Following the fifth round of Bath Rugby’s 2019/20 Premiership Rugby Shield campaign, which saw Bath United narrowly lose 33-26 to Harlequins in a hard-fought 80 minutes at The Stoop, we caught up with Luke Charteris to reflect on the first block of games and the players who have really stood out in growth and development.
“The growth in our Forwards this season is really clear to see. Will Britton, Jack Davies and Tom Doughty have all developed their physicality, game understanding, leadership and, most importantly, their confidence this season.They have formed the core of our young United pack, and consistently set a strong platform for the team to play off.
"This has allowed our other young men to show their qualities. Nahum Merigan, Rhys Davies, Ollie Fox, Tom De Glanville and Gabe Hamer-Webb, for example, have delivered some outstanding performances during this first block and following this, they have all stepped up to other competitions with the senior team.”
The common theme around continuous development and taking opportunities to learn continued as Charteris spoke, and it is something in which he takes real pride as he continues to see the progress being made on the field.
“Our young group have delivered some very strong performances – we have witnessed them win important moments in the game and adapt to challenges in order to get back on top of the opposition. I would feel hugely confident in any one of these young men stepping up to play for our senior team”
The Shield allows the Club to grow the depth within its squad through continued exposure to highly competitive game time. Round 1 saw Saracens field a side including internationals who were returning fresh from the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Bath United secured a losing bonus point on the day and absolutely stood up to a more physical and experienced side.
Charteris spoke on the impact this had on the squad: “It gave our young men confidence. They learnt we could match a side they previously may not have believed possible. There used to be a mindset that you never knew if you had what it takes to play in the Premiership until you have played a full 80 minutes and experienced the raw power of it. This isn’t the case anymore as Clubs are putting stronger and stronger teams out, which means our young men get to go head-to-head against stronger players”
“It also gives us confidence as a coaching group. When we are making our selections, we know are putting our best team out every week. We are confident that when these young men are required to step up, they will do the job.”
Bath Rugby uses the Premiership Rugby Shield competition to develop both its coaches and its players. The game time provides a real opportunity for players to pull on the Blue, Black and White jersey, many for the first time, and it’s a genuine opportunity for the Club to prepare these players to perform in the Premiership and Europe.
“Will Butt and Max Ojomoh are worth a mention. They have not featured in the Premiership yet, but have developed a brilliant midfield partnership together, working outside and learning from Alex Davies. Seeing our young men build relationships on and off the field is pretty special. I’m looking forward to seeing all of these guys play for a long time in the Blue, Black and White.”
Charteris, who has been working with Ryan Davis in leading the coaching of Bath United, shared his excitement about the progress he sees and referenced the positive attitudes the players have brought to the competition. “Seeing Nahum Merigan, Rhys Davies, Ollie Fox, Tom De Glanville and Gabe Hamer-Webb perform in the Shield and then debut in Europe shows just how these competitions support each other. This doesn’t just happen, it’s our rugby programme and the attitudes our players bring that ensures it does.”
“Our Performance Department and Coaching Group have really focused on integrating our academy players into the full-time senior environment, and it is working better than ever. Every one of our full-time players train together every day and because of this, when it comes to game time for Bath United we aren’t bringing new squads together. We are working with a group of young men who have been together and learning together now for 20 weeks.”
“The game we are trying to develop, and to play asks a lot of the players, it is fast, physical and incredibly complex. We try and provide a supportive learning environment that allows them to put their best foot forward in order to perform when their time comes. Rhys Davies and Gabe Hamer-Webb are a prime example of this: both have stepped up, and then kept their places in the team and both continue to play exceptionally well for the Club.”
This week, six senior players from Bath Rugby were selected to represent England in the Guinness Six Nations, with Taulupe Faletau also likely to feature for Wales. Charteris believes that, in large part due to the Premiership Shield opportunities, every Bath player is prepared to perform at the highest level if they get an opportunity in the Premiership and is confident the Club now have the depth to manage the absence of such players, “I’m excited for this next block of Premiership games, with both Taulupe Faletau and Sam Underhill away with their respective nations, Nahum might have some space to play for example, or Rhys Davies may get an opportunity to continue his experiences in a first team jersey.”
The emergence of these players is a strong reinforcement of the work that is going on within Bath Rugby’s pathway and the potential that exists beneath the senior squad at the Club. Moments that have been witnessed on the field, such as Hamer-Webb’s try-scoring debut against Ulster in the Champions Cup, are underpinned by years of hard work and dedication.
It is the investment in players, coaches and the pathway within the club, that offers opportunity for people to develop and learn together and – as we will see in the weeks to come - for individuals to grab their opportunity when their time comes to perform for the club.