Monday, 2 April 2012

From the most exciting side in the Aviva Premiership to a wet rag of a side

Remember those halcyon days of spring-time electrification at The Rec? Those moments when, with the ground firming up, the daffodils sprouting and the days lengthening, Bath Rugby sent a shiver down the spine with displays of attacking audacity and top-drawer skills?
Days like this:

Where there was once 2,000 volts of electricity, there is now barely a current. And there is certainly no spark.
Bath's display against Northampton Saints on Saturday was awful and embarrassing. So much so that the club's own coaches described it as such, even issuing an apology to the 12,200 fans who had parted with their cash in order to witness such a car crash of a performance.
In both 2010 and 2011, Bath experienced truly grim starts to the season, but salvaged respect and league position with end-of-term displays that blended a heady cocktail of panache and skill.
Lamentably, it's been a different tale this campaign. No fightback, no resilience and all the flair of a wet rag.
What has been the main variable that has changed since 2010, when Bath last secured a play-off spot? The removal of their head coach, Steve Meehan. Following the arrival of Sir Ian McGeechan, Meehan was steadily marginalised during the course of the 2010-11 season, before heading back to Brisbane in June 2011 with a year still to run on his contract.
By his own admission since that parting, Meehan was not always the easiest of coaches to work with and his man-management skills were not up to scratch during his tenure at the club. But a coaching set up is primarily judged on its results, and on that criterion Meehan has the better of McGeechan hands down.
Bruce Craig's huge investment in Bath Rugby since he bought the club two years ago has yielded the square root of zilch. Bath are a flimsy proposition when they play at The Rec, and are currently an Amlin Cup-quality team. At best.
Big things were said at the start of the season about how The Rec would once more become a terrifying place for visiting teams. Yet Saracens, Harlequins, Sale, Gloucester and Northampton have all won there so far this campaign. That is not the record of a team on the right track, particularly given that the worst of those losses – against Northampton – was the most recent.
After Saturday's non-event, all bets will be off over what happens over the next few days at Farleigh House. That sumptuous rural manor was intended by Craig to be an inspirational club HQ from which plots of European domination could be devised. The Northampton debacle will have left Craig apoplectic. I think it unlikely that he will wait until the end of the season before acting.
Although unconfirmed, I understand that there are discussions taking place about the possibility of an immediate change to the Bath set up.
That would be the right thing for the board to do. The natives in the East Stand are justly pulling their hair out, while the players – on Saturday's performance – look bewildered.
Yet, thanks to other mid-table sides also losing, there is still a chance for Bath to sneak into next season's Heineken Cup. There is still more than pride to play for, although pride will surely be the principal motivation when Bath take to the field against Sale Sharks in south Manchester a week on Friday.
It has been a season in which Bath's ability to frustrate has been exceeded only by their capacity to botch up the basics. Bruce Craig, the city and the supporters deserve better.

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