Rugby Union: Redman at the heart of Bath's remarkable renaissance of spirit

Bath 20 Pau 14
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At a rough estimate, Andy Robinson played something like 350 games alongside Nigel Redman during his decade of service in the Bath pack. Having seen the bottom of several thousand rucks together - not to mention the bottom of several thousand beer glasses - they have forged the closest of rugby relationships based on mutual respect, a shared competitive urge and a deep appreciation of each other's value to the club that renders words unnecessary.

Unnecessary, that is, until the week of a Big One. As Bath began to crank themselves up for their Heineken Cup semi-final with the threatening Frenchmen of Pau - the watershed match to end them all, the mustest of must-win games - Robinson, the coach, felt Redman, the second row, might benefit from a fatherly arm around the shoulder, a gentle whisper of encouragement in his heavily cauliflowered shell-like. "Forget about your bloody testimonial, get off your arse and start winning us some ball," he screamed, touchingly. Friendships like that do not just happen, as any agony aunt will testify. You really have to work at them.

Whether or not Redman responded to Robbo's sergeant- majorish approach to the mysteries of motivation, there is no doubting the fact that Bath now owe him a pension as well as a testimonial. The old boy was, at 33, comfortably the most influential performer in a side that took the field acutely aware of the likely consequences of defeat - they ranged from the catastrophic to the terminal - and as a result, he will cap the most brightly lit nine months of a remarkable Indian summer with an appearance in the Heineken Cup Final in Bordeaux on 31 January.

As recently as last April, Robinson was politely suggesting that his venerable mucker might usefully consider jacking in the bump and grind business to concentrate wholly on his fledgling coaching career. Oh yeah? Redman responded by making the England tour to Argentina in May before joining the Lions in South Africa a month later, captaining the midweek side to a sublime victory over Free State in Bloemfontein. The boot is very definitely on the other foot these days. Bath do not need Redman's back-room skills nearly as much as they need his muscular, willing know- how around the paddock.

"No, I didn't expect any of this to happen," Redman admitted on Saturday. "But rugby is full of the unexpected, isn't it? Had you asked me this time last year, I wouldn't have dared dream of another England tour, let alone the chance to wear a Lions jersey. Come to that, I don't think I'd have predicted losing by 50 points to Saracens either, but it happened, as everyone knows."

Bath may have fallen prey to the law of diminishing returns - no longer masters of all they survey, they are having to work overtime simply to tread water, let alone surf the big waves; but they remain the most effective side in European rugby at drawing strength and inspiration from adversity. That unprecedented defeat against Saracens a mere six days before the semi-final should have sapped their morale and laid waste to their confidence. Instead, it had the opposite effect.

"Strange to relate, we didn't indulge in one of our traditional mutual slagging sessions," revealed Redman. "We were so poor against Sarries that there was nothing much anyone could say, so we just sat in the changing- room down at Lambridge and let Andy Nicol give us the captain's perspective. He asked us how much we wanted to beat Pau and suggested that anyone who didn't want it very, very badly should pack their bags and leave. No one moved, no one said a word. By the time Andy had finished, we were right again."

And on the day, no one was more right that Redman. Henri Nieta, the Pau director of rugby, admitted in the aftermath of a desperately tight contest that Bath had "done their homework" and after all the video analysis, tactical breakdowns and general head-scratching had been completed, the West Countrymen identified the engine room as the decisive theatre of engagement.

"We knew Pau were strong in the front row, we knew they had a useful kicking game and we knew they were dangerous outside, but we always felt we could make them squeal in the rucks and mauls," said Robinson. He was spot on. Redman, dominant in the line-out and relentless in the physical commitment he brought to each and every breakdown, knew far too much for Alain Lagouarde and Thierry Cleda and as a result, the Frenchmen spent all afternoon on the back foot.

Which is not to dismiss them as impotent. David Dantiacq and David Aucagne were always menacing in midfield and when Dantiacq's perfect pass gave the slippery Philippe Bernat-Salles a try in the right corner on the hour to pull the visitors back to 14-17, the passion levels were more than matched by pure paranoia. Bath were forced to ride their luck at that stage - Adedayo Adebayo might have conceded a penalty try as Bernat- Salles hared after a cunning grubber kick from Nicholas Brusque and might also have been sent off for the clumsiest of challenges on the same player - but, as it turned out, the only further score came from the ultra-reliable boot of Jon Callard, a fifth penalty 15 minutes from time.

"It may not have been a great spectacle but it was incredibly intense out there and to restrict a back division of Pau's quality to a single try, albeit a very polished one, was some defensive achievement," said Nicol. So it was. What was more, Bath's try on 31 minutes was every bit as good, featuring some clever midfield positioning by Nathan Thomas, a sweetly timed intervention from Callard and some secure passing at pace to open the gate for Victor Ubogu, miles into a prop forward's equivalent of No Man's Land on the right touchline.

"The game has changed for us tight forwards," Redman pointed out. "We don't just tractor our way up and down the middle of the field any more. We have to take up wide positions now and again and make the right sorts of decisions when we find ourselves in possession. That's what Victor did and he deserved his score." In one very important sense, however, the game has not changed. When push quite literally comes to shove, important rugby games are won up front by unsung, unheralded, uncomplaining blue- collar types like Redman. Where on earth would Bath be without him?

Bath: Try Ubogu; Penalties Callard 5. Pau: Try Bernat-Salles; Penalties Aucagne 3.

Bath: J Callard: I Evans, M Perry, P de Glanville, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (capt); K Yates, M Regan, V Ubogu, G Llanes, N Redman, R Webster, D Lyle (E Peters, 80), N Thomas.

Pau: N Brusque; P Bernat-Salles, D Dantiacq, F Leloir, Y Martin; D Aucagne, F Torossian; P Triep-Capdeville (S Bria, 67), J Rey (capt), J-M Gonzalez, A Lagouarde, T Cleda (T Mentieres, 61), S Keith, F Rolles (S Vignolo, 54), N Bacque.

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).