Thursday, 26 March 2009

So which former Bath Rugby star will be appearing alongside Morgan Freeman?

It appears that David Barnes is not only a big cheese in the Professional Rugby Players' Association - he also has contacts in the world of film....

From the Bath Chronicle...

"Former Bath Rugby favourite Zak Feaunati is to appear in a Hollywood film directed by Clint Eastwood.

The 34-year-old Samoan forward who spent five years at The Rec is to play rugby legend Jonah Lomu in a film about the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand-born Feaunati, who retired last season, will appear alongside Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

Feaunati, now the director of rugby at a school in the Midlands, plays Jonah Lomu in The Human Factor, which centres on the relationship between then South African president Nelson Mandela and that nation's captain Fran├žois Pienaar.

Freeman plays Mandela in the movie, for which Feaunati was chosen following a screen test in London after being recommended by Bath prop David Barnes, who is also chairman of the Professional Rugby Players' Association.

Click here!

The test saw him demonstrate the famous haka ritual which has become the hallmark of the All Blacks ahead of international rugby games.

Feaunati told the BBC: "I had to talk about myself for the casting director, and then she asked me to do the haka.

"I might have scared one or two of the ladies, but I guess it did the trick."

The competition was staged in South Africa in 1995 and was won by the host nation.

Feaunati, who won 13 international caps for Samoa, added: "The first call I got about it was from my old team-mate David Barnes, asking me if I wanted to be in a Clint Eastwood film, so I was 99 per cent sure it was a prank.

"But when I got a further call from the PRPA offices, it dawned on me that maybe this was serious."

He made 131 appearances for Bath between 2003 and last summer."

Bath face a devilish trip up north

The Bath Rugby squad that's travelling north to face Sale Sharks will be making their trip to Edgeley Park via Old Trafford on Friday.

In order to put a bit of variety into the players' day, head coach Steve Meehan has decided that a trip to the home of Manchester United is in order.

This doesn't necessarily augur well. Like Bath, United are in the hunt for both domestic and European glory. But their last two results have been utterly disastrous – a stuffing from arch-rivals Liverpool and a red card fiesta against Fulham.

Let's hope United's dip in form – and ill-discipline – doesn't rub off on their West Country visitors as they enjoy a couple of days in the North West.

But having said all that, there is something apt about Bath visiting the home of the Red Devils – and that's because Bath themselves have a devilishly tricky fortnight coming up.

Click here!

As I explained in this column last week, squad management is going to be absolutely crucial as Bath face three Guinness Premiership matches in eight days followed by a Heineken Cup quarter-final in Leicester.

Knowing who to rest and when is the conundrum that Meehan is having to wrestle with on a daily basis.

Looking at the hints coming out of the Bath camp, it looks as though Meehan will rest many of his big guns against Sale, in the hope that a young, enthusiastic team will still be able to defeat a Sharks side that has lost four matches on the bounce in the Premiership.

The big guns will then be rolled out for Bath's home matches against Wasps on Wednesday and Harlequins a week on Saturday.

These are two games that Meehan will be targeting as must-wins – and for different reasons.

Wasps may not be threatening for a play-off berth but they are a team that have mucked around with Bath's Premiership schedule.

A game that was initially postponed at the last moment because of concerns from Wasps coach Shaun Edwards over the hardness of the pitch has been put off and put off.

It now falls on a date that, from Meehan's and Bath's perspective, couldn't be worse.

Meehan is still irked by the way this game has been rearranged, and he will be wanting to win it – not only because it is at home but to get one over on his Wasps counterpart and the officials who settled on such a silly rescheduled date.

Unlike Wasps, Harlequins are very much in the frame for a play-off spot and are therefore a key target for Bath.

To lose against the London-based club at home at such a crucial stage of the season could mortally wound Bath's play-off ambitions, and Meehan will therefore be aiming to field his strongest possible side for that encounter on April 4.

Meehan's selection policy is also being influenced by the terms of the English clubs' agreement with the RFU.

Under that agreement, players in the England Elite Playing Squad face restrictions over how many club games they can play over a certain period. One consequence of this is that Lee Mears will only be able to play in two out of the next three Premiership matches.

But with the way Hurricane Hawkins is playing at the moment, that probably won't cause too many restless hours for Meehan.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

When should you rest your top players?

Sale's phalanx of international stars will enjoy no pause for breath following the end of the Six Nations.

The Sharks have revealed that a host of their internationals will be thrown right back into the Guinness Premiership fray on Friday at Edgeley Park (click here for the latest on this).

Bath, meanwhile, look certain to rest a host of players. Friday's match marks the start of three games in eight days for Bath, and Steve Meehan is seeking to rest some of this first XV ahead of his side's home matches next week against Wasps and Harlequins.

But with Sale having lost their last four GP games, Bath have every chance of notching up an away win in Stockport on Friday.

They need to seize that opportunity.

Resting too many of his first-string side could backfire for Meehan and Bath.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Bath lose - and go up the table

If ever more evidence were needed to show that the margin between sides in the Guinness Premiership is paper thin, then it came at the weekend.

Play-off hopefuls Sale were stuffed by Northampton and the team-of-the-moment Newcastle Falcons beat Harlequins, another play-off contender.

Such results mean that Bath Rugby, despite losing to Saracens, have actually climbed the table from fifth to fourth courtesy of a losing bonus point.

Elsewhere in the league, Wasps came within a whisker of beating top-of-the-table Gloucester, and Bristol almost beat Leicester Tigers.

