I have often wondered what possible enjoyment a rugby steward can take from a couple of hours stood staring into the crowd and away from the action. To travel to a sporting occasion big enough to warrant that amount of staff suggests that the event itself might be worth watching but, like the Queen's Guard, they stand firm, their indifference and focus the stuff of legend.
On Friday night, though, at The Rec, I might gladly have swapped my team jacket for a high-vis yellownumber and turned the other cheek. It was, in so many ways, a grim evening at the office. Sometimes in sport one can do little but shrug the shoulders and take it on the chin – but this time it was tough.
Physical exertion aside, I honestlythink watching is harder than playing. Sure, we lame and lazy were nicely tucked up in the bar sipping tea and nibbling on sandwiches while others were doing our job for us, but the feeling of uselessness bites hard on these nights. And, I'll say it, especially against Gloucester. The sight of the team running out to battle makes one feel impotent and removed. The mist forming around the gorillas at scrum time reminds the injured player that while those on the field are giving so much, we are giving so little. Cheering, moaning, celebrating and advising. It is all just background noise.
Derbies with Bristol and Gloucester have always been very important for us here in the west but, with the former now struggling in the Championship, the annual visit of the Cherry and Whites to our home is elevated to almost sacred status. This is about more than bragging rights; that stuff is for the fans. Players don't brag, they know. They know what is at stake as they take the field and they know what it will take to win.
Nobody produced a better performance than Mike Tindall on the night. He was fantastic, as was Alex Brown in the second row. It wouldn't surprise me if these two blokes alone accounted for half of Gloucester's tackle count. But, strangely, Bath too had players operating at a very high level. Stuart Hooper got through the work of three men and Michael Claassens, asalways, worked until he dropped. But it wasn't enough. Effort alone did not get us over the line and Gloucester's execution when the window opened was sharp. On a wet, greasy night with the ball like a soapy slug, opportunities weren't ever going to be plentiful but what Gloucester did was produce excellence in the click of a finger when a gap opened up.
The essentially friendly jeers coming from well-furnished Gloucestermen half a dozen ciders deep we can handle, even the chants from childrennot old enough to know what it all means. It's the point at which you turn out the lights and commit to sleep that the questions are asked. This is the slot one's mind reserves as a no-holds-barred honesty session, a time when questions are answered without needing to be asked.
Next week will be tough but, ironically, it will be the same sport that left us shattered and bruised which offers us a way back to the light. Whenever things go badly, sport is there to offer redemption. So itremains futile to complain about something so honest and generous; once the result is decided one must learn the skill of acceptance and commit to working for improvement.
A good photographer could have caught in one frame the undiluted essence of this contest at the final whistle when one team were seen leaping and hugging as the other loped and sagged. But doom and gloom never served to enhance anything so the job of the non-players tomorrow will be to get the chaps smiling again. I already have one or two ideas up my sleeve, mainly involving the humiliation for the greater good of my fellow props (generally the easiest targets due to their funny-looking bodies and inability to dodge a missile) so I'll pray for a good reception.
Once again the Premiership has taught us a lesson; if you're off your mettle even a little bit the consequences will be severe. As with any job, it is our responsibility to turn up tomorrow ready to be humble but positive, honest but ambitious.
Unlike the stewards, indifference is not an option. Defeat has to be painful enough to stoke the fires within and motivate a player to achieve a higher plane of performance. So you can keep your staff jacket, I will take the action please. Yellow never was my colour.