David Flatman: Pride of Pienaar to help me prove Sarries wrong

View from the front row with Bath & England prop

Returning to one's old stomping ground with one's new team evokes a number of different emotions. There is the odd feeling of walking into the visitors' changing room, the relative quiet when running out on to the field and, of course, the especially fervent desire to win and prove – even if only to oneself – that they ought never to have let you go.

Having been a Bath man for seven years – two more than my stint at Saracens – those feelings really should have subsided by now, right? Well, no, actually. Admittedly, I barely recognise a single player's face up there these days and the management team, bar the owner, is completely different, but still, there is a certain spice to this fixture in my mind. The fans remain and the kitman has never left, so perhaps I'm trying to prove a point to them!

I recently attended the premiere of Invictus, the Clint Eastwood film based around South Africa's 1995 World Cup victory. While on the red carpet (it was the only way in, I was not invited) I saw a bloke who looked uncannily like Sting on steroids being hounded by cameras and loving it; it was Francois Pienaar, my former team-mate, captain and coach at Saracens. I said hello and was nearly blinded by the blasting of high-level flashes all round. This is the life, I thought, until I heard one photographer's enquiry as to my identity answered with: "That's Julian White, innit?" Then I knew it was time to disappear, but Francois stayed in his comfort zone, seemingly feeding off the bright lights.

My time working alongside and under Pienaar was invaluable. He taught me some very important lessons and, invariably, his teaching technique was to lead by example. I don't think it is offensive or controversial to say that he did not have the skill of a Zinzan Brooke or the athleticism of a Richard Hill but one thing he did have on his side was a level of utter hardness that few have matched.

His freakish natural strength and frightening, seemingly inbuilt, aggression made him a fearsome opponent and invaluable member of our team. I remember as an 18-year-old playing against Bedford in a Premiership game and the prop against me was mouthing off before the first scrum. Error. About three seconds after we engaged he was asleep, courtesy of Frankie, my South African protector. "I'll look after you till you're 20, kid," he used to say, "then you're on your own." Needless to say, I remained a teenager for the next five years.

He taught me a lot about how an older player ought to behave towards aspiring pros. He taught me that hard work and stubbornness are commodities far more valuable than talent and that any backward step taken on the field should be viewed as a violation of one's moral code. What he didn't teach me was how to flourish in the spotlight should the paparazzi point their weapons my way. He kept those secrets to himself and fortunately, seeing as I appear to resemble every English prop except myself, it seems they'd have been wasted anyway.

Flyboys fire but Watson is hair to throne

Recently, after a somewhat bumpy start to the season, we at Bath have started to play some nice stuff. Of course, we had begun winning again before the return of the mighty Butch James but it would be silly to call the timing of his return and our spike in form a coincidence.

He seems to have the innate ability to release those players outside him and that just makes everyone else's life so much easier; a team moving forward from first phase are so much more likely to create momentum from the ensuing plays that it is almost harder to lose ground than make it. That coupled with his love of the physical side of the game – a love that surely no fly-half in world rugby can claim to match – makes him quite the package. Now all we need to do is persuade him that other people are allowed to make tackles too.

Olly Barkley's return, too, should help us continue to improve towards the latter stages of this campaign. Apart from his incisive running and intelligent decision-making, he is a points machine and, without wishing to put a commentator's curse on that left boot, his consistency from the kicking tee ought to improve our odds of closing out those tight games.

Of course, we wouldn't want to give these two flyboys all the credit so, in typically sharing fashion, I am going to spread some of it elsewhere; Luke Watson, as he will gladly tell you, has made quite an impact at The Rec. Not one to shrink into the background, his confidence, relentless and impish pranks and, perhaps more importantly, performances on the field have, at times, left us open-mouthed. The man described by John Smit as "cancerous" and "divisive" has proved an unadulterated hit with the Bath boys. South Africa's loss is our gain (despite that ridiculous haircut).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own