With the George Ford rumours persisting to remain in the media lately, it is hard to ignore the fact that with every week that passes the worst case scenario of a Ford exit remains for Bath supporters.
Ford, rumoured to be unhappy with Bath following the sacking of his father at the end of last season, has been linked with numerous clubs ranging from Sale Sharks to Toulon, with many sources needing to be taken with a little pinch of salt.
One thing is for certain though, there have been feelers put out in the Aviva Premiership with Sale boss Steve Diamond as recently as Tuesday stating that they would be willing to pay a large pay cheque to get a player of his calibre to join.
Bath supporters, and indeed Todd Blackadder and the Bath coaching staff, will be desperate for the England 10 to stay, especially considering how important he is to Bath’s style of attack. However, no news of this will be made until January 1 at the earliest when Ford can be officially approached by other clubs.
Should he go though who would the West Country club aim to bring in as their first choice 10 in his absence? Pundit Arena assess some potential options here.
1. Aaron Cruden
Having already been heavily linked with leaving New Zealand, with French club Montpellier an option, Cruden would be an excellent fit at the West Country club. With a varied passing game, excellent running play and a useful kicking strategy Cruden would certainly fill the void that a Ford exit would leave for Bath.
Having fallen behind World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks fly-half rank, Cruden seems to be certainly considering his future in New Zealand. At 27 years old he has already achieved a considerable amount in his native country having won two Super Rugby titles, a World Cup and perhaps after this summer’s Lions tour to New Zealand he may feel that the time is right to seek new challenges.
Although most French clubs would be able to pay him more than Bath, a more structured brand of rugby and the allure of Bath’s beautiful Farleigh House training grounds may sway the talented Cruden. A packed out Rec may also remind him of the smaller but capacity and passionate crowds that he plays in front of weekly in New Zealand when rolling out for his Super Rugby franchise, the Chiefs.
Whether Bath would go in for Cruden is uncertain, especially given that Montpellier seem willing to throw everything they have at getting him, but one thing is for sure, if Bath do lose a world-class fly-half Cruden would be the most viable 10 they could seek to get.
2. Henry Slade
Allowing one of your best players to leave to join a local rival is usually not something any club wants to do and Exeter would certainly not be keen to see Slade join Bath. With that said though, Rob Baxter has been trying to work out where Slade’s best position is for Exeter this season and with a surplus of options in the centres and the ever indomitable Gareth Steenson being mostly preferred at fly-half, Slade himself may try to force a move if he knows there is an opportunity to start consistently at 10.
Slade has been very open with the fact that he believes fly-half is his best position and whilst he has not always impressed as much as he would like there for Exeter, hence Steenson’s continuous revivals, he would be given the opportunity to play there consistently at Bath. With Rhys Priestland’s future at the West Country club also up in the air given he was rumoured to leave before this season even began, Todd Blackadder will look to secure a talent that he knows can come in and gel quickly with his talented English backline.
Slade would definitely fit the bill given he has played with players like Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni at England level before and would be a natural fit to the brand of rugby that Bath have preferred to play.
Given that Bath allowed young English talent Ollie Devoto to leave for Exeter after he pushed for a move away last season, would Exeter be willing to do the same should Slade be tempted by any assurances Bath could give him about a starting 10 shirt?
One thing is for certain, the quality of ball he would get at Bath should not differ to that which he is used to at Exeter given the growing strength of a Bath pack that includes Taulupe Faletau, Francois Louw, Dave Denton, Dave Attwood, Charlie Ewels and Luke Charteris to name but a few.
3. Adam Hastings
It is likely that Hastings is going to get game time at the Rec over the next few years regardless of whether Ford stays or leaves for pastures new. The Scotland U-20 fly-half, and son of former Scotland and British and Irish Lion Gavin, has strung a few games together for the West Country outfit already this season with Ford absent over November and Rhys Priestland injured.
Although only 20, Hastings has impressed for Bath with his performances in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and his few Aviva Premiership performances. Although rough around the edges, as expected from a player so young, Hastings has not looked out of place in the first team squad for Bath though and by next season Bath may decide to fully integrate the young Scot into the starting lineup should they lose Ford.
Having come through the prestigious Millfield school in Somerset, which has also produced other current Bath players such as Henry Thomas and Jonathan Joseph, Hastings made his first few first XV performances at the end of last season for Bath. He has a strong running game, kicks competently and passes well considering his inexperience compared to Bath’s two first choice fly-halves and this is something that the Bath coaching team have been impressed with.
If Bath were to elect to put their faith in the youngster it would be a bold decision considering how green he is. However, when Ford was brought to Bath from Leicester and handed the starting fly-half shirt he was also only 20, which may offer Hastings hope, albeit if Ford was one of the most hyped young talents in the world, the youngest ever English Rugby Union player to make their professional debut and the 2011 IRB Junior Player of the Year winner.
Hastings though has seemingly impressed Todd Blackadder and the Bath staff as he has already jumped ahead of former England U-20 fly-half Rory Jennings in the pecking order at Bath and with a host of experienced international players around him he would not be left completely exposed if given the starting reins at the Rec.
It seems unlikely though that Bath would throw Hastings in at this stage of his career as first choice 10 and he will instead grow into the role more over the future. Regardless of whether Bath do give him more starting time next season should Ford leave or not though, Hastings does appear to have a bright future and a place in the team down in the West Country.
Stranger things have happened in the rugby union world over the last twelve months alone so watch this space.
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena
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