Bath’s decision to sever links with Sir Ian McGeechan at season’s end – a move confirmed by the under-performing West Country club yesterday after discussions with their director of rugby 24 hours previously – will lead to a root-and-branch restructuring of back-room operations at the Recreation Ground, with Martin Haag, a loyal servant as both player and forwards coach, expected to follow McGeechan through the door after the final round of league games.
McGeechan was recruited as performance director by Bruce Craig, a free-spending owner keen to attract big names to match his grand ambitions, but when the role was broadened to include hands-on work with the senior team, the head coach Steve Meehan was effectively demoted and left in an impossible position. Meehan, one of the most innovative coaches in English rugby, duly cashed in his chips and returned to Australia, leaving Bath severely weakened.
Andy Robinson, very much a man of Bath, rejected the chance to return, preferring to stay in international rugby with Scotland. Alternative targets are said to include the former Springbok coach Nick Mallett, who missed out on the England job last week, and his fellow South African Gary Gold, currently working with relegation-threatened Newcastle. There has also been talk of Toby Booth and Mike Catt, who spent much of his playing career at the Rec, joining in tandem from London Irish, but some Bath insiders believe Michael Cheika, the high-achieving Australian who coached Leinster to a Heineken Cup title in 2009, is now top of the list.
Cheika is in charge of the Parisian club Stade Francais, who meet Exeter in a home Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final tonight. The Devonians will have their work cut out against a side boasting the Argentine outside-half Felipe Contepomi, the record-breaking Wallaby flanker George Smith and the world-class Italy No 8 Sergio Parisse.