TOM BRADSHAW: Freddie and Henry - the two that got away
In early November, according to one of their dads, two Bath lads met up at The Rising Sun pub in the city centre to watch the start of England's Autumn International campaign.
Nothing strange about that, you might think. Except that these two guys were Freddie Burns and Henry Thomas.
Burns and Thomas are probably the best young players of their generation to have grown up in Bath, with Guy Mercer close behind.
The annoying thing for Bath Rugby is that neither Burns nor Thomas stayed around to play for their home club.
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Burns, whose sense of audacity is matched only by his skill, slipped through the fingers of Bath’s Academy and chose to ply his trade at Gloucester.
Nobody needs reminding about what he has gone on to achieve at Kingsholm. And he is still only 22.
Former Bath Rugby mini Thomas, meanwhile, opted to head north to study at Manchester University and play what he expected to be second-team rugby at Sale Sharks Within a few weeks, however, the young tighthead had made himself a key member of the first-team pack.
Fly-halves and tighthead props, particularly the latter, are rugby gold dust. With no rock-solid tighthead to shore up the scrum, a team will struggle to win decent ball. With no smart-thinking and skilful fly-half, there will be few pyrotechnics in the backline, no matter how dangerous the three-quarters look on paper.
That’s not to say Bath don’t have any good fly-halves or tighthead props at the moment. They do. Davey Wilson can be a destructive scrummager and – as he showed against Thomas’s club, Sale, earlier this season – can be a wrecking ball with the ball in hand.
And at fly-half, Bath have their own prodigiously gifted young talent in Tom Heathcote but I can’t help thinking what a lot of headaches would have been prevented if Burns and Thomas could have been persuaded to stick around in Bath.
The whole George Ford saga would surely never have occurred and scouts wouldn’t be periodically required to cast their net wide in search of a young tighthead to tempt to Bath.
Of course, it’s not as easy as saying that Bath ‘failed’ to keep x or y player at The Rec. Players are motivated by different things and follow different sources of advice.
And arguably, judging by the success he has enjoyed, Thomas did the right thing in spreading his wings and heading up north, leaving behind all the extra pressures that come with playing in front of your home town crowd.
But as drinkers stare into the bottom of their pints at The Rising Sun, they could be forgiven for contemplating what might have been had Burns and Thomas stuck around.