Another summer has been and gone there has been little change around the stunning landscape in and around the picturesque setting of Farleigh House.
However, Bath’s fortunes over the last 12 months failed to reflect their day-to-day surroundings, with Director of Rugby and former All Black backrow Todd Blackadder struggling to find the type of consistency necessary to mount an assault on a top-four finish and a shot at the playoffs.
Crashball Rugby’s Ali Stokes spoke to Bath’s Welsh international and Lions tourist Taulupe Faletau about the two crucial summer recruitments that may steady Bath’s ship, the hotly contested backrow and the benefits he is currently reaping following a first full pre-season for over half a decade.
The 27-year-old spent much of last season sidelined with injuries but believes that the work done over the summer has set him up well enough to return to action at full force at Ashton Gate this weekend.
“I haven't had the chance to have a good pre-season for the last six, seven years, so to have that chance this year has been great,” Faletau said.
“It feels like I got a lot of good work done, which should put me in good stead for the season.
“The injuries are holding up well, I haven't had any scares over the off-season so far. I feel like I've done a lot of work during pre-season so I'm in a good place.”
During their 2017/18 campaign, Bath went from handily beating three-times European champions Toulon at the Rec to suffering a demoralising drubbing at the hands of Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets. Both their European and domestic efforts proffered similar results, with their fans being treated to a season so fraught with ups and downs that there will be no need for a trip to the wild rides of Thorpe Park for some time.
Two recruitments in particular made by Blackadder over the summer may provide the ballast Bath so desperately need to mount any real assault on the top four spots in the league. Firstly, the arrival of Leinster attack coach Girvan Dempsey may be the missing piece of Blackadder’s jigsaw that was left vacant following the departure of Head Coach Tabai Matson, who left the club for personal reasons at the beginning of September last year.
“I think he's [Dempsey] got a few ideas on the way he wants to play the game, it’s a bit different to the way we've played the last couple of seasons.
“He's really looked at the smaller details, skills and stuff like that. Things we perhaps let slide, especially last season. Just the little details that we had kind of forgotten about. We've set those back in, they're going to be vital responsibilities.
“He's definitely brought a lot of positives to the squad. It's pretty exciting to have him on board and to work with him.”
Another of Blackadder’s potentially stabilising summer recruitments is Faletau’s Wales and Lions colleague Jamie Roberts, who seems to be settling into the fourth professional club of his career comfortably.
Commenting on Roberts’ arrival, Faletau said: “It’s good to have him around. He's so experienced and shares a lot of the knowledge he's picked up over the years.
“But off the field also, he's a good guy, very sociable and the boys are enjoying having him amongst us.”
While Roberts' 97 Test caps will have given the 31-year-old all the tools required to settle into a new squad and present himself as a regular starter, another of Faletau’s teammates has found himself equal to the task of both the aforementioned Welsh internationals at the ripe age of 20-years-old.
Fan favourite number eight Zach Mercer was the man to profit from Faletau’s enforced absences last season, presenting himself as one of the next best young talents coming through the English system and earning a start for the national side during their fixture against the Barbarians at Twickenham last May.
When asked whether he was feeling the pressure from the increasingly larger image of Mercer in his rearview mirror, Faletau made no bones about the closeness of the rivalry for the number eight jersey.
“Ah, I don't think he's in my rearview mirror at all, he's right beside me, if not I'm in his rearview mirror.
“He's a great player. At 20 he's really established himself in the Premiership and with England also. He's not behind me or anything like that.
“The backrow here is pretty strong, probably one of the strongest positions at the club at the moment.
“It's very competitive, there's no bad vibe at all. It's competitive but we're there to help each other as well.”
Faletau was also unperturbed by the prospect of shifting around to the side of the scrum to accommodate both himself and Mercer in the Bath backrow, content with playing across the three positions.
“Yeah, I don't mind, wherever they want to play me. As long as I'm playing I don't mind at all.”
A fierce attacking prospect at Dempsey's disposal. The prospect of both Mercer and Faletau running, offloading and stepping through defences whilst simultaneously providing the kind of work rate off the ball synonymous with top Test forwards is enough to force most defences to double their caffeine intake for the day.
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