Monday 19 March 2018

Bath's Euro challenge elementary for England flyer Watson

Anthony Watson (SPORTSFILE)
Anthony Watson (SPORTSFILE)
David Kelly

David Kelly

Bath will not know they have turned the corner in their season until they get around the bend.

Last weekend, they made a better first than most of the 16 previous attempts to puncture Toulon's flawless fortress, Stade Felix Mayol, spurning an intercept chance and then losing a late line-out as two late penalty concessions allowed Freddie Michalak to squeak a 12-9 win.

That they came up so agonisingly short could either define a poor first half of this season or prompt a revival of memories of a very good last campaign.

"Listen, we hope so and we're going to do our utmost to make sure it was the turning point that we needed this season," says the 21-year-old England back-three star Anthony Watson, predictably named as one of the leading lights in new England coach Eddie Jones' first Six Nations squad selection.

"To go away to Stade Felix Mayol and put such a good quality performance in was great for us. I whole-heartedly believe we should have won that game."

But they didn't; a familiar tale as 2015 segues into 2016; the mentally weak side have lost more (7) than they have won (5) of their 12 games, amongst the reverses an embarrassing loss to basement battlers Newcastle.

Muscle memory may help to inform a revival in fortunes for their Champions Cup survival depends on Mike Ford's men simulating one of the greatest escapes in European history.

Their own.

Replicating last season's escapade - they downed Glasgow and Toulouse to become the first ever quarter-final qualifiers to have lost both opening pool games - will, however, be even trickier this time around as they try to overcome losses in rounds one and four.

First, they must win on Irish soil this weekend which is something they have only managed once in seven attempts; and against Leinster, too, who, despite their miserable European existence this term, have won six of the eight previous pairings, including last season's quarter-final, proving scant reward for Bath's escapology.

However, the duo's most recent joust can apply a more comforting balm, a dog-fight in the Rec which was a rarity in that the Bath men prevailed, as opposed to somehow navigating a route to inevitable defeat.

"I guess it helps this is a familiar situation for us," adds Watson (left).

"We've played Leinster twice in successive seasons so we have a bit of an idea of what to expect from them this time around. Leinster will be a different beast, looking to prove something having not won a game yet in Europe. But we've got a never-say-die attitude."

Bath's tepid form starkly contrasts with the wonderful perception and invention with which they decorated last season and, indeed, much of what was good about England until Stuart Lancaster retreated into his conservative shell - willingly guided by recent Irish recruit Andy Farrell.

Watson's reflections on what Ireland - and Munster - may be getting with Farrell may not ignite much imagination in the souls of those craving some variety in the oval ball game.

"Andy Farrell is a massively enthusiastic and intense coach," says the man who scored from a high punt against Ireland in their Twickenham World Cup warm-up last September.

"The way he coached us was one of a kind and he brought a lot of intensity to us and how we played.

"The kick-chase will be somewhere he will look to implement his tactics and you should expect to see a lot of that when he joins up with Ireland in the Six Nations."

Back to the future, indeed. Bath, however, will not be swayed from their course.

"We're never going to go away from the Bath way, it suits our back-line and the way we want to express ourselves," says one of England's few shining lights.

"We enjoy having that freedom to express ourselves on the pitch the way we want to.

"But then ultimately you have to win at the end of it all and we haven't been doing enough of that for our liking.

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