Bath’s controversial signing of Gavin Henson was bound to raise a few eye brows, probably more so for his off the pitch antics. But what does the signing mean for Bath on the pitch? Stephen Donald’s departure has opened up the 10 shirt to be claimed by anyone. With Bath’s three other fly halves being 21 or under it seems like Henson may have a role to play in the 10 shirt. Despite Bath becoming Henson’s fifth club in three years, Bath Rugby chief executive Nick Blofeld has said “I think Gavin is a much more settled and mature person than that image we have in our heads.” Whether this is hope or faith is unclear but Blofeld went on to praise Henson’s play after the Bath front office analysed him very carefully. But in the last few years Henson has never had a significant run of games in the last few years due to injury and disciplinary problems to properly prove himself.
But what of these other young fly halves that Gary Gold has in his ranks. George Ford was one of Bath’s many signings after Christmas making his move to the Rec in search for more game time and probably under the influence of his father who has recently been announced to be the first team coach for the upcoming season. Having played for the England Saxons, made his professional debut at 16 and was named Junior player of the year in 2011, surely Ford is Bath’s long term future at fly half? A pragmatic and intelligent player he certainly is, but he has always had a good pack in front of him and when Ford is under pressure he becomes more mistake prone. His kicking from hand though clever can often lack execution and his kicking from the tee is very inconsistent.
The man George Ford will most likely be competing with is Tom Heathcote. Earlier in the year Heathcote outplayed his opposite number George Ford in a Scotland A v England Saxons match which Scotland won narrowly. Although Heathcote was Ford’s back-up in the England under 20’s set up, he has talents of his own. He brings his runners into the game, has an eye for a gap and has some nice subtle passes. Heathcote also has the sweetest strike off the kicking tee I think I’ve ever seen. He’s not as consistent as he perhaps should be but when in Rhythm he can really punish teams having kicked 17 goals straight in the premiership. Having been capped 3 times by Scotland, starting twice in the summer’s recent quad tournament, he never looks out of his depth but possibly lacks the flare and vision for true greatness and many feel Ford has more potential.
The player who may have more potential than either Ford or Heathcote is Ollie Devoto. Although recently playing at full back more than fly half it seems obvious watching him that his natural position is at fly half with fine tactical kicking and an ability to beat defenders. At full back for Bath he often looked a little slow and has been made to look silly in 1 on 1 situations defensively. But when he has the ball in his hands he looks like he has time that very few young players possess. Although playing a limited part in England’s recent junior world cup win, he was Bath’s only player from last season to make the squad and Gold clearly has faith in him giving him starts at full back at the end of the season but it’s difficult to see his future there with Nick Abendanon and Anthony Watson covering the 15 shirt. Devoto is certainly an outsider to stake a claim for the fly half shirt and it will be in Bath’s United set up primarily but it’s not hard to imagine he can work his way into contention if injuries strike.
All three of the young 10s have issues defensively with Heathcote probably being the most solid of the three. This is one of the reason why Henson with his defensive abilities may end up as Bath’s fly half. With Heathcote and Ford being somewhat raw, Henson could easily be what Bath need to break into the premiership playoffs. The general consensus seems to be George Ford will start the season but you can expect Gold to ruthless and bring in Heathcote or Henson based on form especially if speculations of nepotism start floating about whilst Devoto will mainly feature in LV cup matches and against weak Amlin European cup opponents gaining experience but may also make a few premiership appearances with his ability to cover full back.
It’s a debate that I’m sure will go on all season and one that may be effected by international call ups, injuries and dreaded disciplinary problems. But Bath have so much talent in almost every other position that you feel if they find the right fly half they will be seriously competitive this upcoming season. No one knows who will start the season wearing the 10 on the back of the blue black and white jersey and it will be impossible to be certain who will end the season wearing it.