Book review: Rise and fall of a rugby empire
Sunday 10 January 1999
The fall from glory of West Indies cricket mirrors the demise of Bath Rugby Club. Dynasties have been destroyed. Reputations wrecked. In Bath's case the problems provide an ideal launch pad for the rumours, and there are plenty of those flying around, mostly concerning the future of the coach, Andy Robinson, chiefly to the effect that he does not have one - a future that is.
But he and the club certainly have a past. Something to be proud of. The cruelty of the English clubs' decision to stay out of Europe was never more keenly felt than at the Recreation Ground, where the reigning European champions have been left with a rather empty feeling at having their right to a title defence taken from them. Heaven knows they could have done with the competition, even if only as a distraction from their present travails. Already the Premiership title is out of the reckoning. Only the Tetley's Bitter Cup remains.
So far as Europe goes all that is left for them to do is to thumb through the pages of Dick Tugwell's book Champions in conflict - the Bath rugby revolution (Robson Books, pounds 17.95) which purportedly charts a hectic 18 months or so in the history of a once-great club and culminates in the lifting, against all odds and expectation, of the European Cup.
It embraces some unhappy times: the previous season's European failure; the departure of the coach Brian Ashton; the exit of the director of rugby John Hall; the BBC2 fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Rugby Club, which tore off the flimsy veneer of success and exposed players and staff to a certain amount of ridicule while also shattering a few illusions; and the loss of the aura of invincibility which had sat so easily on the club, especially during Jack Rowell's tenure.
There is certainly plenty of material for Tugwell, the former rugby correspondent of the Bath Evening Chronicle, to get his investigative nose into. He was fortunate that his arrival on the paper coincided with such dramatic happenings, and to record the goings-on at the club seemed perfectly natural. But there is a feeling that the personal element matters almost as much. The intrusive personal pronoun is enough of an indicator that this is in part autobiographical and, it has to be said, a trifle self- indulgent.
There are frequent references to Mr Tugwell's articles. On one notable occasion he goes into unnecessary detail about the sub-editing of one of his stories: "My full page article headlined Bath awake to realities of rugby's new regime was... to cause quite a stir... I was annoyed because it had been poorly sub- edited, with spelling mistakes... that had not been there in the original." That and statements such as "I picked up a scoop by predicting that Jon Callard was in line to replace Clive Woodward as Bath's new backs coach" sit a trifle uneasily.
And there is one glaring error. When referring to the infamous European Cup tie between Pontypool and Brive the author states that Dale McIntosh, the Welsh club's No 8,was sent off in injury time. Not so. He departed after a punch-up in the 25th minute. That is careless. It was one of a handful of jarring notes, tainting what is otherwise a fascinating record of the decline and fall of a veritable rugby empire. There is no index and the title could be more accurate. But overall, there is enough on the behind the scenes activities to ensure an interesting read.
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