Blackadder putting Super Rugby behind him at Bath

Date published: August 29 2016

The new boss at Bath is settling in nicely to his new role after eight years with the Crusaders, with the aim of creating a new legacy.

Todd Blackadder was in Super Rugby long enough to watch the competition grow from 14 teams – the simple days when the season’s target was simply to make the top four and then go from there – to the 18-side format of 2016, and it’s not exactly a stretch to say that the current format left him unimpressed.

Those thoughts were expressed before the season had even begun. By July, many were nodding along with him.

“It’s a hard competition to understand isn’t it? With the conference model… it needs a good look at I think,” he told Planet Rugby.

“At the start of the year I was sceptical about it and I probably said what everyone was thinking about it by the end of the season.

“Anyway, it’s not my concern from here on in.”

Blackadder announced the start of the year that 2016 would be his final season for the Crusaders, reaching the play-offs for the seventh time under his tenure. The time was right, he says, for something new.

“I had my eight years and I said at the start of the year it would be my last, focusing on doing a great job in my last year. I was ready for a new challenge.”

Turning Bath back into a successful giant of English rugby certainly fits the bill, especially after last season’s catastrophic ninth-place finish having reached the final the previous season.

So far he’s been made to feel very welcome, impressed by a squad eager to put that disappointment behind them.

“I’ve been blown away by the generosity of the people, who have been really welcoming. It’s a really good fit, the boys are fantastic and have a really clear vision of where they want to take the club. They want it to be something special from within the playing group and the culture. I’m looking forward to it.

“The real challenge is moulding that team. Ultimately at the end of the day, the guys need to be really clear on the game-plan, but they need to play for each other.

“I’ve had world class players in other teams too and it’s not a recipe for success straight away. The willingness of the guys to connect is what makes a really good side. I’ve been nothing but impressed. We have some great guys here.”

That emphasis on culture is a major reason why Guy Mercer was appointed club captain for the new season, taking over from the retired Stuart Hooper.

The 26-year-old flanker might not have been the obvious choice to lead Bath from the outside, but that’s not the case within the squad, as Blackadder noted in his first few days at the club.

“You want someone who is going to reinforce and grow the culture within the team. Guy has been there before and when I asked the players who they thought was the best team man in the squad, his name kept coming up,” he explains.

“You have to have someone who the players respect and will speak on behalf of their interests, and who we can get along with and trust when we talk about performance.

“At some stage the s*** will hit the fan, there’s no doubt about. And if it doesn’t you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.

“Guy will be great for me because I trust him, he’s a good honest man and a good Bath man. He’ll do a fantastic job.”

Mercer will be supported by vice-captain George Ford, whose future at Bath was thrown into doubt after the departure of his father, Mike, as director of rugby, paying the price for a campaign that fell well short of expectations.

Any doubts the younger Ford might have had about staying on now appear long gone. Blackadder appreciates that tough situation England’s fly-half found himself on after his Mike and the club parted ways. What the new coach has seen since his arrival however has left him suitably impressed.

I know he’s been through a lot. Your first call is to your family, I’ve no doubt about that. But what I’ve seen is an exceptional young man who loves expressive himself on the field. What I really like about him is that he’s a student of the game, and he has everything that we’re looking for,” Blackadder said.

“George wants great things for the club. I could tell straight away that he’s passionate about Bath. We need to develop our on-field leaders and George is astute, diligent, and it’s a good opportunity for him to work with Guy on the team culture. He’s a young natural leader who is going to be a world class player. And it’s a chance for him to have his input into the team.”

The first priority it seems is to give Ford some more midfield options to work with. Robbie Fruean remains an option – “If that comes off, that would be great” – with Blackadder conceding the squad is “a couple of midfielders short, depending on who makes which international team.”

But the focus is on something much bigger; bringing glory back to Bath after a barren run without winning the league in England dating back over 20 years. Blackadder’s aim is to build something new, rather than to keep the club looking back on a distant past.

“The club has every right to want success. I just see this team and my role as creating a new legacy, rather than look back at the legacy of the past. Let’s create our own. We have a chance to do that this year.”

by Ben Coles