Thursday, 18 July 2013

How Gavin Henson's jaw raised the ghost of 2009

We've all had a good gawp at this video - and in the process been reminded of how smartphones and social media have propelled famous sports people into a state of near-permanent visibility. But what does Carl Fearns' punch on Gavin Henson really mean for their club and the sport?

Forget Henson for a moment. Forget Fearns, too. Despite the spin that Gav-watchers might try and put on this incident in the Pig and Fiddle pub in Bath city centre last week, the significance of what happened is more about the consequences for the club as a collective than the consequences for a couple of its players.

Haunting the post-mortem into the bust-up has been the ghost of deeds past.

Four summers ago, the curtain came whizzing down on what – for want of a better phrase – was a ‘party culture’ at Bath Rugby.  The club was in a state of tumult following an RFU hearing that saw former team-mates effectively testify against former team-mates over allegations of who took what on a night out. Within a space of four months, five players – including the club’s co-captains – had left the club having either admitted taking Class A recreational drugs or having been accused of taking Class A drugs.

In the wake of that crisis, Bath laudably instigated a player-led process of developing a list of values that formed the essence of the club. The bond of camaraderie that underpins a successful rugby club may have been dealt a major blow, but the club was quick to start the healing process.

When Fearns’ right fist connected with Henson’s jaw last Wednesday, the ghost of 2009 was temporarily resurrected.

The club knows it cannot afford to once again be the object of speculation and innuendo about what its players are up to off the field. Such distractions do not foster the single-mindedness required to make a mid-table side into a table-topping side.

This time last year – with the arrival of a new coaching team – the club’s marketing people dubbed the 2012-13 campaign ‘A New Beginning’. That catchline, with all its connotations of a clean slate, cannot be allowed to be contaminated by questionable off-field behaviour.

And that’s why the club has acted swiftly and decisively, fining Henson and Fearns and issuing them with written warnings.

Interestingly, however, not a single former Bath player I’ve spoken to since the incident believes what happened is necessarily a bad thing for the club, at least as far as squad development is concerned.

It may sound a tad oafish, but in rugby the use of fists against one’s own is usually construed as a sign of passion and commitment. Players only fight in training because they are pumped up and care about what they are doing.

Leicester’s training ground fights are the stuff of legend – and look at their track record.

The problem last week was that the niggle spilled out in a very public way.

It was unedifying and unacceptable in a public place, yes. But, given the oddities of masculine initiation, Gavin Henson will probably feel a more integrated member of the Bath Rugby squad today than he did a fortnight ago.

As one ex-player put it to me, "It's old school rugby values. Is it right? Probably not."

This post is based on a column for The Bath Chronicle.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Ok, so you were right, Warren!

When Brian O'Driscoll was dropped ahead of the Lions' series decider, I tweeted that removing BOD from a Lions lineup on the eve of a tour finale was akin to removing turkey from the menu on December 24.
I then wrote a column saying Warren Gatland had not only succeeded in wrong-footing the opposition by dropping O'Driscoll - he'd wrong-footed his own team, too.
Gatland got stick from many quarters - but what a vindication he received on Saturday.
The record-breaking 41-16 demolition of the Wallabies was so comprehensive that there have already been calls for Gatland to be knighted.
While Gatland contemplates his potential elevation, I - and many other pundits - are left to contemplate our own inadequacies when it comes to crystal ball-gazing.
Journalists aren't always the most humble bunch, but mea culpa, Warren!