Timely results and firm selectorial nudges are one thing but there was no mistaking this extraordinarily powerful statement from Saracens beside the River Avon. With a significant England squad announcement imminent and Eddie Jones, the national head coach, watching from the stands, here was an outcome to make the entire country do a double take.
Notwithstanding the glaring shortcomings that leave once-proud and winless Bath marooned at the foot of the Premiership table, this 10-try beasting was irrefutable evidence that several of Sarries’ supposedly fading senior pros still harbour serious Test ambitions. If a hat‑trick of tries for Max Malins was the headline stat, Jones will now find it extremely hard to ignore the claims of several of his resurgent teammates.
Are Jamie George, the Vunipola brothers, Ben Earl and Alex Lozowski really surplus to Jones’s requirements? Is Owen Farrell now resigned to bending the knee at No 10 to Marcus Smith? It did not look or feel that way as the visitors inflicted a record league beating on opponents who had come into the game refreshed and motivated. Forty-five unanswered points for Saracens inside the first 40 minutes was the grisly punchline.
It certainly seems a long time since Sarries were losing away to Cornish Pirates in the Championship. Here they were back inside their superhero capes, with Maro Itoje outstanding in his first Premiership league game for more than a year. Billy Vunipola and George both looked like competitive athletes reborn – for which Jones must clearly take some credit having omitted them from his initial autumn camp – while Earl lost little by comparison with his opposite number, Sam Underhill.
Farrell, for his part, kicked everything to finish with 19 points and make an unanswerable point both to Smith and Bath’s erstwhile England fly-half Danny Cipriani, a virtual spectator. Aside from one charged‑down kick that led to Bath’s solitary try early in the second half for Tom de Glanville, the England captan did not appear a man overly concerned about a potential loss of status in the coming weeks.
As far as the Rec faithful are concerned, egter, there may now be blood in the water. Stuart Hooper, Bath’s director of rugby, described the result afterwards as “horrific” and the club’s owner, Bruce Craig, will be horrified by the manner of this all‑time heaviest home league drubbing, his side’s fourth successive Premiership defeat and their worst start to a season for 20 jare.
A shell-shocked Hooper, wel, insists the dressing room remains determined to turn things around and remains keen to continue in his role. “It’s as bad as it gets what we’ve seen today but our responsibility is to stand up and be counted. You’ve got to use the pain we feel right now to make sure you’re not in these positions again. There’ll be questions from everywhere about me, my team and my staff but the important thing is that we keep looking each other in the eye, feel the pain together and move on.”
That will not be easy after this debacle. Outside the ground it was one of those pluperfect Bath afternoons: honeysuckle stone, a lovely autumnal sun glinting off the water, the absolute epitome of mellow. Whether or not that played a part in lulling the home players into a false sense of security, there were times when Bath’s defensive hunger was not at the level required.
It was carnage from an early stage, even if the visitors did have to weather a few early periods of forward pressure. Bath do not have the front-five strength to put opponents under prolonged strain and after Itoje had dummied his way through an ominous hole to score with six minutes gone the floodgates soon opened.
Malins, such a smart footballer, scored two inside the first half hour, the second an interception that delivered his side an embarrassingly swift fourth-try bonus point.
George, again visibly pumped up, also scored twice before half-time when the only question was the extent of the depths to which Bath would plumb.
A couple of last-quarter consolation scores for Tom Ellis and Will Muir gave the scoreboard a hint of gloss but by then the contest was long gone. Malins claimed his third just before the hour and the next generation of Sarries’ talent – Eroni Mawi, Rotimi Segun and Dom Morris completed Bath’s bloody Sunday. As Sarries poured forward, impressively direct and consistently hard at the breakdown, it was difficult to imagine England not wanting to take several leaves out of their ruthless playbook. Suddenly Jones’s biggest quandary is which of them to leave out.