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Ford: Bath tackle Wigan in training

Bath are stepping up their efforts to plagiarise rugby league, according to head coach Mike Ford.

The former Wigan, Warrington and Castleford scrum-half sparked a trend in 2002 when he switched codes to become defensive coach for Ireland, a role he also performed for England before taking up the reins at Bath in the summer of 2012.

He was followed by the likes of fellow league internationals Graham Steadman, Gary Mercer and James Lowes as rugby union shored up their tackling with league nous but says the 15-man code must now learn how to unlock those defences.

That was behind Bath's decision to hold a joint training camp with Wigan, a second get-together with the Super League club which stemmed from Ford's close friendship with his former Wigan team-mate Shaun Wane, the Warriors head coach.

Bath were without the trio of England players involved in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations finale - George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson - but their squad included former St Helens half-back Kyle Eastmond as well as England hopeful Sam Burgess as they went through an opposed training session with Wigan.

"We've got a lot out of it," Ford told reporters at the end of the two-day camp at Wigan's training ground in Orrell. "If you've been watching Bath play over the last 18 months, we've been very much playing like a rugby league team.

"What's happened in rugby union in the last 10 years is that a lot of rugby league coaches have gone over to work in defence and they put in some good systems which take some breaking down.

"So we need some rugby league attacking ideas to break down the rugby league defences these guys, including myself, have put in.

"What we learn from Wigan is the actual detail on the execution. We've learned loads this week, like we did last August when Shaun came down to Bath."

Eastmond, who won four England caps in rugby league, reckons it took him a full season to get to grips with rugby union but Ford says league players are easy to coach because of their superior core skills.

"When you start with the rugby league guys, it's like a virgin really, they don't have bad habits in terms of clearing the ruck out and presenting the football so they're quite easy to coach," he said.

"Kyle is now actually our best rucker - not that I want him to be, I want him to be our best ball distributor.

"He has picked up the rugby union skills quite easily and it's the same with Sam. Because he's never played before, he does everything right.

"What I want them to do is not be a rugby union player. I want them to transfer the skills they had at St Helens and South Sydney onto a rugby union field.

"That's why we're trying to play like we are, because it suits their skill set.

"The thing I like about rugby league players is their core skills are far better than they are in rugby union. You don't have to coach them to catch, pass and tackle.

"There's many guys who have not made it because they've tried to change them into a rugby union player. You sign them for what they do in rugby league and then try and change them, which is stupid.

"It's been successful for us but we've a long way to go and no doubt times will suss us out so we've got to stay one step ahead and that's why we are at Wigan.

"When we get it right, it's quite exciting to watch and even rugby league fans will like watching Bath Rugby."

Ford says Bath will continue to scour rugby league for their recruitment and did not dismiss the club making an attempt to sign Burgess' former South Sydney team-mate Greg Inglis, the Australian full-back, who is out of contract at the end of 2016.

"He's not a bad player, is he?" Ford said. "Our recruitment never stops. We've finished I think for next year but we are looking for the year after.

"We are looking all the time. We look at all codes and certainly rugby league is in there."

Meanwhile, Oldham-born Ford re-iterated his belief that Burgess will make the England squad in time for the World Cup.

"He's getting there," he said. "He's thinking about things less, which is great and, if he makes the same progression he has in the last six months, he's going to be close to getting in the England squad for the World Cup.

"That's where I expect him to be and he can definitely be a starter, although that depends on the way England want to play."

Eastmond, also from Oldham, who has won six caps in rugby union, is doing his best to fast-track his new team-mate into the England reckoning.

"I played with him since I was about 13 and so it's nice having him around," Eastmond said. "He's doing really well. He's putting in the work.

"I try to help him out as much as I can, little things that I probably messed up when I first came."


From Belfast Telegraph