Rugby Union: Robinson let down by bereft Bath

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Gloucester 23 Bath 7

ANDY ROBINSON cut a dignified figure as he fielded the unanswerable questions for the umpteenth successive weekend and, when you remember that the Bath of old considered dignity in defeat to be about as politically correct as a whalemeat sandwich, it was really rather worrying. On the other hand, Robbo's performance in the after-match formalities was immeasurably more honest than the one he had just witnessed from his players. They are leaving a good man swinging in the wind and do not even look as though they care.

Embarrassingly enough, the only person visibly upset by Robinson's predicament was his rival coach. "Of course I feel for him," said Richard Hill, whose relief at seeing his own side emerge from the dark pit of despair was tempered by a touching sympathy for his close friend and former clubmate. "I've been where Robbo is now, suffering defeat after defeat and wondering how the hell to break the sequence. The difference for him is that he is coaching Bath, where the expectations are so great. To be honest with you, he's on a hiding to nothing.

"In my opinion, he was brave to take on the Bath job because it was a poisoned chalice; there was only one way they could go in the professional era and that was down. They remain a hugely talented side - you'd give your right arm for the chance of coaching a squad like theirs - but psychologically, everything is working against them. Robbo will be stronger for this experience, though. Bath would be foolish to move him out now, because it would allow another club to benefit from the priceless knowledge he is gaining."

What Hill might also have said is that Robinson is the victim of the piece, not the culprit. He is effectively doing the jobs of three men - chief coach, team manager and director of rugby - and has no one to turn to for help. Tony Swift's departure from the board leaves Bath with a managerial hierarchy that understands how to maximise the catering revenue at the Recreation Ground but would barely know an inside centre from a cheeseburger. As one veteran of the old amateur committee put it on Saturday night: "Just at the moment, the club doesn't deserve Andy."

Happily, there are firm indications that Andrew Brownsword, Bath's multi- millionaire owner, will shun the easy option and continue to give Robinson his unequivocal backing. Brownsword fully intends to appoint a chief executive to work alongside the coach - the trustees of the club are urging him to open negotiations with Geoff Cooke, the former England manager who first capped Robinson a decade or more ago - and is also planning another significant injection of capital. Bath badly need an open-side flanker and an early approach to Pontypridd's Martyn Williams, the best No 7 in Wales, is on the cards.

There is no earthly point in attempting life-saving surgery on a corpse, however, and Bath certainly looked dead from the neck up at Kingsholm.

Shambolic at half-back, chaotic out wide and as soft as putty up front, they barely tested a workaday Gloucester side whose recent form had been very nearly as barren. "The lowest point in all my time at Bath? Without a doubt," said Robinson afterwards. "How do I feel? Well, I'm not a quitter but, bloody hell, I don't feel good."

The story of this sixth successive Premiership defeat is simply told, for Gloucester won the game in the space of 11 minutes either side of the interval. Playing with the wind and rain at their backs, they had reached the half-hour with only a Mark Mapletoft penalty to show for their supremacy when Iain Balshaw, Bath's physically challenged right wing, failed to minor a speculative Mapletoft chip and gifted Chris Catling a soft touchdown in the corner. "That sort of thing is a cock-up, not a coaching issue," muttered Robinson in a rare concession to self-defence.

Mapletoft added a penalty before launching a stiletto-sharp midfield move involving Richie Tombs and Terry Fanolua. Catling was again the beneficiary, and when the buccaneering young full-back then bisected Balshaw and Richard Webster following a miscued touchfinder from Jeremy Guscott, Bath allowed Fanolua such a ridiculous amount of time to complete the journey to the line that he might have fitted in a visit to his family en route. They live in Samoa.

Twenty-three points adrift, Bath had nowhere to go. They could not drive the scrums because their scrummaging lock, Nigel Redman, concussed himself so badly at a 20th minute ruck that he was incapable of distinguishing between Kingsholm and King's Lynn; they could not work moves off the line- out because Mark Cornwell was playing the game of his life in the Gloucester engine room; and they could not make progress in broken play because Ed Pearce and Steve Ojomoh murdered them in the tackle.

What was more, they knew they were beaten long before Gloucester realised they had the game won. "They're very quiet these days, those Bath boys," said Brian Campsall, whose sympathetic refereeing helped manufacture a fascinating derby in desperate conditions. "Back in the old days, I'd have had John Hall barking in one ear and Robbo snarling in the other." It was the most telling comment of all. Bathhave even forgotten how to referee their own matches.

Gloucester: Tries: Catling 2, Fanolua; Conversion: Mapletoft; Penalties: Mapletoft 2. Bath: Try Adebayo; Conversion: Callard.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, R Greenslade-Jones; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Woodman, N McCarthy, A Deacon (A Powles, 75), R Fidler (capt, R Ward, 71), M Cornwell, E Pearce, S Ojomoh, N Carter.

Bath: J Callard (M Perry, 73); I Balshaw, J Guscott, K Maggs, A Adebayo; M Catt, S Hatley (G Cooper, 64); D Hilton (K Yates, 64), M Regan (A Long 73), V Ubogu, S Borthwick, N Redman (B Sturnham 20), E Peters, D Lyle, R Webster (capt, R Earnshaw 73).

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

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