Amid an avalanche of points against their hapless Italian opponents, Bath quietly eased a director of rugby out of his seat. It has been a curious week in the West Country – business as usual on the pitch and, in a way, business as usual off it, going by the last three years under the ownership of Bruce Craig.
For Gary Gold, the likeable South African whose departure was announced on Monday, read Sir Ian McGeechan as director of rugby in 2012, or Steve Meehan as head coach before him or, latterly, Brad Davis, the defence coach.
The one significant difference now is that Bath sprung their surprise from a position of strength: yesterday’s 11-try whipping of Rugby Mogliano, which brought their tally against the Italians to 118 points in a week, allows them to control their Amlin Challenge Cup group, they have won both their LV= Cup games and, best of all, they stand third in the Aviva Premiership.
Insiders say that Gold’s going was the end game of his removal in the summer from the post of head coach to that of director of rugby. He and the club could not agree an appropriate job description so, with over a year left on his original three-year contract, they parted company and, for all the speculation that attended his departure, it is unlikely that Bath will move to fill his role from outside.
They are still on the lookout for an attack coach but their staff includes, as performance director, David Thompson (once a Saracens full-back) to whom could fall some of Gold’s responsibilities. Their recruitment consultants include Tim Buttimore, best known as Jonny Wilkinson’s managerial mentor, and in Mike Ford and Toby Booth they have senior coaches well accustomed to running affairs.
Ford, who worked with Gold at Newcastle Falcons, said succinctly of the latter’s exit: “It’s regrettable that this has arisen but these things happen.”
The point here is that in the first half of last season, Bath scored 11 tries; in the second half they scored 29 and the groundwork laid down then has been built upon this season. Ford and Booth have taken Bath to a playing level they have seldom enjoyed with any consistency in the last decade though Ford was quick to acknowledge that the next three weeks, when they play Harlequins, Northampton and Leicester, will demonstrate how much further they still have to go.
“Someone said that we’re still unproven and he’s right,” Ford said, but his players will go into the holiday period having won 10 successive games in all competitions. Bath contest the A league final with Northampton tomorrow, hence Ford’s relief that no-one who will playing in that game was injured yesterday, and his enjoyment of the potency of a starting back line, aged on average only 21.
Matt Banahan, a senior citizen at 26, scored four tries on his 150th appearance for Bath and caused almost as much terror in Mogliano ranks as Carl Fearns, the flanker who scored two tries and would have added a third but for a knock-on five metres out. Peter Stringer emerged from the bench to make his 100th European appearance the day after his 36th birthday, thereby joining two old Ireland colleagues in Ronan O’Gara and John Hayes, the only other European centurions.
It is worth adding that there was only one attempt at a penalty goal throughout the 80 minutes, when Nicolo Fadalti mis-hit a 30-metre effort. “We challenged ourselves to take our game to a new level,” Ford said, but whether Bath, for all their enthusiastic running and the perceptive distribution of Kyle Eastmond, could be said to have achieved that against such modest opposition remains an open question.
Bath: A Watson; R Lane (O Woodburn, 41), O Devoto, K Eastmond, M Banahan; G Ford (T Heathcote, 47), M Roberts (P Stringer, 61); P James (N Catt, 60), E Guinazu (R Webber, 50), J-P Orlandi (D Wilson, 50), S Hooper (captain; R Caldwell, 50), D Day, M Garvey (W Skuse, 47), C Fearns, L Houston.
Mogliano: N Fadalti (M Cornwell, 47); A Onori (Ceglie, 56-64), T Boni, E Bacchin, F Guarducci; E Padovani (E Galon, 58), E Endrizzi (A Lucchese, 47); D Meggetto (D Appiah, 47), I Gianesini (O Gega, 47), A Ceglie (S Ferrari, 34; sin-bin 54-64), M Lazzaroni, F Maso (M Swanepoel, 62), E Candiago (captain; A-C Repetto, 68), M Corazzi, T Halvorsen (sin-bin 11-21).
Referee: L Colgan (Ireland).