperSport, but has twice been heavily linked with vacant England head coaching positions and the Bath gig could be one that tempts him out of the studio and back on to the training field.
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Of course, there are plenty of coaches and DoRs who are currently in employment who could be of interest to Bath. Connacht’s Pat Lam and Sale Sharks’ Steve Diamond have both done excellent jobs with limited budgets, but are contracted for the foreseeable future. Would the temptation of Bath’s resources be enough to stir them?
Robbie Deans is currently enjoying plenty of success in Japan with the Panasonic Wild Knights, as well as having been the mastermind behind the Crusaders dynasty of the 2000’s. Luring Deans from Japan could be seen as quite the coup, as could attracting Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards or Glasgow Warriors’ Gregor Townsend. With contracted coaches come legal entanglements, but Craig wouldn’t be afraid of ruffling some feathers if he knew his interest was reciprocated by the coach or DoR in question.