David Flatman: The beauty of youth has an ugly side too

From the Front Row: The fortnight of cup games gave our youngsters a chance and now they won't back down in training
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A question we players are often asked is how it feels to hop from one competition to another. Well, the truth is that it makes us all feel very unsettled and nervous, like unwanted puppies being shipped from kennel to kennel. Sometimes the backs can even be heard howling at night. OK, so this isn't entirely true.

In reality, once you're out on the field the default mindset is engaged and you compete as you have done since the year dot. The last two weeks have seen us at Bath take on Cardiff and Wasps in the LV= Cup. Both of the games were wet, cold and appropriately physical. I'm pretty confident that no player gave even a second's thought to the title of the event, we were too busy fighting for the blades of grass at our feet.

Today, though, sees us roll back into Aviva Premiership (or as I call it, league) action and guess what, it feels different. The match-day preparation is, of course, exactly the same: wolf down a hearty breakfast, strap up any sore joints, touch your toes and get amongst it. But the real contrast is sensed during the week.

The LV= Cup gave us a chance to rest some of the bodies that had played every game so far and replace them for a fortnight with some keen, spotty youngsters. With this comes a lot of discussion to get these chaps up to speed, lots of repetition to help them absorb all of the new information and, actually, a tangible release of pressure brought about by their youth alone.

You see, the true beauty of youth is the blissful but unappreciated ignorance with which it swaddles its emerging generation. These aspiring professionals are desperate to play, to be Bath first-teamers, to be where we are. If only they knew that, in a way, we envied them a little bit too. Not solely because they are just beginning their journey into the wonderful world of sport, but because they remain free of the burdens of pressure and expectation.

This won't last long, of course. Soon enough these boys will become hardened warriors and will have to cope with the weight of the badge and with opposing teams and players targeting them. They will have to grit their teeth and march on whether their joints and muscles want them to or not, and they will have to do it week after week, year after year.

And this, appropriately, is precisely the difference between training last week and training the week before. The big boys were back together and everything stepped up a notch. Those selected on the bench took the field with a point to prove and those left out altogether, well, they showed what they thought of that.

At one point I thought an angry reserve runner had removed Michael Claassens' head but, thankfully, he made it to his feet. When asked if he was all right he said: "Yeah, but I thought this session was touch [rugby]." Due to a chipped fingernail, I trained in a green – non-contact – bib on Wednesday, which tells everyone I'm feeling a bit delicate and am not to be knocked about. This worked well until minute three, when young flanker Josh Ovens did his best to break my sternum with a tackle. After a brief conversation on the floor we both agreed it was best I ditch the silly top. Green never was my colour.

So this afternoon we welcome to The Rec a formidable Saracens team. I think the magnitude of the challenge is really what sees training intensity increase. Players who have been here before know what is required to beat a team like this when the stakes are high. Nobody is being rested or given a game for the sake of experience. No, this match represents what league games have represented for decades; their best lads against ours.

The league might be called something different now and the shirts may be a bit shinier and a lot tighter, but some things never change, and we wouldn't want them to.