David Flatman: Dodgy run but we'll still have a laugh at Bath

View from the front row with Bath & England prop
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The Independent Online

Rugby players are, in general, fair-weather fans of the press. When things are going well or when you know you've played well the day before, the coffee tables of recovering players are littered with every Sunday paper. When waking up after a loss, however, they are nowhere to be seen. Of course, we all hear celebrities claiming "I never read the papers" but none of us really believes them.

When teams are flying high it is often the role of the journalist to sensationalise that winning streak, but when times are less fruitful their job spec changes somewhat. Questions begin to be asked and, should the chosen subject choose not to offer insight or comment, assumptions are quickly made. While one never hears rugby men speaking out in support or praise of one hack or another, they certainly feel free to berate them when the chips are down. In my view, we cannot have it both ways.

After the first few games, the neutral might feel justified in claiming that we at Bath have not yet quite hit our straps this season. In fact, the playing staff might agree. We expected, after a fantastic pre-season training camp, to hit the ground running and, instead, have managed only to win one game out of six.

The press, too, have noticed this, as we soon found out while on interview duty on Thursday. There were a few Stade Français-related questions, but not many. This unavoidably piles more pressure on to the shoulders of those tasked with turning things around and makes us all aware that, despite believing otherwise, folk outside our little West Country fishbowl are talking.

So, what to do? Having played in teams that, at times, seemed almost incapable of losing, I know how it feels to be on a winning streak; every day's training is a pleasure, the banter is frenzied and the ball rarely dropped. When teams are full of confidence the aura is visible from a mile away. Big units bouncing around the field like men half their weight while the backs seem to skate across the ground as if running on air (Matt Banahan excluded - he looks more like a galloping brontosaurus).Every team in sport, though, has to endure the odd rough patch of form. The atmosphere then undergoes subtle, unspoken changes. It is not that we all cease to have fun. With David Barnes in the building, king of the inappropriately timed practical joke, a casual debagging (trousers pulled to the floor from behind) or changing-room theft of an unsupervised mobile phone is never far away.

Times are still good, but the pressure is felt by all. It is not that sessions become a trudging chore but, certainly, the forwards wear a foreboding scowl while the backs' eyes become unusually icy where once there was sunshine. It is at times like this that the management team are really put to the test. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to watch your team take the field and not do as you planned. To watch intelligent, well-trained men running the wrong way must make them feel homicidal, but they hide it well.

An aggressive, hostile reaction from Steve Meehan would have been understandable after our loss last week to Ulster, but there was none of that. Make no mistake, errors were pointed out and no quarter was given but the overriding message was one of positivity. Playing for Bath is supposed to be an honour, supposed to be fun. None of us signed up to spend every waking day in a depression. We signed up because we love it here and want so much to do the club justice. And besides, what or who ever thrived on negativity?

So we want to get our season moving in the right direction and fully intend to do so. We want the papers to be saying nice things about us so that we might have something to do with our Sunday afternoons and we want to achieve all this the only way the Bath boys know how; with smiles on our faces. Now, if I could only arrange a nice kiss-and-tell, that would keep the boys happy.

Quins right to Care for their players

Player burnout has almost become a buzzword lately, with its true meaning being rapidly dissolved and often ignored. Harlequins' move to rest England players Danny Care, Ugo Monye and Nick Easter last week for the clash with Cardiff Blues perplexed many, but not me. Of course this was a huge match but, as an agreement between the RFU and the Guinness Premiership clubs dictates, these men have to have rest - they must not play every game. So, Harlequins chose an away fixture in the Heineken Cup (statistically much harder to win) to give them a break, just as we chose to rest Lee Mears against Quins a few weeks ago.

This is not great news for the organisers and marketers of the Heineken Cup and Guinness Premiership but no man can perform at this level every week in what is now a hellishly competitive sport.

This agreement to rest top players every now and then is vital, for without it there would be fewer of them around. So to moan and feel aggrieved by it is to miss the point. We want to watch the best players firing come finals time and this won't happen if they are exhausted because nobody saw fit to protect them.

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