Friday, 8 October 2010

It's the no-shows that stick in the mind

So, the first block of Aviva Premiership games is over – and what a mixed bag it's been for Bath.

There have been a couple of bonus-point victories but there have also been a couple of nasty losses. And with the weight of expectation being what it is at Bath this season, it's the losses that are sticking in the mind.

The thing is, they weren't just losses. They were embarrassing no-shows. Twice in the space of 15 days Bath looked like lost children on the pitch.

And one of those matches was at The Rec, the place where they should feel most at home.

They were the kind of performances that make you want to avert your eyes (or leave, as hundreds did before the final whistle against Gloucester last Friday), and the words of the departing fans – "we got spanked", "we got battered" – said it all.

The nature of Friday's loss to Gloucester casts a new light on the season's earlier matches.

Bath were so poor against the Cherry and Whites that I found myself reconsidering Bath's other performances and I reached the following conclusion: Bath have only put in one good performance out of the five games they have played so far.

That game was the match against London Irish, in which Bath sneaked a win with a last-gasp try. Even then they were hardly resounding victors.

Irish spent the majority of the second half of that match with just 14 men on the pitch, following a sin-binning and then a sending-off. Yet Bath failed to capitalise, even conceding a try before grabbing a late winner.

It's fairly obvious why I don't regard the losses to Northampton or Gloucester as good performances (I don't think anyone would) but what about the wins over Leeds and Sale?

Didn't Bath score four tries in each and doesn't that, of itself, give proof that Bath gave a decent account of themselves?

No, it doesn't. Because in both cases the opposition defences were woeful.

As subsequent performances have shown, Leeds are currently the Premiership's soft touch, so crossing the whitewash against them is no great shakes. Moreover, Bath's set-piece was atrocious at Headingley.

Against Sale, Bath may have secured a four-try bonus point but only after a succession of defensive blunders that left Sharks head coach Mike Brewer spitting feathers. So, again, no gongs for that win.

Am I being a little on the 'glass half empty' side? Perhaps so. But performances like the one on Friday have to prompt questions.

The consoling thing is that it is a matter of fact that Bath can perform much better.

The final months of last season were proof enough that this is a side capable of turning on the style.

But it remains something of a mystery how the team that produced the silky handling of the sort we saw against Wasps at Twickenham in April can then produce the woeful litany of knock-ons we witnessed on Friday.

It's also a source of comfort for Bath fans that their side sit fourth in the table, despite being very far from hitting top gear.

So it's not all bad. And if they get off to a decent start in the Heineken Cup against Biarritz on Sunday and all (well, most) will be forgotten.

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