For Bath Rugby’s Academy players, it has been a tough season, with game time limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been equally difficult at times for the Academy coaches and staff, who have continued to provide the younger group with vital information and training, continuing their development in the absence of fixtures.
This week, the dangling carrot of a match is in sight. Bath will host Gloucester Rugby in a friendly at the Rec on Friday before welcoming Harlequins seven days later.
“There has been a real buzz this week,” Academy Manager Craig Lilley said.
“It has been tough going week-to-week with no games and I think this week has given us, particularly the staff, a real purpose around what we are doing.
“It’s nice to have a game at the end of the week and it’s nice to have something to aim for.”
He added: “The point of these games is to give the boys who haven’t played as much the opportunity to play. Also, it will give the younger players in the Academy some exposure against two decent opponents, who will challenge us at the set piece and in open play as well.”
The Gallagher Premiership and European competitions have produced the only Bath Rugby fixtures in the calendar this term, so the friendlies are a welcome opportunity for a large number of players.
But why now? Was it not possible for the friendlies to be arranged sooner?
Lilley explained: “It’s obviously been a tricky year in terms of getting the boys game time. The sheer amount of internationals that were away was a factor in not arranging games sooner; in some positions we were quite low down on the depth chart.
“We’ve gone now because players are returning, we’ve got a bigger, healthy squad which the medics and S&C have done a really good job with, and we just felt like now was the right opportunity to get those games in.
“Also, the Under-18s kicks off in May so from a staff point of view, it was quite nice to use our some of our senior academy staff in the matches before they go away."
Back-to-back matches is an exciting prospect for many players at the club and will afford them the platform to showcase what they have learned, and how they have progressed, during the weekly 10,000 minutes of hard work away from a match environment.
Lilley said: “The boys have been given a good opportunity to improve themselves physically which, for some of them, has been a number one goal due to the lack of game time.
“They’ve obviously been able to explore the game a lot in training with regards to tactics we use and some of them have been lucky enough to jump into the senior squad at times.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to show what they have soaked up in terms of information around our game model, the way we play, and go into a fixture and apply it. That’s what we as coaches are looking forward to seeing.”