Bath Rugby's Tom Dunn on fast-track to the top after moving across the front row
Bath Rugby have turned to an unlikely source to get them out of their second hooker crisis in as many seasons – an undergraduate who, until just four weeks ago, was a loosehead prop.
University of Bath student Tom Dunn came off the bench on Saturday to make his senior debut in the ten-try thrashing of Calvisano.
And he is again set to be understudy to Brett Sharman for this weekend’s return trip to Italy, continuing a remarkable rise for the youngster who was only affiliated to the club’s Academy on a part-time basis until last month.
Bath forwards coach Neal Hatley, himself a former prop, explained: “Tom is part of [Academy director] Danny Grewcock’s university programme and Danny has done a great job with him in the Academy.
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“He’d been playing at loosehead prop for us on and off in the A League and was one of the stand-out performers against Harlequins and Saracens.
“For a guy who wasn’t on a full-time programme, that was no mean feat.
“We thought he had something there that we didn’t want to lose but that it could take another year or two to get him physically to where he would need to be if he was to be a professional loosehead prop.
“We thought that if we made a positional change with him now it would give him a chance to progress as a professional. We discussed it with him and he said as long as he could play he’d do anything.”
England throwing coach Simon Hardy was drafted in to take a look at Dunn’s potential as a lineout thrower and a positive assessment meant that the student’s conversion to hooker was put on the fast track.
“Simon thought he threw well, had a good touch on the ball and felt it was definitely a skill he could progress,” Hatley added.
“Tom is ready to bite your arm off for an opportunity. It’s always nice to reward blokes like that and he’s certainly grabbing the chance.
“He’s got a great attitude. He offers unbelievable enthusiasm, a fantastic workrate and a willingness to get stuck in.”
Dunn was named in the Bath squad for last weekend’s 67-11 demolition of Calvisano after another injury curse struck the blue, black and white number two shirt.
First-team hookers Rob Webber and Ross Batty are on the long-term absentee list and Academy prospect Will Tanner is sidelined with an ankle injury sustained after a maul collapsed on him in training.
Lee Mears is also midway through a two-week ban for striking a Leicester player at Welford Road earlier this month, meaning Dunn was brought into the frame earlier than expected.
“We weren’t planning on Mearsy picking up that ban or any of the injuries, so Tom’s changeover has came at a great time for us,” said Hatley.
“We’ve made the change with a view to it being permanent. He carries the ball well, he defends well and we know that he ticks the scrummaging box because he’s an ex-prop. I think hooker is a position he could excel in.
“He’s been putting a lot of pressure on the boys in the contact sessions and has been flying into all the senior guys. He’s upped the ante and that’s good for competition.”