As mentioned in the Kyle Eastmond, Analysis of a Try article, Bath have always been an attractive side to watch, but since Mike Ford took over steering the ship I really feel they have taken this to another level.
George Ford, seems to have been the missing link for Bath, and it’s interesting to see how much he has pushed on since leaving Leicester. He brings a flat gain line game with ball in hand and assured decision making to the 10 role which when coupled with Kyle Eastmond’s instinctive game at 12 has seen them develop into what I think is the best passing 10/12 combination in the premiership, possibly Europe.
We saw the style developing last season, but with both Olly Devoto and Gavin Henson rotating in, Eastmond never quite settled down and Ford, while excellent, was working with many different combinations leading to a fair bit of inconsistency in their performances. This season Eastmond seems to be the preferred option at 12 and with a short run of games the combination is returning dividends. Admittedly we’re still on the hard grounds, but to be fair the soft ground and bad weather have never stopped bath trying to play the game at pace.
Eastmond’s interchanging with Ford off phase play ball and his ability to offer a second kicking option has been welcome but it’s Eastmonds ability to release Bath’s strike runners that is key to their attacking game plan. Unsurprisingly the style of passing is very much from the Rugby League play book. Solid and flat, end over end passes (they seldom spin the ball) into the target zone (think breadbasket), always bringing the man onto the ball, the execution point always happening on the tackle line. Last season there was a lot of screened passing, or block and slides, and while they do still use them this year they seem to have simplified their attack and concentrated on perfect execution.
This auxiliary 1st 5/8 relieves the pressure on Ford to do everything himself and knowing he has an exceptional decision maker outside him allows him to concentrate on his primary roles of tactical decision maker and distributor in the short game safe in the knowledge that a playmaker outside him can react to what’s unfolding and communicate this to him. What we tend to see with Bath is the main wide attacking plays running off Eastmond and then the phase play structure being controlled by Ford and Cook. So when they use simple one out runners, like Dave Attwood, Rob Webber and Carl Fearns they will set up on Fords outside to maintain speed. When the call is on, the ball will go one wider to Eastmond (normally behind the punch group) and the majority of the time the tackle line is broken or the gain line breached. Key to all of this is the fact both Ford and Eastmond are comfortable operating right up on the tackle line, as we see in both Rokoduguni and Joseph’s tries below.
Eastmonds ability to bring the ball right up to the defender and still pick out an unmarked runner is the difference between the ball just being recycled in another contact situation or the defensive line blown wide open. This is why i believe Eastmond to be the best attacking 12 in the Aviva Premiership, if not Europe.
It’s exciting rugby, and while simple in theory it takes very skilled players to execute it.