Rugby Union: From Europe to hell and back

'We got there at 9.30am, but most of us weren't called at all...we didn't get back to Bath until 11.15pm'
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The Independent Online
SELDOM has a rugby club experienced such contrasting moods as Bath have in the past week. The elation of the stunning, last-gasp 19-18 victory over Brive in the European Cup final in Bordeaux was followed by the summoning of many of the team to Twickenham for the Rugby Football Union's inquiry into the alleged ear-biting incident. For the club coach Andy Robinson there was the joy both of seeing his men come good after an awkward season and of the vindication of his controversial selection of his assistant, Jon Callard, in preference to England's Matt Perry. Then came the gloomy reality of having to give evidence in support of his beleaguered prop Kevin Yates. Here, in an interview with Paul Trow, he relives a remarkable eight days...

Saturday: When Jon Callard stepped up to take that final penalty, I looked at my wife Samantha in the stand and stuck my tongue out at her. I didn't know why the penalty had been given but I felt we'd been lucky to get it. We'd been losing for 79 minutes and to take the lead at that time was incredible. I turned away, but as Jon took the kick I looked back. He's so cool when he kicks and yet the rest of his game is full of fire. I know he was a controversial selection, but even the Lions proved with Neil Jenkins that you need a goal-kicker in the team somewhere.

I was shocked at the re-start when the referee Jim Fleming penalised us for dropping the line-out again - he hammered us for that all afternoon. Christophe Lamaison's kick was harder than Jon's. It was from wider out and into the breeze. He'd already displayed nerves on a couple of kicks earlier in the game. Again I turned away and looked at my wife, but I shot my head round in time to see him miss.

Then Andy Nicol dropped the ball - I couldn't believe that. The referee gave them a five-yard scrum in front of the posts and I began to feel that we were not destined to win. When the ball went back from the scrum to Lisandru Arbizu, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. His kick slid a metre wide of the right-hand post. We were amazed that Alain Penaud, who had already landed a more difficult drop goal, didn't take it.

Even then the ball wasn't dead but Richard Webster, of all people, popped up to touch it down. I remember thinking: "How the hell did he get there?" Then the final whistle went at last and everyone started running around. It was a superb performance, reminiscent of the Bath of old. We never play well in cup finals, even though we tend to win them all, and this was no exception.

I ran on to the pitch and got hugged by Mark Regan who knocked me flying. There I was with this large hooker on top of me and when I got up my nice new dark blue suit had white lines all over it. I also had a cuddle with Nigel Redman which must have lasted all of five minutes. When the players collected the trophy it was a very emotional moment.

After that, Jon, Andy and I went to the press conference which was followed by the Heineken reception. When we got there most of the food had gone so we tried to book a restaurant. In the end, we all piled into the local McDonald's and had our supper there.

From there we repaired to a Cuban wine bar to drink champagne and Webster, who takes charge of the entertainment on these occasions, got his own back on us. We got back to the hotel at about five in the morning and the chef cooked us all breakfast an hour later.

Sunday: We caught the 1.30pm flight from Bordeaux back to Gatwick and then it was down the M4 for a reception in the Royal Victoria Park in Bath. Between three and four thousand people were there to welcome us. After that the club gave us a champagne reception at the Francis Hotel, but the lads in the England squad had to miss that because they were due at a training session that evening. I can tell you I slept well.

Monday: Day off - did nothing.

Tuesday: A group of us went to Twickenham by coach for the investigation into our cup tie with London Scottish. That certainly brought us all down to earth. Apart from myself and the team manager John Allen, the nine players who went up were Nigel Redman, German Llanes, Federico Mendez, Dan Lyle, Victor Ubogu, Russell Earnshaw, Nathan Thomas, Adedayo Adebayo and Richard Butland. We got there at 9.30am, but most of us weren't called in at all. The only people interviewed were Lyle, Earnshaw, Thomas and Llanes. The rest of us sat around for the best part of 12 hours. We had a look around the museum and watched the England squad training. We didn't get back to Bath until 11.15pm - a totally frustrating experience.

Wednesday: Back up to Twickenham again, this time by train. At least I got interviewed this time, but it was an important exercise to go through for Kevin Yates, even though I haven't had any involvement with him since he was suspended.

Thursday: It's been a quiet week at the club with so many players away preparing for international matches, so we took the cup to a couple of local primary schools. Russell and Martin Haag went to one school and then Jon, Nigel, Russell and myself visited the school where Jon's wife teaches. It's nice for the children to have their pictures taken holding the cup which we're told is worth pounds 22,000.

Friday: Back at the club in the morning, catching up with paper work. I coached at a local school in the afternoon. I try to encourage as many as the players as possible to do school coaching in their spare time - especially those who don't have teaching experience. We're trying to get round all the schools. After all, it's in the club's interest to nurture the next generation.

Saturday: We're starting to prepare for the next league match, at home to Gloucester on Wednesday. We've got some catching up to do in the league, but at least we have games in hand. But we're out of the cup so that gives us a couple of spare Saturdays. Now we've won a trophy, I might relax a little. I won't be loosening my grip but having some silverware takes a bit of the pressure off.

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