There have been some mouthwatering ties in the English Premiership this season, such as clashes between Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs, as the two best teams in the league this season. Bath have been a part of the chasing pack, and, since the restart, have been one of the teams in form, looking unstoppable. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the factors and tactics behind their win against Worcester Warriors, who are near the bottom of the table. Bath had their good points throughout the game, but we will also see where Worcester went wrong in the game, handing Bath control of the match.
Firstly, we will see Bath’s tactics in attack. The common factor in all of these is the involvement of fly-half Josh Matavesi, as you will see.
Here, Matavesi has kicked the ball across the pitch, and has found centre Cameron Redpath. Redpath signed from Sale Sharks over the break, and has already made a name for himself at the Rec, with performances like these showing what he can do. In this image, he has caught the ball, and is looking to advance forwards with it on the nearside of the pitch. Bath’s backs are interchangeable, and you can see how they here have swapped around. Winger Semesa Rokoduguni has drifted inside, and is in the red square, advancing forwards, whilst Redpath has taken up a role nearer the sideline, as more of a winger. This ability to move around when necessary has been a key reason for Bath carrying such a threat this season.
Redpath takes a slightly inverted route with the ball, using the space created by the Worcester defender moving to the wing to cut him off, as shown by the light blue arrow. Redpath actually ends up making it to the 22m line before being tackled by Warriors winger Nick David, and that is why he is such a dangerous opponent. You might be wondering why this is an important point to make, and the reason is that this sort of run creates so much space behind the Worcester defence for Bath. Rokoduguni continued his run forwards, as the red arrow shows, and this created a double threat for the Warriors to deal with. Eventually, this led to a try scored by flanker Tom Ellis near the posts, following a series of phases, but you can see how it was all started by this run from Redpath, creating the space.
The link between Matavesi and Redpath was evident throughout the match, with this image showing another example of the fly-half and centre working together, creating space for Bath in attack. Here, Matavesi chips the ball over the top of the Worcester defence, as you can see from the blue arrow. Redpath makes the run through the defensive line, aiming to reach it first. Whilst nothing ends up coming from this, with Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence getting to it before Redpath, the intent was there, and that’s what mattered.
Matavesi had a really busy night, playing his part in a number of Bath’s attacks. It helps that his body is built much more like a forward, meaning he can fend off any defenders that try to tackle him, whilst also possessing the pace that is associated with a back. That is what we can see here.
Before we get to this situation, we need to mention Rokoduguni, who made a brilliant run forward on the far side of the pitch, gaining plenty of metres for his team. A good pass from lock Elliott Stooke found Matavesi, who now looks to play the ball to his teammate, winger Gabriel Hamer-Webb, as the blue arrow shows. However, this is just a dummy, and Matevesi in fact takes the ball into Worcester’s defence line, managing to breeze through them, scoring under the posts.
Whilst this was down to really poor defending from Worcester, which we will come back to, it is more the case here that Matavesi’s strength and ability to throw off attempts to tackle him are key in these attacks by Bath, and his presence was a big reason for their win in this game.
We will now turn our attention to how Bath defended well, especially in the latter stages of the match.
In this image, you can see how Worcester are attacking, but Bath’s defence is strong and well organised. The blue line shows how all of their players near the ball’s position are together, closing down the space behind them. This means that, even when the Warriors do manage to find a gap, as they do here, they can’t get too far forward before being pulled to the ground. This makes life hard for Worcester in attack, and was one of the reasons they didn’t score too often in this game.
In this particular example, the ball does go through the defence, as the light blue arrow shows. However, after a few phases, the home side eventually win the penalty on the ground, thanks to good work by substitute and England flanker Sam Underhill. This just highlights how good they are in these situations, and why teams are finding it very hard to play against them at the moment.
If we look at another example of Bath’s good defending, we can see how they have closed down the space again. The blue line shows how they have made a curved formation, which has come about as soon as Worcester have made the pass. It is Warriors fly-half Billy Searle who is receiving the pass here, and who is in the light blue circle. You can see how Bath have got up to him, forcing him to make an error, and that is the key point about this; Worcester had no time on the ball, and therefore were forced into making mistakes, usually in the form of knock-ons or other handling errors. Searle here tries to catch the ball too far forward, losing his balance as he tries to control it, and that means it slips out of his hands.
This section, with both examples, has shown how well-drilled Bath are in defence, and how each player knows their roles. This, again, makes them very difficult opponents to play against, and is the reason they are looking like serious playoff contenders this season.
If we now look at Worcester Warriors’ game, we can see how they did have some good moments, despite finding it hard to create too much.
