The man charged with bringing through the next generation of talent at Bath Rugby is Academy Manager Andy Rock, who believes that all the hard work going in now means that the future is bright at the Club.
The production line of young talent at Farleigh is in good order and the fruits of the Academy system have begun to make their mark on the first team. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the Bath side that made it through to this season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup Final - a competition traditionally seen as a proving ground for those players making their way up through the ranks.
The list of players making the next step to the first team has been fulsome this season: Beno Obano, Zach Mercer, Josh Bayliss, Levi Douglas, Darren Atkins, Miles Reid, Sam Nixon, Will Vaughan and Levi Davis.
Creating a tangible and successful pathway for these young men in the Academy system is no mean feat and has taken thousands of unseen hours’ work off the field.
“We’re really confident that we have some good young players with long term potential here at the Club,” begins Rock, who joined Bath from Yorkshire Carnegie in 2016.
“We’re also blessed that right across the organisation, everyone wants to see these young players come through and represent Bath Rugby for a long time. They understand what we’re trying to achieve here - more so now than 18 months ago when I arrived.
“If we get our jobs right and continue to invest in this pathway, we will see more Academy players continue to come through and I’m really confident that we’ll see even more become first team regulars in future years.”
The prospect of one day pulling on the Blue, Black and White and sustaining a successful career at the Rec is provocative for all of the young men in the system. However, expectations have to be managed carefully.
Whist becoming a professional player is a privilege, it is also a long, difficult road. “We do lots of work with guys on understanding what’s ahead of them and being able to have that self-awareness of what they need to do to keep progressing,” Rock explains.
“We are mindful of how long a journey it is and how much hard work needs to go into it. When we talk about ‘accelerated’ development, we understand the different experiences that players will get - whether that’s out on loan, with the University, or training with our first team.
“The best predictor of learning and development is to reflect on that development and success, make sense of them as individuals and use them to shape our actions as we move forwards.”
Rock also says the chance to work with old friend and colleague Stuart Hooper was a key factor in his decision to join the Club.
“To be successful in a team sport or team environment, you need to know that you’ve got people around you who you can totally rely on to be ambitious, challenging and push you to improve yourself,” he said.
“We’re no different to the players in that regard and I knew that I’d be able to have that relationship with Stuart here.”
Whilst the Academy Manager is proud of his achievements in the sport so far, he hopes to complete a personal ambition during his time at Bath.
“I’ve worked with a number of young men who I’m delighted to see now being really successful at several different clubs across the Premiership,” he said.
“However, you’re always left with a sense of unfinished business in that you haven’t been able to go on the journey from start to finish, seeing the guys progress with one club, wearing one shirt.
“That’s something that was a real drive for me. I knew the opportunity would exist at Bath for me to do that.”