By going back to the future in the scrum – the set-piece has reverted to a proper examination of strength and technique this season, thank the lord – rugby’s legislators have given Bath the clearest possible view of the road ahead.
In the final decade of the amateur era, when the West Countrymen won everything worth winning umpteen times over, they knew their way around the darkened recesses with their eyes shut. Suddenly, they have rediscovered their bearings.
It must be a very long time since a Bath front row gave their opponents a seeing-to on as grand a scale as this one. True, Wasps were missing the fast-developing prop Jake Cooper-Woolley, but there is no way on God’s earth that a 24-year-old Premiership rookie would have sorted things out single-handedly in the grunt-and-groan department.
This was an old-fashioned shellacking for the new age and it gave the perpetrators the look of a top-end team in the making.
Not all the pieces are in place – if Bath had travelled up the M4 with a genuine sense of ambition, they would have returned home with a try-scoring bonus point – but in terms of size and power, they look extremely formidable. Rob Webber is playing his best rugby at hooker; David Wilson is doing something similar at tight-head prop. And then there is Nathan Catt, widely considered the “player most likely to” a few years ago, before a mystifying slide towards obscurity.
Catt was back at the sharp end yesterday and he made a rare old mess of Wasps, not only in the scrum but in the loose as well. The new set-piece protocols seem to suit him – certainly, the unfortunate Phil Swainston will be in no hurry to renew acquaintances – and there was a confidence about him that would surely have caught the eye of the England coaches had any of them been around to witness it.
To think Matt Mullan, his opposite number, was sitting on the red rose bench at Twickenham against New Zealand nine days ago...
David Young, the Wasps rugby director, was his usual candid self in admitting that his side had been on the wrong end of a close-quarter drubbing. “You get used to winning and used to losing,” said the three-time Lions front-rower. “It’s the manner of the losing that matters. That was about as low as it gets for me, because we let ourselves down.”
It could have been a whole lot more subterranean for him. Two tries from the wing Semesa Rokoduguni – the first from Jonathan Joseph’s sweet spin-and-pass routine; the second a run-in after Leroy Houston had proved too strong for the former England lock Tom Palmer – and a third from Matt Garvey around the front of a line-out, were scant reward for Bath’s dominance in all the areas that mattered.
The Recreation Grounders are now up to third and armed as they are with a pack well suited to winter conditions, they should stay in or around that position for some time to come.
Wasps: Try Holmes. Bath: Tries Rokoduguni 2, Garvey; Conversions Ford, Heathcote; Penalties Ford 2; Drop goal Ford.
Wasps: E Daly; J Holmes, B Jacobs, C Bell (capt), J Bassett; A Goode (J Carlisle 65), J Simpson (C Davies 51); M Mullan (S McIntyre 63), C Festuccia (N Cochrane 60), P Swainston (W Taylor 53), T Palmer, K Myall (J Launchbury 44), A Johnson, S Jones (G Thompson 63), N Hughes (J Haskell h-t).
Bath: N Abendanon; S Rokodugini, J Joseph (A Watson 63), O Devoto, M Banahan; G Ford (T Heathcote 74), P Stringer (M Roberts 57); N Catt (C Beech 69), R Webber (R Batty 69), D Wilson (J P Orlandi 69), S Hooper (capt, D Day 51), D Attwood, M Garvey, M Gilbert (W Skuse 69), L Houston.
Referee: L Pearce (Devon).