This image was from very early on in the game, as you can see from the time in the bottom left hand corner. Both Bath and Worcester have set up with good lines, but there is a gap between two Bath players. This is where Worcester fly-half Billy Searle, who joined the club from Wasps in the season’s break, nips in to intercept the pass, which was made by Bath hooker Jack Walker, before running through to score a very easy first try of the game. Bath need to be careful when passing the ball in these areas, but here they weren’t.
This isn’t the biggest point that we will mention, but Bath’s small lapse allowed Searle to give Worcester an early lead. Bath had the pressure on them after this, so it just shows how important each moment of the game is, and how every team needs to concentrate at all points of the match.
Here, we can see how Worcester are again on the attack. Searle is again involved, and is looking to offload the ball to winger Ed Fidow, who has run around the back of the Worcester line to offer the passing option to his teammate. It may look like Bath are defending very poorly, but this situation actually came from a scrum, so it is understandable that gaps will be open. However, Fidow ends up running through the line, and gaining a lot of ground for his team. If we look at another angle of this move, we can see how this happens, and what the effect of it was.
Here, you can see Searle’s pass and Fidow’s curved run around the back and then through the line. This is what Worcester need to do much more in attack. Searle is an underrated fly-half, who didn’t really have too many chances at Wasps in the last couple of seasons, due to Jimmy Gopperth, Jacob Umaga and Lima Sopoaga all being ahead of him in that position, but here, he is showing the quality he can add to his team on the pitch. We also know that Fidow has pace, having displayed this whilst playing for Samoa at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Therefore, if Worcester can get the two to work together much more, like here, they could create more attacking opportunities for themselves.
You can see how Fidow manages to get near to the 5m line, gaining an enormous amount of ground for his team, and this is what we need to see more from with Worcester. Bath do manage to win the penalty because of an error from Worcester in the clearout, after Fidow is brought down, and following good work by Cameron Redpath, but this just shows how much of a threat the winger poses when he has the ball and space ahead of him.
If we now finally look at where the Warriors needed to improve in this game, we can see two areas where they could have scored more points, but didn’t.
The first shows Worcester in attack, and, following good work from Ollie Lawrence, who sidestepped Bath centre Max Clark cleverly to get his team into this position, we can see how the Warriors’ scrum-half Jono Kitto is in possession of the ball here. The obvious option here would be for him to offload the ball to Searle, who is alongside him, and who has space to then take the ball over the try line and score. However, Searle’s potential route forward, as shown by the light blue arrow, is not chosen by Kitto, who instead takes the ball forwards himself, as the red arrow shows.
What this means is that, as Kitto is tackled, Bath are then allowed to get back, shutting off the space that had originally been available for Worcester to use. Whilst the Warriors did eventually get a penalty from the following phases, which was right in front of the posts, it could have been so much more for them, and that is the point here. If Kitto had made the pass to Searle, they would have scored a try, and would have likely converted it, given its position, meaning seven points would have been on the scoreboard. Instead, they only got three from the penalty, and it’s the decision-making in these key areas that sometimes costs them.
This is another way that Worcester struggled to take advantage of their attacking opportunities against Bath at the Rec. If we look at this image, Worcester have a penalty, which they want to kick out into touch for a lineout. However, Searle ends up kicking it out of play, which means they have lost the ball.
To explain, if we look at the image, the yellow square shows the target area for Searle to kick the ball into. For the Warriors to get the lineout, the ball needs to exit in this area, which is to the left of the flag. However, the ball is actually miskicked, and exits to the right of the flag, as the blue arrow shows. The flag is marked by the red circle.
This might seem like we are just explaining a basic rule, but actually it is much more. The mistake made here meant Worcester had lost a good attacking opportunity, and Bath were able to clear their lines. It is another simple mistake that cost them potential points, and that is the key here.
In conclusion, what we have shown is that Bath played well, and deserved their win. Their attacking tactics were really well thought-out, with Josh Matavesi and Cameron Redpath linking up really well, and ensuring that Worcester found it really hard to play against them. It is important to note that, during the course of the first half, Worcester lost their captain for this game, centre Will Butler, to an ankle injury, following a collision with Josh Matavesi, before full-back Chris Pennell also departed just before half-time, failing a head injury assessment. This did mean that their defence was switched around at times, which could explain some of the defensive errors that we saw, and is a potential reason why Matavesi’s try in particular was so easily scored. Worcester also have nothing to play for, with relegation not a concern this season, and no chance of climbing the table. However, whilst they are using their remaining matches this season as part of their pre-season work, this game showed that there are still things they need to work on.