Turbulent Bath come together on the day
TYPICAL Bath on Saturday they were as exposed as those tourists bizarrely taking open-top bus rides through the city in raw winds. Today the cup-holders sit snugly in the sixth-round draw at Twickenham.
Bath simply refused to be buffetted at the end of a torrid week. They had been racked by injuries, with Phil de Glanville's withdrawal due to thigh strain the previous day being the last straw. Brian Ashton, their coach, was absent throughout the week after a rift between him and the Director of Rugby, John Hall. And Hall is on police bail after an incident earlier this month in a city winebar.
After the game, when Hall spoke of the "disruption at the club" he wasn't exaggerating. Bath are famous for pulling together in adversity, but many of their players are unhappy with Ashton's, albeit temporary, departure.
And although Hall has not been charged, the club members will not tolerate the sort of rowdy behaviour they would turn a blind eye to in the day's before professionalism.
Hall said he expected the coach to return at the end of the week. "The situation will be resolved," he said. "But the senior players stepped in to prepare the side during the week and our direction was not affected. We have such a lot of experience that we can do without a coach in those circumstances."
It was Bath's bloodymindedness that froze out the Exiles. London Irish were only 12 points adrift and theoretically still in the game with 13 minutes to go before the speed and opportunism of Jeremy Guscott gave the England centre three excellent tries and the scoreline an unreal gloss.
In the second and third quarters, the Irish pounded away at the Bath defence, but too slow ball and resolute tackling kept the home side's line intact. "Bath left us exposed in the last 15 minutes," admitted Willie Anderson, the Irish Director of Rugby. "They have this ability to speed up the game and take their chances."
Anderson has problems of his own in his new post. Next Saturday the Irish face West Hartlepool in a relegation dogfight they have to win, especially with the possibility now that four clubs will go down from League One next May. It was sobering for Anderson that even an injury-hit Bath were far too strong for his side who badly missed the strength of Gabriel Fulcher in their pack and the flair of David Humphreys, a flu victim, at fly-half.
Bath could seamlessly draft in a replacement number 10 in Rich Butland, who fashioned all Guscott's three tries with fingertip passing, and not be adversely affected.
Steve Ojomoh, too, was outstanding at number eight, constantly making ground with his drives from the back of the serum. Ojomoh also won useful ball in the line-out, a problem area for Bath in the past. Hall denied that the club had spoken to Argentina's German Llanes and that the lock would be returning to England with Federico Mendez after Christmas.
Hall was not hopeful that the temporary rugby league recruits, Jason Robinson and Henry Paul would return themselves to the Rec. They are due back at Wigan after January 11. "I would hope to see them again, but I don't think players can play both codes. They have to choose one or the other. And I honestly don't know whether it's financially viable to have them back here.