Lashings of agony served with the clubhouse bacon

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The Independent Online

Breakfast at Tiffany's it wasn't. But fun it most definitely was. Bath is a rugby city so it was only right that on Saturday the club should throw open its clubhouse before dawn and invite fans to come in, have bite to eat and watch England's triumph on a big screen.

There were multi-hued Harlequin supporters sitting with the blue, black and white of Bath fans. Shaven-headed toughs sat with waxed-jacketed toffs, women, children, teenagers, pensioners, fans all scoffing and quaffing their bacon rolls, sausage baps, tea and coffee.

Even BBC Radio Five Live was there, represented by a tangle of wiring, microphone leads, sound equipment and computers, all set up on a couple of tables at one end of the clubhouse, where the club staff were also seated in front of two conventional television sets.

The big screen acted as in informal divider, ostensibly splitting the long room in two. In reality, though, both sides were as one throughout. Together they howled their disapproval, in unison they shrieked their delight.

The staff had a slight advantage over the main body of the breakfast brigade. The signal to the big screen took three seconds more, because it had to be bounced back to a satellite before returning to earth, so the TV watchers knew what was going to happen ahead of the rest. It meant when Australia scored or England messed up, those who wished could live through hell twice over.

That delay also gave rise to a little bit of good-natured fun. When Jonny Wilkinson's third penalty went over, instead of cheering madly, the TV watchers decided on a little wheeze and groaned. That shut the others up. There was a deathly silence for those three, very long, seconds in the main bar before the watchers there realised they had been had. Then relieved laughter.

But as the game progressed the frustration at the bizarre refereeing decisions directed in the main against England, grew more vocal, until eventually one of the TV watchers spoke up after England had been penalised just before the end of normal time when Elton Flatley pulled Australia level to take it into extra time.

After the cries of "Rubbish, ref!" had died down, one TV watcher pronounced: "I reckon this ref just does not want the World Cup to leave the southern hemisphere." But leave it it most certainly did. That glorious moment in the dying seconds reduced everyone in the clubhouse to hoarse whisperers for the rest of the afternoon. Hugs and kisses were exchanged between people who, two and a half gut-wrenching, nerve-shredding hours earlier, had been total strangers.

As for the Bath players, the head coach, John Connolly, had issued an edict that no player was going to be allowed to sit through the whole match because it would be too emotionally draining with their own big game against Harlequins to follow.

So they were just given glimpses of the final, but Connolly - an Australian - admitted he had sat through the whole thing. "I feel as if I have gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson," he said afterwards. The breakfast brigade thought 15 was more like it.

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