There was good news for England at The Recreation Ground on Saturday. As the Six Nations looms prop David Flatman is back around his best form and looking decidedly fit, as he proved while helping to take Bath back on top of the Premiership.
This adept in the dark arts of the front row earned praise from team-mate Matt Stevens, the England tighthead, and Bath coach Steve Meehan after a sterling performance against a formidable Northampton scrum.
After a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining match in which the Bath eight shaded it against a gutsy Saints octet, Stevens declared: 'I think he [Flatman] should be picked in England's Elite Player Squad.' Meehan endorsed that view adding: 'The way he's shaping up this season he won't be out of the EPS for long. His injuries in the past have been well documented, but with the recuperation work he has done, he has stepped up.'
And Meehan reckoned that the pressure is now on the England incumbents in the loosehead berth Tim Payne and Andrew Sheridan. 'If he [Flatman] keeps progressing as he has done in the last three or four games, and given the way he is scrummaging and his workrate around the field, he will be pushing Payne and Sheridan.' On Saturday Flatman took on the hugely talented Northampton and Scotland tighthead Euan Murray, already being mentioned as shoo-in for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa later this year.
The day was Flatman's. While Murray, as a qualified vet, is used to handling large animals, he found the scrummaging beast that is Flatman just a bit too canny and way too strong to subdue on Saturday.
Flatman is no one's fool. He admitted that he had had a hard time of it. 'It was very tough. Euan Murray has been written about as a potential Lion. 'Other than climbing Everest I can't imagine much harder stuff to do on a Saturday afternoon than scrummaging.' But he came through it well, and, importantly, injury-free. Achilles and shoulder injuries among other things in the past have too often denied England services of one of the best technical scrummagers in the country, to the extent that he has won just eight caps, the last against Argentina in 2002.
After the hard-fought victory over Saints, Flatman, who will be 29 at the end of next month, said: 'I'd love to play for England again. 'I am training harder than I have ever trained. I am in better shape than I have ever been in as a pro, but at the same time so is everyone else, and there are some great players around.
'I think Tim Payne is playing brilliant rugby and at the moment I wouldn't pick anyone ahead of him as first choice - except me or Matt [Stevens]!'
Bath's only bit of bad news was that winger Matt Banahan, who scored the first of their three tries in the second minute of the match, is doubtful for next week's game at Leicester after suffering from a trapped nerve in his neck.
Bath: Tries: Banahan, Claassens 2; Conversions James 2; Penalties James 2.
Northampton: Try: Kruger; Penalties Myler 3.
Bath: J Cuthbert; J Maddock, A Crockett, S Hape (E Fuimaono-Sapolu, 62), M Banahan (A Higgins, 64); B James, M Claassens; D Flatman, L Mears (P Dixon, 69), M Stevens (D Bell, 78), S Hooper (J Harrison, 69), P Short, A Beattie, M Lipman (capt), J Faamatuainu (D Browne, 62).
Northampton: B Reihana (capt); P Diggin, J Clarke, J Downey (C Spencer, 72), S Lamont; S Myler, L Dickson (B Foden, 56); S Tonga'uiha (T Smith, 67), D Hartley, E Murray, I Fernandez-Lobbe (C Day, 67), J Kruger, M Easter (M Hopley, 72), S Gray, R Wilson.
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