Ever since I joined Bath Rugby, there has been talk of developing The Rec or moving on to a ground better equipped to host a first-class rugby match. Knowing the relaxed way of life down here and how long it takes for any decisions to be made, we players never truly imagined it might come about in our lifetimes. Now, however, with new a chief executive, Nick Blofeld, in the chair, it seems progress is imminent – imminent being a relative term. This is Bath, after all.
There is great affection felt for The Rec both locally and, I believe, from the wider rugby community. Employee's bias aside, I can never remember having played anywhere so beautifully situated and to get to do so every other week is a genuine treat. Sure, it's a rickety old joint with uncomfortable seats and truly awful parking arrangements but it is also a proper old rugby ground. It might lack the seating capacity or baby-changing facilities of a Liberty Stadium, it might not be able to cope so well with a bit of rain or snow, but I know where I would rather run out.
I practically have to sit on Danny Grewcock's lap to get changed for a match and the "team" bath is so small that Duncan Bell and I cannot both bathe at the same time (this is an easier cross to bear). Strangely though, I never hear anyone complaining. We are more likely to endure with a smile the limp, rarely warm showers, dump our kit bags in the car and wander into town for a drink. Not such a bad existence.
I first played at Welford Road in 1998 and, no, 18-year-old public school boys were not made particularly welcome there in those days. It was a close, intense, visceral experience and I will never forget it. These days though, it has all changed. There is a far bigger crowd, a far nicer pitch and an altogether more corporate feel to things. This, the purist might assume, would go some way to killing off what was left of the old vibe of the place. Actually, it is better now. More people equals more noise – it feels like playing in a Premier League football match at Leicester now. Better playing surfaces make exciting fast rugby more likely and the corporate side of proceedings, well, just adds a welcome bit of razzmatazz to what is now a brilliant day out.
You see all things must evolve, they have to. Yes it is the job of the playing staff to ensure that the rugby itself is up to scratch but the club has to be contemporary. The yesteryears at Bath were wonderful and fruitful and glorious but they are gone. We still talk of old players with huge respect and read their lists of achievements with utter admiration and astonishment but this is our time and we have to make it count. An institution like Bath Rugby can cherish its history without remaining rooted in it. We can include our former heroes, remember the glory days and carry the brand with us as we strive to arrive at today.
It may be the case that, eventually, The Rec will indeed be developed and, logistically at least, nothing will change but we must also ready ourselves to move away. In years to come we might be running out into a big, new, shiny stadium somewhere else in our beloved city but it will still be our city. We will still pull on the jersey with pride and defend all that we love, it might just be in a different building. Of course it would be very sad to no longer call The Rec home but it will always be there and we would never forget it. One day then, the dream of sharing muddy, tepid water with Belly might become reality. What a thought.
Please keep respecting referees
Last week we played Leeds in a vitally important, high-pressure match at Headingley. Fortunately we managed to win but, for the first 79 minutes, it was quite a nerve-wracking affair. Every incident seemed magnified in its gravity and every decision by referee Dave Pearson was met with strong – if silent – opposition from members of the penalised team. Pearson gave a lot of penalties at the scrummage, probably a similar number both ways but, at one point, I lost my cool: "You cannot be serious, Sir," was the extent of my outburst. Hardly worthy of the Premier League but not appropriate in the Guinness Premiership.
Immediately after the game I knocked on his door and went in to apologise. We had a laugh about it, agreed to blame one another and went away smiling. This was somewhat different to the explosion from Brendan Venter last week.
I agree with him that refereeing decisions can be more than frustrating and, at times, even inconsistent but these blokes are just that – blokes. They will make errors, as will we, but in rugby we have always prided ourselves on being violent but fiercely respectful. Let us please not follow the example of football in becoming abusive and aggressive to professionals who are trying to do their jobs. I find that utterly vile to watch and do not ever want to be part of a game where respect does not override animal instinct.
Relief as Bath finally turn corner
None of us at Bath expected to have such a hard start to the season. We truly believed we would – after a brilliant pre-season training camp – be frontrunners from the start. It was not to be. Instead we found ourselves going into Christmas in a bad place. Nobody likes to be talked about as relegation contenders but, at a club as big as Bath, the feeling of underachievement is worse. We feel responsible for the badge, while we are lucky enough to wear it, and are under pressure not to let the city down.
So the two games of our festive period against Gloucester and Leeds served both as stiff examinations of us as a team but also as a murky cloud hanging over the roast turkey. To win them both was an incredible feeling (and I enjoyed putting in a nice hit on Andy Gomarsall) but that feeling was not elation. It was temporary relief. Two victories maketh not a vintage season and the minute you start feeling comfortable, the Guinness Premiership sends you thumping back to earth. What we have done is make a start and turned a corner in our own minds. We now know we can win and are hellbent on doing so more often.Reuse content