Six Nations
Bath quartet hitting right notes for England
Tom Hamilton
February 12, 2015
George Ford, Dave Attwood, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph toast England's success © Getty Images

On Saturday morning, standing proudly outside a cafe on Chelsea Road in Bath was a Welsh-baiting wooden sandwich blackboard. On one side it read 'St George slays the dragon' and on the other, 'Wales 16-21 Bath (England)'.

The previous night, the city's England contingent played an integral role in their Cardiff triumph. Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson scored a try apiece while Dave Attwood was imperious and would have scored but for obstruction in the build-up. George Ford collected the Man of the Match award alongside an 11-point haul. It was a win for England in Cardiff but with firm Bath roots.

Prior to the Six Nations, Stuart Lancaster said he was not overly keen on replicating the Bath blueprint for England. But following Friday's game in Cardiff, if they continue to perform in that manner, England will have a distinct Bath flavour come the World Cup.

For the Bath quartet, it was potentially a coming of age moment but while they play their rugby at the Recreation Ground and have pushed on from being good to Test quality players there, their rugby roots are found elsewhere.

Joseph and Watson started their rugby education at London Irish. Joseph went to the rugby hothouse Millfield and joined the Exiles' academy while Watson came to London Irish via St George's College in Weybridge.

So young was Watson when he was thrust into the first-team, he had to be excused from school. From an early age he caught the eye of Mike Catt, who was there in a player-coach capacity, and the titanic London Irish centre Seilala Mapusua.

Anthony Watson touches down for an England try, Wales v England, Six Nations Championship, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, February 6, 2015
Anthony Watson scores on Friday © Getty Images

"I remember Anthony as a 15-year-old kid," Mapusua told ESPN. "I remember Toby Booth at the time speaking very highly of him. I remember going to the Under-17 matches and he was extremely quick then. We used to give his brother Marcus a hard time as Anthony was so much bigger than him.

"It's great to see a kid with potential come through and he's now a fully-fledged England international. He makes the right decisions and hopefully he remains injury free and keeps pushing forward. I would love to have played alongside him as you'd just throw him the ball and watch him do his magic."

Joseph was originally behind Anthony Watson's brother Marcus in the Exiles' pecking order but soon jumped ahead of him. Keeping a keen eye on Joseph's development was then London Irish lock Nick Kennedy, who is now one of the club's academy directors.

"JJ scored on debut for us," Kennedy told ESPN. "It was a great stop-and-go move to check their winger. He was always very relaxed and confident. Paul Hodgson said at the time JJ had the potential to win 50 caps for England."

Both moved to Bath in 2013 along with fellow Exiles Matt Garvey, David Sisi and coaches Booth and Neil Hatley; Attwood had already got a couple of seasons under his belt, having moved there in 2011.

Attwood's rugby education started at Bristol minis and Dings Crusaders and from there he progressed into Bristol's first-team. Then came the move to Gloucester in 2009 where he linked up with Alex Brown, who had trodden the same path of swapping one West Country side for another.

"George doesn't just want 10 caps for England, he wants to be one of the best to ever do it, that's his attitude" Mike Ford

"I knew him at Bristol but I wasn't playing there when he was," Brown told ESPN. "My first real meeting with Dave was when he joined Gloucester. He'd be one of the first people to say this, but he wasn't in the best of shape. I didn't necessarily always think he'd be an international. But he got himself very fit.

"He learned a lot about the lineout while at Gloucester, not only from myself but also Carl Hogg. I enjoyed working with him as he's a bright lad; him being intelligent made things easy at lineout time, it came naturally to him. He's now physically very dominant. He's been getting better and better and he's now an exceptional international second-row. He leads by example."

And then there is George Ford, who joined Bath in 2013. Even before George's age hit double figures Bath coach and father Mike knew his son was special. "When he was eight or nine, I thought he could be a really good player," Ford told ESPN. "When he was 14 or 15, I thought he could be make it on the international stage. He was always a bit different."

Back in November 2009 Ford was sat in the Headingley stands watching two of his sons making their own respective debuts. George, aged 16, was in Leicester Tigers colours facing older brother Joe, who started at fly-half for Leeds. "One of them was going to get Man of the Match, it was Joe then," Ford Snr remembers.

"I had no fears about putting George in there," Tigers boss Richard Cockerill said in the wake of Leeds' 28-17 win. "We have had long discussions with George and his dad and he is more than up to it mentally. He stuck to his task well. He is not quite a boy but he is nearly a boy and I am pleased for him coming here to play against his brother in a senior side. He will only get better for the experience."

Dave Attwood, Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and Anthony Watson
© Getty Images

Since then George, in an Anthony Watson-esque manner, has usurped his older brother.

The attendance was 3,893 when George got his first taste of professional rugby. Last Friday's game at the Millennium Stadium was on another near-incomparable level and again, as at Headingley, Mike Ford was sat in the stands. This time, he was there both as father and Bath club coach. He watched on with a huge amount of pride as the four players came of age.

"Dave is a bit older than the other three but here's been there or thereabouts for the last three to four years. He has a presence on the field and was outstanding. He has a confidence and I think that's because he's been in the Bath environment. We develop them on and off the field and Stuart Hooper has helped Dave. He owns that shirt now.

"With JJ, when we were looking at signing him, I knew he was a good player but I thought he was a little bit flaky. Neal Hatley swore by him and he's been anything but flaky at Bath. He's figured out what it takes to be a professional rugby player and is doing everything possible to be the best he can be both at the club and away from the club. He's been outstanding all year and we saw the proof in the pudding on Friday. There's a uniqueness there with him.

"Anthony is working with a guy called Don Macpherson, who is a mind coach, and has learnt a lot from him. Anthony's loving it, he said himself that if he had played in this fixture last year, he'd have been a nervous wreck, but on Friday night he was full of confidence. He's got a great unpredictability about him. When you look at him as a coach, he's someone who can create something out of nothing. It's a good feeling to coach that.

"And then there's George. He's always had a professionalism about him since he was a kid. He understands all the circus around him doesn't mean anything in the long run. He knows he has to deliver. He was the most composed player on the field on Friday night; he's so mentally tough. He's humble. He doesn't just want 10 caps for England, he wants to be one of the best to ever do it, that's his attitude."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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