Meet Orlando Bailey - the son of artists who can be England's creative spark

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Meet Orlando Bailey - the son of artists who can be England's creative spark - GETTY IMAGES
Meet Orlando Bailey - the son of artists who can be England's creative spark - GETTY IMAGES

As ever with the best talents, the signs were there dating back to Orlando Bailey's time as a nine-year-old junior with Dorchester RFC that the Bath fly-half would go far. Earlier this week Bailey was called up to the England squad for the first time by head coach Eddie Jones, at the age of just 20.

"The first time I saw him play, I couldn’t believe how he tackled for a nine-year-old. That was the first thing that hit me. He was tackling like he was 14, 15 - technique, aggression, it was all there," recalls Mike Sprules, Bailey's coach for seven years.

"He was one of these kids who when all the others were lining up and kicking the ball at the posts before a training session, as kids do, Orlando would be there kicking off his weaker foot, practising passing off his weaker hand. Anything he could do to make himself better, he would do it from an age where you don’t expect kids to be concentrating on that sort of thing."

It has been a campaign with little to cheer about at Bath until their recent victory in the Gallagher Premiership over Worcester, a desperately-needed first win of the season. The growth of Bailey, however, has been a rare positive among the gloom. Speaking to coaches around the club before Bailey broke into the first team, making his Premiership debut less than 18 months ago, his name was almost whispered with excitement.

The son of an abstract painter - his father, Julian - and a ceramicist in his mother Sophie, the fact that Bailey's vision and creativity are listed as strengths by his academy coach at Bath, Craig Lilley, should hardly come as a surprise. It's the rest of Bailey's qualities on top of that which make him appear to be a special prospect.

"Attack, problem solving, creating space for people comes quite naturally to him," Lilley explains, having worked with Bailey since he joined the club's academy pathway at the age of 13. "The parts he has worked really hard on are his defence and his kicking game. Those were the areas you looked at to see how he would improve and he has worked so hard to maximise those areas. He's very brave [in defence]."

'Sometimes you would have to tell Orlando to go on the pitch and show off'

Statistically among Premiership fly-halves this season (who have played at least 240 minutes), Bailey ranks right near the top for defenders beaten and tackling success per 80 minutes. That 89 per cent tackle success rate is no mean feat either in a side who have leaked points this season. Where Bailey really stands out for someone so young however, according to Lilley, is in his ability to influence others around him.

"We have always known he's been really talented, but this year he has had to step up in pretty difficult circumstances. He not only performs as a player, but also the influence he has on the players around him and the way he conducts himself, at times leading senior international players. To see him develop the way he has this year has been amazing.

"The thing that's been so impressive is how he articulates things, how diligent he is. Even playing at school, the impact he had on the game and how he influenced others within his team at such a young age was pretty incredible to see."

For Dorchester RFC, reaching their 150th anniversary this year, Bailey's rise to the England squad has been yet another reason to celebrate. Caps in this year's Six Nations may elude him with Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and George Furbank also in the squad covering fly-half, but when his debut does arrive Bailey could become the first men's Dorchester player to represent England since prop Brian Keen in the 1960s. Quite a feat for someone who as a young player, Sprules recalls, was almost too nice.

Orlando Bailey scoring a try for Dorchester U13s - DORCHESTER RFC
Orlando Bailey scoring a try for Dorchester U13s - DORCHESTER RFC

"Sometimes you would have to tell him to go on the pitch and show off," Sprules explains. "One of the things was for him to be more ruthless. He would feel for the opposition if we were scoring lots of points. A lovely attitude to everything. To watch him on the telly now I find too surreal. It’s amazing."

Dorchester RFC chairman, Tony Foot, adds: “This is a very proud moment for the club. I was lucky enough to coach his older brother Caspar, who was himself a very fine player, but when 'Landy' came along everyone expected great things."

Bath, and now England, appear to have a fine young talent and man on their hands.

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