Brian Ashton: Bath and Co left to rue a criminal lack of clarity with winning line in sight

Tackling The Issues

The opening round of the Heineken Cup did not quite produce the pyrotechnics we were anticipating with Clermont Auvergne and Toulouse playing on home soil, where so many visitors have found themselves in the middle of a serious firework display.

To use a metaphor Gavin Henson might recognise as he continues his new career, the cancan we expected was replaced by a slow, sedate waltz. Come back Stade Français and their owner Max Guazzini, the consummate rugby showman.

But there was, as ever, a theme to events, and by the time the Sunday games were completed, we were reminded of one of the great truisms in rugby: namely, that the moment of judgement is reached at the final whistle and not before. London Irish, who performed extremely impressively for so long against the hardened European campaigners of Munster, may well come to rue the lapse in concentration that allowed those eternally competitive Irishmen to score at the death and take a losing bonus point back to Limerick.

Wasps, meanwhile, battled valiantly against the odds in Toulouse and earned an opportunity to pour bucketfuls of cold water on the reigning champions. Agreed, the match-deciding penalty shot came from a wholly unnecessary flash of indiscipline that will not have gone unnoticed by the Toulouse coach, Guy Novès, and probably won't go unpunished either, but teams visiting this part of the world are rarely able to pick and choose the ways in which their chances arise. In the event, the penalty, taken as the clock ticked down towards time, was missed.

Down in Italy, the underdogs of Treviso were in a prime position to cause a real upset against Leicester, but allowed the Midlanders to sneak the result late on. Maybe we should not have been surprised at the eventual outcome: if there is any side in the top echelon of European rugby who always play for the full 80 minutes, Leicester are the ones that spring to mind.

If only Bath had held themselves together for the duration, they would have beaten Biarritz at the Recreation Ground the following day. Sadly for my old club, this was a classic example of a team losing their grip, their bearings and their sense of direction under pressure. They started confidently enough, scoring a fine try in the opening minutes, but the Basques, equipped as usual with a driving forward unit and benefiting from the imperious boot and all-round generalship of Dimitri Yachvili at scrum-half, worked their way back into the game. They may have gone about it in unspectacular fashion and it struck me while I was watching that certain Bath packs of old would never have allowed them to secure a foothold, but they knew what needed to be done to get the measure of this particular Recreation Ground vintage.

For all that, Bath should have closed out the game with a drop goal in the closing minutes. They had the field position and they had kickers available. What they did not have was the capacity to take the right decision, which was staggering. It's not as if this is some newfangled theory: after England's World Cup victory in 2003 – a win ultimately achieved because a number of players with complete awareness of the necessary process executed a particular set of skills that resulted in Jonny Wilkinson's famous late strike – the decisive drop goal has become commonplace and is part and parcel of most teams' armoury. Indeed, many sides prepare specifically for this eventuality.

For reasons best known to themselves, Bath chose a different approach – and went the same way as the All Blacks when they failed to take the drop goal option in their World Cup quarter-final against France three years ago. What on earth happened? Were the key players caught up in the emotional excitement of the moment? Did the lines of communication completely break down? Were they so convinced of their ability to score a try, even though they were playing a man short, that they lost sight of the position in which they found themselves? Only those directly involved know precisely how they fell victim to the wrong thinking at such a crucial moment.

All this reinforces the importance of the mental dimension in big-time rugby. For players to concentrate successfully on the task in hand – winning – two things must happen. First, they must show great attention to detail, to process and execution. Secondly, and this was sadly missing at the Rec, there must be a wider awareness, an accurate overview of the balance of the contest. Thinking clearly under pressure is every bit as vital as performing skills accurately under pressure. Probably more so at the very top end of the game. Ultimately, clarity is the thing that separates the successful teams from the also-rans.

Levein meets his no-win objective

It's not often that I dip my toe in the choppy waters of football, but I was startled by Scotland's approach to their European Championship qualifying game with the Czechs last week. The contrast with events at the Rec could not have been greater: Bath gave themselves a chance to win and failed, in spectacular fashion, to take it; Scotland travelled with no intention of winning at all.

Their manager, Craig Levein, stated publicly that his now notorious six-four-zero formation was not designed to pursue victory – an unusual way of going about things, to say the very least. He was spot on with his tactics and succeeded in his objective, for Scotland very definitely failed to win. If Craig was a banker, he'd probably be in line for a bonus.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz