Mike Ford and Olly Barkley put differences behind them
Cat and dog, Blair and Brown, Kevin Pietersen and anyone in the same dressing room… certain relationships are so fundamentally dysfunctional, they might have been made in hell. Not so very long ago, the England defence coach Mike Ford could not be mentioned in the same breath as the midfielder Olly Barkley without the air turning sulphurous. If the two men agreed on anything, it was that they disagreed on everything. As a consequence, at least in part, Barkley's international prospects faded out.
How intriguing, then, that they should have been thrown together at Bath this season. And how interesting that Barkley, pressed into service at outside-half following injuries to Stephen Donald and Tom Heathcote, should have won their opening fixture at Worcester with a goal-kicking performance of the highest quality, topped off with a decisive three-pointer on the final whistle, pulling a 24-23 victory out of the bag. The new Bath coaching team, in which Ford is a major figure, may have a number of awkward decisions in settling on their optimum midfield configuration, but this much is certain: an in-form Barkley is all but undroppable.
It would have been remiss to the point of rudeness not to pull Ford's leg about events at Sixways, so the question was asked. "Mike, you've always supported Barkley through thick and thin, so you must have been delighted..." and so on. The coach's response was deadly serious. "Listen, as we're going to be working with each other all season, any issues there might be had to be sorted," he said. "We had a very adult conversation and we're moving on. Olly's defence on the training field was always good. What I wanted him to do was translate it to the match situation, to be an 'every time' performer. In this game, he stood tall. I'm proud of him."
Without Barkley's marksmanship and general know-how, Bath would have struggled to leave town with so much as a losing bonus point. They spent the opening quarter on the wrong side of the alarmingly youthful referee Luke Pearce, whose enthusiastic approach to discipline suggested recent (perhaps current) experience as a school prefect, and were 12-0 down in the blink of an eye. Even when the penalty pendulum swung in the opposite direction after the break, it was Worcester who claimed the only try – a close-range conclusion to a goal-line siege from the lock James Percival, who had a decent day all round in the Warriors' pack.
But there were signs, albeit small ones, that Bath might rediscover some long-lost lustre over the coming months. Another of their recently arrived coaches, Toby Booth, will arm them with a Rolls-Royce line-out; the back-row partnership of Francois Louw and Carl Fearns has a nice balance to it; and once Kyle Eastmond finds a way of bringing his Jason Robinson-type trickery to bear on the opposition, things should start happening on the attacking front.
But it is very much a work in progress: as Booth reported, the back-room staff are engaged in a root-and-branch reconstruction of the entire Bath operation. "We're looking at the foundations of our game, because there is no attacking rugby without foundations," he said. "We have players who can attack, but they have to earn the right to do it."
Richard Hill, a great man of the Bath golden age who now runs Worcester, had his own take on the subject. "We knew Bath would attack only from a range of 30 metres, yet while we kept on putting them in those positions by giving away unnecessary penalties in the second half, they never looked like scoring," he said. "We weren't beaten by a better side. We beat ourselves. I'm bitterly disappointed. Angry, in fact." That anger was due to be expressed, in no uncertain terms, at today's post-mortem.
Worcester: Try Percival; Penalties Goode 6. Bath: Penalties Barkley 8.
Worcester C Pennell; J Drauninui, A Grove, J Matavesi (J Carlisle 65), D Lemi; A Goode, S Perry (J Arr 65); M Mullan, A Lutui, J Andress, J Percival, D Schofield (capt, C Gillies 68), C Jones, S Betty, S Taulava (M Kvesic 65).
Bath N Abendanon; K Eastmond, D Hipkiss, M Banahan (J Cuthbert 68), T Biggs; O Barkley, M Claassens; P James (N Catt 68), L Mears (R Batty 68), D Wilson (K Palma-Newport 76), S Hooper (capt, DAttwood 61), D Day, C Fearns, F Louw, B Skirving.
Referee L Pearce (Devon).
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