Craig's millions buy too much uncertainty for troubled Bath

Bath 22 Ulster 26

He may have been the most merciless back-row bandit ever to rob an opponent of his sanity and self-respect in a public place: certainly, the phrase "mad, bad and dangerous to know" was an insipid understatement when used in his connection. Roger Spurrell, the captain who launched Bath on their golden decade, travelled north from his beachside home in Cornwall at the weekend to cast an eye over his old club in their fight for Heineken Cup survival, hob-nobbing with the owner Bruce Craig in his private box, catching up with a few greying ex-playmates in the public bar, offering an opinion or two, listening to a whole lot more. It was good to see him again.

Quite what he concluded about what he had seen and heard was anyone's guess – there was always something elusive about him, even in the early days – but this much was blindingly obvious: there was not even a trace element of the Spurrell spirit to be found among the current Bath players on Saturday. Against an Ulster side missing a talismanic flanker of their own in Stephen Ferris, struggling with their discipline around the tackle area and down to 14 men at the last knockings, the West Countrymen were so lacking in killer instinct that this "should win" game became a "can't win" game almost without them noticing.

If their mathematical interest in Europe's premier club tournament remains just about intact, their prospects of progress are infinitesimal. What is more, things may well get worse before they get better. It is fiendishly difficult for a team to develop the sense of togetherness necessary to prosper at this level when the club as a whole is not comfortable in its own skin, and there is so much uncertainty at the Recreation Ground – so much rumour and theorising about the future, so much "phoney war" anticipation about Craig's plans for reshaping things on and off the field – that the next few months could prove very awkward indeed.

In Spurrell's time – the time of Palmer and Barnes, Chilcott and Hall – the clubhouse at the Rec was as much a front line as the pitch itself: post-match, the players would always drink the opposition off the premises before going their own separate ways. A couple of hours after Saturday's game, the only members of the Bath side still around were Michael Claassens and Butch James, who had stayed behind to catch up with their South African countrymen in the Ulster team.

Steve Meehan, whose long-term grip on the head coach's role has not obviously been strengthened by the recruitment of Sir Ian McGeechan as technical director and recent recasting as "director of rugby" with greater responsibility for team affairs, was honest enough in his appraisal of this latest defeat – the eighth in 11 matches across three competitions, five of them at home. "We can't find an 80-minute performance," he admitted. "If we could maintain our level of intensity through a game and operate at a constant level, a lot of things would fall into place. At the moment, it's not happening."

Ulster conceded a try after 35 seconds and were not close to their best at any point afterwards, but Meehan must have recognised in their performance something of the collective energy and commitment he craves for his own team. Despite being hurt by a deeply questionable challenge from Butch James early in the piece, Ian Humphreys was a paragon of consistency, landing difficult kicks from all areas to keep his side on the straight and narrow. In Pedrie Wannenburg, the visitors possessed a driving forward of the kind wholly absent from the Bath pack; in Andrew Trimble, they had a bold runner with a hint of the X-factor about him; in Ruan Pienaar, the Springbok half-back, they were blessed with a touch of class.

Both sides scored fine tries, but Ulster's second, claimed by the centre Nevin Spence at the end of the third quarter, illustrated the essential difference between them. It was born of confidence: the confidence to sustain an attack through a dozen or more phases; to send ball-carrying forwards – Wannenburg, Tom Court, B J Botha – into heavy traffic secure in the knowledge that possession would be recycled; to stay patient in the face of aggressive tackling. There was precious little confidence about Bath on Saturday. Craig may have many millions to throw at the club, but no one can buy things that aren't for sale.

Scorers: Bath: Tries Carraro, Banahan; Penalties Barkley 4. Ulster: Tries D'Arcy, Spence; Conversions Humphreys 2; Penalties: Humphreys 4.

Bath: J Cuthbert (N Abendanon, 61); M Carraro, O Barkley, S Hape, M Banahan; B James, M Claassens (capt); D Flatman (D Barnes, 55), L Mears, D Wilson, S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 61), A Beattie (B Skirving, 61), L Moody, S Taylor.

Ulster: A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court (P McAllister, 76), N Brady, B J Botha, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy (T Barker, 60), P Wannenburg, W Faloon, R Diack (C Henry, 60).

Referee: P Gauzere (France).

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories