Bath coach Stuart Hooper has hailed the recent impact of rookie out-half Orlando Bailey and outlined where things stand regarding the imminent arrival of new signing Danny Cipriani. With Rhys Priestland injured, Bailey was handed a first-ever Gallagher Premiership start at London Irish at the end of March a week after appearing off the bench against Worcester in a first sub appearance since last September. 

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The England age-grade player, who won’t turn 20 until next September, has gone on to start both European Challenge Cup knockout games versus Zebre and Irish and he then benched versus Leicester in the Premiership before starting again in last Sunday’s league clash with Wasps. 

Bailey is now in the Bath selection mix again for Saturday’s European semi-final at home to Montpellier and Hooper has expressed his delight with the youngster’s rapid progress in recent weeks. “I have been really pleased with Orlando,” enthused the Bath boss.

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“We have highlighted him as someone with huge potential and what we have seen from him is he has come into the team, he has been very steady and he has developed his game week to week. He has taken new responsibilities week to week and interestingly his defence has been outstanding.

“It is not something you would automatically associate with a 10 but his defence has been outstanding which shows a great attitude. He took on kicking duties at the weekend, which again is another step forward.

“Actually that wasn’t always going to be the case but it has worked well the way he has had to add bits to his game week to week because he is now in a position where he has played European last 16, has played European quarter-final and won, has played Leicester Tigers at home and won and now he is going into a European mixer for a spot in a semi-final.

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“He is in the mix for selection on the back of having some big wins. I’m probably quite protective of him because what we want to do is develop him for the long term but he has been right in there, been right in the mix in these big games and not shirking anything which is great.”

Asked if was concerned he had to gamble in putting the youngster Bailey in at the Bath deep end due to the unavailability of Priestland and Josh Matavesi, Hooper added: “It wasn’t a worry at all. We had seen at training that he had the parts that would allow him to go and compete at this level. 

“What has happened because of the pandemic is he has missed a year of rugby. If you asked me the question, was I worried? No. Would I have preferred him to have played 15, 20 more games before we got to that point? Yeah, definitely but we have got to crack on and it’s the same for lots of players. Orlando has been great and I look forward to him continuing to develop in the jersey.”

That development will continue with the imminent arrival of ex-England international Cipriani at the club to replace the Guinness PRO16-bound Priestland after his signing was announced on March 25, three months after he had quit Gloucester.

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“He will be with us in the next to three weeks. We have been chatting and he has been getting him up to a point now where he is ready to go, so excited to welcome him into the building.”

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