Mike Ford’s sudden departure from Bath on Monday has opened up one of the most attractive jobs currently going in the global game.
This is a club who have just signed one of the best numbers eights in the world in Taulupe Faletau and have the cash resources to continue to spend until they are once again a European force.
Bath are not just hungry for success, they have been starved of it. This is why a ninth-placed finish, a season away don’t forget from them reaching the Premiership final, has been viewed by the club’s directors as unacceptable.
Failure as well to ensure a seat in the Champions Cup next season cannot be forgiven and for a proud club with this much ambition nor should it.
All the signs too have pointed towards something being off at The Rec over the last few months with the departures of academy director Danny Grewcock, highly-regarded coach Neal Hatley, Japan number eight Amanaki Mafi in strange fashion, and now Ford – who according to the Bath Chronicle lost the patience of owner Bruce Craig following negative feedback from a club-wide review into the Bath’s disastrous campaign.
What next then. Faletau will be joined by two more top signings in Luke Charteris and Kahn Fotuali’i, slotting into a side already brimming with international talent.
The youthful English core of their backline are the envy of most clubs in the country, spearheaded by George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson.
Bath feel like a side on the brink of something special rather than a washed up outfit, and if Ford isn’t the man to deliver the success then why hang around. The dressing room appeared to have been lost long ago.
Craig’s blank cheques allow him to entice any one of a the current number of top coaches available, starting with Crusaders boss Todd Blackadder and Heyneke Meyer, still a free agent after stepping down as head coach of South Africa.
Pat Lam, the mastermind of Connacht’s remarkable rise to the PRO12 semi-finals, has to be considered, especially after the work he has done with the younger players at the province such as Matt Healy, Ultan Dillane and Finlay Bealham, and taking into account the prospects in Bath’s academy, from which Charlie Ewels has emerged this season with Zach Mercer, Adam Hastings and Rory Jennings waiting in the wings.
Stuart Lancaster’s name is also in the mix, Jake White too, but whoever they target Bath will want to move swiftly in order to bury a season to forget and to begin preparations to propel the club back into the top four.
The new boss must tick off two tasks quickly – adding Stuart Hooper to his back-room staff following his retirement, given his sizeable influence at the club and impressive leadership skills, and to win over George Ford.
The England fly-half signed a two-year contract extension last December to keep him at The Rec until 2018, but how much the ruthless departure of his father hurts his relationship with his club remains to be seen.
Rhys Priestland is there and the young fly-halves duo of Hastings and Jennings have talent, but Ford proved with his Premiership Player of the Year award in 2015 what a dominant force in English rugby he can be.
He can’t have imagined this when he put pen to paper six months ago. Few however foresaw Bath having to scrap though an abomination of a season.