Rugby Union: Bath slump to record fifth defeat

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The Independent Online
Bath 11 Saracens 19

PROFESSIONAL sportsmen adhere to the principle that you make your luck. If that is the case, then right now Bath are making the wrong sort of luck. Their acting captain, Andy Nicol, not the most fortunate of players when it comes to injury, lasted just nine minutes of the bitter defeat against Saracens before joining a growing queue of casualties in the Bath squad.

Suspected medial ligament damage to his left knee - to be confirmed later today - could keep him out for the rest of the season; at best he will be out of action for a few weeks. When the names of Phil de Glanville, out for 10 weeks after an operation on his dislocated shoulder, Mark Regan (two more weeks after concussion), captain Richard Webster (another fortnight) and Jon Preston (four months after surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon) are added to the equation, anyone would feel entitled to whinge.

But the reigning European champions, while not playing well, are not panicking yet. If the first thing that their coach, Andy Robinson, did was to reach for a can of Bath's sponsors' cider after crashing to an unprecedented fifth league defeat in a row, no one was blaming him.

"You don't mind me turning to alcohol?" he quipped, before settling down to parry the awkward questions. The boos and jeers which had followed Bath off the pitch would still have been echoing in his head and they would have hurt him.

"The fans are entitled to their opinion," acknowledged Robinson between sips. "We deserved it the way we played today." But pain was screwed harshly into the features of the man who shared in some more celebrated records as a player with the once mighty club.

Robinson has more reason than most to bemoan his side's fortunes, but to him they would be mere excuses and he has never resorted to those. "We have to front this up and ask what we are going to do about it," said the former England flanker. "There are a lot of proud people at this club."

And he rejected a suggestion made last week that the soul had gone out of the club. "We are just not playing well," insisted Robinson, who has had supporters advising him in no uncertain terms to resign, "and when you are down, and you are losing, things do not go for you. But I am not going to give this up. I am not going to walk out on Bath. I still think there is plenty for us to play for this season and we have the ability."

Mark Evans, Saracens' director of rugby, seemed almost shocked by inept performances from both sides. "This was a shadow of previous Bath sides," he said. "For so long Bath have been in a league of their own. They had an aura about them, but that clearly does not exist any longer. I wonder if it will exist again for anybody."

Robinson insisted that comparison with past Bath sides was a non-starter. "It is time to consign the old, amateur Bath to history where it belongs," he said. "The old Bath was great and to be a part of it was fabulous, but now we are into something else. Our history did not come about through brilliant rugby, it was because we won.

"Winning is the important thing and it's a lot harder these days. The game is in a worldwide market and there are players of outstanding talent from overseas playing for English clubs, which was not possible in the amateur era."

The Bath public, weaned on a diet of incredible success, is finding a new regimen of defeat unpalatable, but Robinson will not be moved that easily; he has given too much to the club. Nor will he venture into the transfer market. Not for him the short-term solution. He has been nurturing youth and is unafraid to blood the youngsters.

"I'll be looking at some young players in the club," said Robinson. "We have plenty of options and a lot of talent coming through." The other clubs may have pulled the plug, but not all the water has gurgled down the plughole yet.

Bath: Try Balshaw; Penalties Catt 2. Saracens: Try Ravenscroft; Conversion Johnson; Penalties Johnson 3; Drop goal Penaud.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (capt, S Hatley, 9); D Hilton (J Mallett, 73), A Long, V Ubogu, S Borthwick (B Sturnham, 50), N Redman, R Earnshaw (N Thomas, 50), D Lyle, E Peters.

Saracens: G Johnson; B Daniel, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; A Penaud, K Bracken; D Flatman (B Reidy, 72), G Chuter, P Wallace, (B Reidy 31-40), P Johns, D Grewcock, T Coker (P Ogilvy, 66), T Diprose, F Pienaar (capt).

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham).