Hope and Glory?
By P G Tips
August 23 2017

Burns: good news

Every season, for every club, begins in hope. Some may even dream of glory when the season ends. For Bath fans used to an attractive playing style, a mercurial set of halfbacks and adventurous backs, the hope is usually justified. Since 1998 though, glory has proven mostly elusive. A club boasting in its’ ranks the mercurial talents of players like Jeremy Guscott, Mike Catt, Ian Balshaw, Dan Lyle, Matt Stevens, Jonathon Joseph and Anthony Watson has picked up only one trophy in two decades.  There have been many delights in that time, hence the continual hope. The Blue, Black and White gate -crashed Wasps St George’s Day parties twice running at Twickenham, nipping those celebrations in the bud before they became a tradition. Old rivals Leicester Tigers, even when riding high, have not won at the Rec for 7 years (conceding 12 lovely tries in 2 visits in 2015) and Saracens, Premiership winners or finalists in 5 of the last 7 years, double European champions in the past 2, only embarked on their winning streak following a 9 try, 66 point humbling by the Blue, Black and White in 2008. So – can we continue to hope going into the current season and if so, should we have reason to expect? Will the hopes once again fall short, or can Bath find glory this time?  

There are ample grounds for hope. Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson are just completing their first full pre season period, embedding the systems and style they want the squad to adopt. Most of the long term injured have returned to training or will be ready for action in the next two to three weeks. Despite these absences and the late return of Lions and England squad members, initial signs are of a united and settled squad, comfortable with the systems the coaches have been promoting. The first two Pre Season friendlies have been won. In both fixtures Bath were in command at half time before the disruption of rolling substitutions allowed their hosts to narrow the gap. The Ospreys match was actually quite an impressive performance: a 0-28 lead would probably have converted to 0-35 had a TMO been in attendance and the first of Ospreys two try reply stemmed from a referee error. Arguably 7-35 should have been the final score. Blackadder and his team are aware of the need to tighten defence and mental steel in the final minutes of matches. Leinster on Friday evening will be the truest test of their success in that effort –and of Bath’s readiness for the season ahead.


Optimism also stems from the summer tours. England Under 20 stars Z Mercer, Bayliss and Atkins have already seen action and shone. Soon we can welcome back Ewels and Underhill, both of whom impressed in England’s victories over Argentina. Taulupe Faletau and Anthony Watson were among the Lions standout players, while Jonathon Joseph was unlucky not to make the Test squad – his place in the starting XV going to the ultimate “man of the series”. All have been tested a level up from their previous experience and will have gained valuable edge.  The return to Bath of Freddie Burns is good news too – a playmaker as comfortable with a pragmatic game as a flair one, with a high goal kicking percentage and, above all, a will to be here. Let’s hope his form makes him as loved at the Rec as he is missed at Welford Road.


A glance back to last season gives further room for hope, as well as warnings of what must improve.  Several away matches were lost by just a single score, usually right at the very last. A few more wins against the basement teams could have seen Bath comfortably into the play offs. The return of “mental training” is a welcome development in addressing this failing, as is the greater squad size and the form shown by some of the younger players – Mercer, Dunn and Ellis in particular when forced to step up last term. There is plenty to suggest that converting last year’s 5th place to 4th is a realistic ambition, especially if the horrendous run of injuries from that campaign can be avoided.


All hope though needs an anchor: “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”. Blackadder and Matson will prove themselves that anchor if they can fashion a successful season with limited centre resources, a comparatively lightweight front five and a testing start which pits Bath against 4 of last season’s top 6 in the opening five rounds.


“It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Says John Cleese to his wife in the film “Clockwise.” Bath’s outlook for the coming season is way above the desperate, hope springs eternal and is central in the Rec psyche. Bath can face the next few months “with hope in the heart.” “Glory” though, could be another matter. We shall have to wait until May next year to discover whose “eyes have seen the glory.”