This weekend confirmed that there are no easy matches in this league. The race to get in the top four to secure a play-off place is still wide open with five rounds to go.

Mine's a hog's head, please

What's the recipe for Bath Rugby to enjoy success this season? Well, head coach Steve Meehan is hoping it will be hot water and a hog roast. But having whetted your appetite, I'll return to that later.

Nothing other than a sound drubbing of Bristol would have been good enough for Bath Rugby at the weekend – and they didn't disappoint.

But although it was mission accomplished on Saturday, the chock-a-block fixture card facing Bath over the next three weeks means there is going to be little time to pause for breath.

Bath face something of a blitzkrieg of matches over the next three weeks – and squad management is going to be absolutely key if the side is to win any silverware this season.

The figures are the stuff of nightmares for strength and conditioning coaches: five games in 19 days, including a nasty run of Sale, Wasps and Harlequins in the space of just nine days.

Click here!

And there's no let up after that.

As soon as Bath come off their five-games-in-less-than- three-weeks treadmill, they face Leicester at The Walker's Stadium in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

So while most Guinness Premiership sides will enjoy the weekend off on April 11 and 12 before their final two matches of the regular season, Bath face what will inevitably be an extremely physical contest in the East Midlands.

It's going to be a demanding run-in for the men at The Rec, and the squad's depth and the players' stamina and focus will be put under stress.

So, are they up to it?

That brings me back to the hog roast and the hot water.

A congested schedule means something has to give on the training ground – and Meehan is already endeavouring to lighten the load for his players in midweek.

Following the win over Bristol, Meehan immediately announced he would be giving his players three days off, presumably mindful of the Herculean labours that await them over the next few weeks.

And after this Sunday's match, Meehan has further tricks up his sleeve in order to keep his men fresh. The squad will be heading to a certain popular city centre restaurant for a slap up meal involving plenty of pork, as well as taking to the rejuvenating waters of the Thermae Bath Spa for a relaxing dip.

Such touches are wise.

With so many big matches in such quick succession, it's crucial that Meehan enables his players to take their mind off rugby in between games and put their feet up.

Splashing about in the water could be just the tonic. Although, come to think of it, taking a dip at the spa might remind them of rugby after all – do you remember those conditions for the Toulouse game?

This is taken from my column in The Bath Chronicle. Click here for more.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A fine weekend for a West Country derby

Bristol travel to The Rec for a showdown with Bath Rugby on Saturday.

If it's dry, expect Bath to win handsomely. If it rains, there could be a surprise.

Click on the video below to see what Bath wing Andrew Higgins - who left The Mem for The Rec six years ago - is thinking ahead of the clash.

Why anger can be good

It's hard to know who was angrier on Saturday afternoon, Steve Meehan (pictured) or Martin Johnson.

Certainly both coaches had good cause for rising blood pressure.

England's RBS 6 Nations loss at Croke Park saw them slide to eighth in the world union rankings, while Bath's defeat against Gloucester saw them drop out of the play-off zone in the Guinness Premiership, although they do have at least one game in hand over their principal rivals.

England boss Johnson performed a terrifyingly accurate impersonation of the Incredible Hulk after another afternoon of asinine ill-discipline, typified by Danny Care moronic shoulder charge on Marcus Horan. Clearly, it was – yet again – England's soaring penalty-count that got under Johnson's skin.

And while Bath conceded more than their share of penalties too, the causes of Meehan's anger following the game at Kingsholm were more complex.

Click here!

First there were the individual errors; then some refereeing decisions that, to be polite, were plain wrong; and then, ultimately, there was the fact that – after a titanic, enthralling game – Bath emerged not a single point better off in the Premiership.

Meehan's frustration was manifested through some terse responses in the post-match press conference – but who could blame him? Bath, having played with such heart, deserved at least a crumb of comfort.

But if you want to find real anger among coaches in the England game this week, then pop along to Bath Spa station and catch a train to Watford.

There, Saracens boss Eddie Jones has had to cope with the sight of 19 stone hulks weeping on the training ground after the South African consortium that owns the club announced it would be culling 15 of the squad's 38 senior players.

While evidently furious at the bluntness of the foreign owners' behaviour, Jones, who last month announced he would be leaving the club come the end of the current campaign, has managed to maintain a statesman-like dignity, too.

"I'm 100 per cent disappointed," Jones told the BBC. "I wanted to build a strong club, the best in Europe.

"I've never seen anything like it. Some of the guys have been in tears all week. But I've told the players I am fighting their corner, and my job is to leave the club in the best shape I can. I guarantee I will."

Jones is a man who's been known to drop a few wisecracks in press conferences. He is a man of humour, as well as being a first-class coach.

But there is no wisecracking here. You can hear the desperation and the anger, and you can hear the almost father-like defensiveness towards his players.

Anger, when controlled and directed into the right channels, can be a useful emotion in rugby. Anyone who's been in a pep talk ahead of a match against a bogey team knows that.

Now more than ever is the time for Jones and the Sarries players to channel their anger in the right way.

The senior players who have been told they are not wanted must remain positive and seek to vent their anger in the gym and in competitive play, so they make themselves attractive to other clubs.

But what about Bath? Surely they are, to a man, angry at having picked up just two points from there last two games.

And the best way to relieve that anger is to serve up a bonus-try drubbing of Bristol at The Rec this weekend.

For more of Tom's thoughts, click here