Chris Hewett: Craig ready to ruffle feathers in spa town

Bath, city of rugby culture, is in for a culture shock. The club who won pretty much everything during the twilight years of amateurism, but found victories harder to come by once professionalism levelled the playing field, were owned for almost a decade and a half by a man who, when he first put his hand in his pocket, barely knew the difference between an outside centre and an outside loo. Suddenly, they have a genuine aficionado for a boss – someone who will not stay out of the dressing room if he feels his place is inside it.

Farewell Andrew Brownsword, quiet man of mystery: hello Bruce Craig (pictured), super-confident man of opinion. "I played the game for many years, I won and I lost, and I believe I have a rapport with players," Craig said yesterday. "Yes, I will go into the dressing room if I feel it's the right thing to do."

The professional era has not been kind to Bath, even though they have won both European titles – the major one, the Heineken Cup, and the minor one, the European Challenge Cup – since the sport went open. Under Andrew Brownsword's low-key, low-profile stewardship, there were regular changes of director of rugby and head coach – John Hall, Brian Ashton (twice), Jon Callard, Michael Foley and John Connolly all played the role of top dog before Steve Meehan's arrival from Stade Français - and equally frequent mess-ups and miscalculations. They were within a gnat's crotchet of relegation in 2003 and have finished below the Premiership fold four times in the last eight seasons.

Despite his Bristolian background – he was educated at St Brendan's, once the outstanding rugby school in the country – Craig has been a lifelong Bath supporter, and he has visions of a return to the golden age. He will be far more hands-on than Brownsword in the rugby sense; indeed, when pressed on the subject yesterday, he did not rule out the appointment of a director of rugby to work alongside Meehan in the none-too-distant future.

But his immediate concern will be the self-same one that bedevilled Brownsword for the entirety of his tenure: the quest for a modern stadium within the city limits. With the notion of a 25,000-seater venue being constructed on a site as architecturally sensitive as the Recreation Ground seeming increasingly far-fetched, the challenge is to identify, and commit to, a realistic, deliverable alternative. The more things change...


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