Gone seem to be the days when a team remained the same for a decade. Professionalism and the marketplace have brought with them an often ruthless turnover of playing personnel and the lists of comings and goings grow longer year on year.
When I joined Bath in 2003, I was one of a staggering 16 new faces to arrive on the same day. Less than a year ago, Saracens decided to clear out a similar number of unwanted livestock in one very bleak morning of five-minute meetings. Of course, these are two extreme examples but absolute continuity seems almost a thing of the past. There are too many exciting players knocking around – and there is too much cash to spend – for directors of rugby and head coaches to resist. The rugby world has become a candy shop.
Predictably, one aspect of this phenomenon that does not make the Teletext updates is the friendship factor; this year we at Bath will say goodbye to 11 of our mates. These are blokes with whom we have been – almost daily – to our physical limits. We have seen one another suffer and have put our bodies on the line for the collective good. This creates a bond, different to one a man might share with a schoolmate or a golfing buddy. This is one of total trust and respect.
Then they are gone. Mobile phones make staying in touch easy enough and sport has a way of reuniting familiar faces but I must say it is an odd feeling to watch a close friend leave his tracksuit at the door and move on while you still sit in the chair you were in when he arrived. So many of these friendships become transient and it would be easy not to commit too strongly to them, because they are bound not to last. But that would be to miss the point of rugby; this is not a game for the aloof or the misanthropic. It is an environment in which the team player thrives first and this means we do become close. Therefore, it is sad when friends leave the fold.
Some we will miss more than others, of course. Julian Salvi is one of life's painfully nice men. The worst-dressed man in the West Country (though probably the best-dressed Australian), he spends his afternoons being hammered by fellow players young and old for wearing the clothes of a Danish teenager in the 1980s. Yet he refuses to bite and seems almost to enjoy the interaction for what it is. Daniel Browne, though, has done nothing but chip away at the self-esteem of every man at this club for the last three years. No matter how hard we train, how much thought we put into our personal presentation, Browne always looks better. I'm sick of it. OK, so I'm unlikely ever to reach the top of the pin-up charts in this place but with Browne out (and Lewis Moody in) I can at least be sure of climbing a place. My wife disagrees with this assumption, interestingly, but who asked her?
So it is with a sense of inevitability and genuine affection that we bid farewell to our departing comrades in this increasingly nomadic sport, and with open arms we wait for the fresh meat to arrive. These men will, of course, become part of the club's fabric before long and those leaving will always be welcome back. In a particularly noble gesture of friendship, Danny Grewcock has promised to save a personal welcome for all those joining rival teams, should they return to the Rec. Exceedingly generous, but of course Grewcock only has a year left to play before moving into the afterlife so we will soon be saying goodbye to him too. A sad day that will be, but as long as the bloke brought in to replace him has a face like a bag of spanners, I'll be happy.Reuse content