Bath have rediscovered some form just lately, even if they are approximately a million miles from playing the dominant brand of all-purpose rugby that made them masters of all they surveyed in the final years of the amateur era. What they cannot rediscover, for the life of them, is the art of continuity in the coaching department. In this area, they remain as inconsistent as any side in the land.
On Monday night, the West Countrymen announced that Gary Gold, the South African recruited as rugby director at the start of last season after a productive spell in the Springboks’ back-room team, had left the Recreation Ground with immediate effect. “The decision was taken following a re-structuring of the playing department and with the best interests of Gary and the club in mind,” said a spokesman in a statement that was short rather than sweet.
What was patently not in Gold’s best interests was the promotion of the former England defence coach Mike Ford to top-dog status shortly before the start of the season. Ford made it crystal clear right from the start that he would be picking the side – the only true indicator of who might be in charge at a rugby club. Gold, it was said, would concentrate on a “wider brief”.
The current coaching team, which also includes the ex-London Irish boss Toby Booth and another Exiles man in Neal Hatley, was initially brought together under Gold’s command following a number of high-profile departures. Steve Meehan, the inventive Australian attack strategist who will help run the Queensland Reds in next year’s Super 15 tournament, was marginalised when Bruce Craig, the Bath owner, asked Sir Ian McGeechan to take on a senior role behind the scenes. McGeechan did not have the most successful time of it, and left in the spring of 2012. He was followed soon enough by Martin Haag, the forwards coach, and then, at the start of this year, by another Australian, the popular and exceptionally hard-working Brad Davis.
To many Recreation Ground regulars who look back fondly on the certainties of Jack Rowell’s long tenure as head coach and Brian Ashton's steady rise to prominence as the most imaginative British coach of his generation, Gold’s abrupt departure will not come as a surprise. There has been much local talk of the England rugby league coach Steve McNamara being high on Craig’s latest recruitment list, although McNamara said after last month’s narrow World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand that his present job was “not something I want to give up easily.”
Meanwhile, the unusually substantial United States lock Hayden Smith has rejoined Saracens after an 18-month stint in American Football with the New York Jets, for whom he made half a dozen appearances as a tight end. Mark McCall, the Londoners’ rugby director, described the 28-year-old forward as a “phenomenal athlete with huge potential”. Saracens will lose their most experienced second-rower, the former England captain Steve Borthwick, to retirement at the end of the season.