Bath Rugby Academy Manager Andy Rock has been delighted with how the Academy has progressed over the last 12 months and believes it to be a great platform to improve upon ahead of the new season.
A number of Academy players had the opportunity to feature for both the Bath first team and their countries during the last campaign, and Rock feels that the players are also benefiting from coaches who are also eager to improve.
“We’ve done things slightly differently after having a change in staff and philosophy to some degree last year,” he began.
“The staff within the Academy have done some really great work this season but we still have a long way to go and we all think we can push ourselves to do even better.
“It’s all really encouraging. We have a passionate team of staff here at Bath that push themselves to improve and get better every day.
“There’s a lot to be excited about. Nothing more so than the fact that throughout the whole Club, right from the top, we do share the same ambition and goals for the Academy. The exciting thing is how well connected we all are with the objectives we have, which can only be good for the young players in our system who have the drive and commitment to really explore their potential.”
Todd Blackadder’s faith in young Academy players such as Josh Bayliss and Max Green backs up this shared vision by the Club to promote from within, but Rock remains grounded, knowing that they still have a huge amount of potential to fulfil and will continue to need some careful management.
“Josh, for example, is an exceptional role model with the way he goes about his business,” he explains.
“He’s did really well in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the A League last season, but he still has a way to go before he plays regular Premiership rugby every week. That’s the next hurdle for him, and it’s a big one.
“It’s great to see young men like Josh have what you might call a breakthrough season, and it’s natural for people to ask ‘who’s going to be the next Josh Bayliss?’ but for us it’s more important to focus on helping Josh and players like him to begin earning a starting jersey in the Premiership every week.”
“None of us should be happy with where young men like Josh have got to, not yet. If we can sit here in five years and Josh Bayliss has 100-plus appearances for the Club, and is in the mix for England we can be really proud of the job we’ve done. Not until then though.”
The focus upon development has filtered down through the age groups, and last month Bath’s U17s produced two strong displays to beat Worcester 41-12 and Bristol 41-29. Rock believes those players are now reaping the rewards of their hard work after being thrown into the deep end earlier in the season.
“It’s another example of how different experiences benefit the players,” he states.
“Throughout your time in an Academy it’s important to test yourself. It’s never helpful for players who might cruise through the schoolboy game and do not find themselves struggling to compete. The Academy is all about providing opportunity, but this can include some well-planned and periodised challenges.
“It has paid dividends with our U17s, who struggled playing for the U18s around December and January. They went away and worked really hard to develop their areas of weakness which were exploited in what was a really challenging environment for them. Now that hard effort is being rewarded on the pitch.
“That right there is the biggest reward you can get as a coach, seeing players rebound like they did and seeing them flourish.”
Looking ahead to next season, Rock believes that some of the players who have been banging on the door this campaign will have a greater impact on the first team squad.
“I’m really excited for what is to come,” he says.
“There are young players here who should, in the next 12-18 months, really start to challenge for a first team spot every week. But, it won’t be easy for any of them.
“I think Darren Atkins has had a strong season with the opportunities that he’s had and could be in contention to start more games next year. I’d also put Max Green and Max Wright in that bracket. A big pre-season for each of them is really important. They’ve got a lot to offer, but also a lot to still improve.
“All these guys are still at the start of their journeys with Bath Rugby and have a lot to learn, but that is all really encouraging ahead of next season.
“There are also some younger players, who I won’t name just yet as I don’t want to put any pressure on them, that have the potential to develop really quickly and begin to shine in the near future.”