Rugby: Blackadder kicks off with a win in England

Former Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has gotten off to a winning start in England. Photo / Photosport
Former Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has gotten off to a winning start in England. Photo / Photosport

Todd Blackadder has made a winning start to his English coaching career.

Bath's newly-installed director of rugby watched his side dominate Northampton to such a degree it was hard to believe the contest was still alive when replacement Rhys Priestland kicked the ball into touch to close out the game.

Ironically, England first five George Ford proved the difference with his kicking game with Bath winning 18-14 after a late Northampton rally. Ford had spent the English summer soul-searching after his dad Mike was sacked as head coach at Bath following a woeful last season saw them finish ninth in the Aviva Premiership.

Blackaddder watched on with a smile as Ford kicked four penalties and two drop goals to ease his side to victory and help banish memories of last season's tortuous campaign.

Two late tries from Saints' South African replacement Nic Groom added gloss to the scoreline.

In truth, Saints were a very distant second.

In Blackadder's first game in charge, the former Crusaders head coach turned out a well organised, determined and resilient XV which saw the visitors win at Franklins Gardens for the first time in 16 years.

It was only their second ever win here in Premiership history and notable for the no-nonsense, no frills approach which looks to be Blackadder's blueprint.

The visitors even shrugged off the hammer blow of losing big-money signing Taulupe Faletau with a knee injury barely 13 minutes into his first appearance to record a hard-fought but richly deserved win at a ground which usually provides the slimmest of pickings.

Tempting as it may have been, Blackadder has refused to throw the baby out with Bath's water, but the pragmatic and endearingly understated Kiwi has clearly said the right things to a squad of players traumatised by the fall out of Ford senior's last days in charge.

Blackadder said: 'I think if anything there's a really good framework here. There's really not a lot you'd want to change. It's just tweaking things and a little bit of belief, new systems, new ideas and making sure we get the culture right. There's a long way to go.'

Ford junior, who came perilously close to following his father out of the door over the summer before Bath's owner Bruce Craig intervened to tell his former club Leicester his prized asset was not for sale at any price, shrugged off the horrendous end to last season to marshal his side superbly in horrendous conditions.

He was calm, assured and potent, as he moved his team around the field in a manner opposite number Harry Mallinder could not come close to matching. It was hard-nosed, winning rugby and a joy to behold for Bath fans who completely lost their way, along with their team, last season.

Blackadder added: 'I'm just impressed with George as a young man. He just showed out there he can put all the distractions to one side and get on with his rugby.

'We haven't talked about the past to this group. I think they're more focused on what the future looks like. The real focus this week was the great challenge of never winning here in a long time.

'We prepared so well and transferred that onto the field.'

While Faletau - who Blackadder said he expects to be out for a fortnight with medial knee ligament damage - was the high-profile and big money arrival at the Recreation Ground this summer, it is scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'I who could make the biggest difference to his team's fortunes.

The lavishly gifted Samoan No 9, in his first game for Bath since moving from the Saints over the summer, returned to Franklins Gardens and produced a high-class display alongside Ford to run the show impressively.

For Northampton, the alarm bells will already be ringing. Director of rugby Jim Mallinder will be concerned at his side's lacklustre display in their first game of the season while their set piece was poor and his son, Harry, had a torrid time in the sodden wet at fly-half.

England captain Dylan Hartley was uncharacteristically wayward at the line out while Saints scrum came off second to Bath, especially as the game wore on.

Meanwhile, former Wellington rep Jimmy Goperth upstaged the returning Danny Cipriani as Wasps beat Exeter 25-20 in the opening round of the premiership.

Cipriani was playing his first game for Wasps in seven years after rejoining them from Sale Sharks. The former England No. 10 had a solid, rather than spectacular afternoon as Wasps fought back from 12 points adrift early in the second period.

But it was Gopperth, moved to second five to make way for Cipriani, who impressed more, scoring a great try and adding two conversions and two penalties for a 15-point haul to thwart the Chiefs who finished second in last season's premiership race.

- NZ Herald

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