Sunday, 22 July 2012

The final piece of the jigsaw

It's nearly here!! Pre-season friendlies eeking ever closer ready to wet our appetites for the Avia Premiership and a new beginning for the Blue, Black and White.

London Welsh showing they're ready for the offing after demonstrating a powerful display in the JP Morgan 7's qualifying round. So the anticipation of their arrival as a fully fledged top flight team is now building. The game lined up for the 11th August the day after the release of the new strip so bring on the band of Blue, Black and white peacocks proudly displaying their new plumage.

New coaching regime- check, new kit- check, pre-season fixtures- check, pre-season training- check now just one more announcement remaining........ Who will be captain fantastic to lead the army marching to an impending glory?

There must of been an air of disappointment for last year's club captain Stuart Hooper who due to a list of injuries only managed 13 performances for Bath. A strong force on and off the field Hoops led by example by always putting his body on the line, sadly this led to the injuries and having to watch the majority of the season from the sidelines. A strong contender for a second and hopefully more successful term as captain. Could Hooper prove himself to Gary Gold and demonstrate he's a worthy candidate?

The strong favourite amongst the pundits and supporters is one of Bath's stand out players of last season Mr François Louw. Louw who acted as Hooper's stand in during his absentees displayed his true leadership quality. Since joining Bath Louw has worked his way into the hearts of the fans with his ability and passion he's projects on the field.

Another potential applicant for the captaincy is another of Hooper's stand ins, a firm favourite with the supporters- Lee Mears. Mearsy considered as a legend of the Rec potentially could be in the running. Now his international boots have been hung up aims to concentrate on aiding Bath in earning some silverware. No international call ups to contend with means 100% dedication to lead the squad and discover their potential. A downside for the appointment of Mearsy is with the newly signed Webber who has now taken up Mearsy's role in the EPS. With Webber's introduction to the squad would hamper Mears from a list of first team stars for the season.

But who else could be in the line up......Abendanon, Claasens, Banahan or even Barkley? I'm sure over the next week or so we will find out and with the announcement the final piece of the jigsaw will be pushed into place and realising the anticipation for the new campaign is nearly at a climax.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

It's nearly game time!!

As it's edging ever closer to dusting of the hip flask, scarf, hat and mittens today we saw the release of the Aviva Premiership 2012/13 season.

A release of new fixtures always aides the pundits within us all and begin the speculations of how the campaign will pan out. Bath fans expectations are riding high as always, a crowd with an immense sense of belief. With the new coaching regime the support for the club is rife. Bath are stepping into unknown this season and the hope is to hit the ground running and build up morale so the momentum continues to flow.

Hard fought pre-season fixtures will ensure a good bond for the players and coaching staff. Hopefully developing a strong platform to lead them into a season that primarily could see a return to the dizzy heights of the upper quadrant of the table.

London Welsh now confirmed as a premiership side will try to demonstrate their right to be there. A good spring board for Bath Rugby to lead into the Welsh pairing of the Osprays and Cardiff Blues. Two strong welsh sides who would give any premiership side a hard fought battle. The pre-season fixtures are always important but seem so much more poignant this year, more the discovery of a team rather than an exhibition of rugby.

Bring forth August 31st and it's game time, the dawn of the new season and a trip up to Worcester for Bath. Last season's trip to Sixways was a performance the majority of fans wish to forget. Potentially one of Bath's worse displays for some time going down 16-7. The saving grace of the fixture was the TMO awarded try for Charlie Beech, allowing at least something on the board. Warriors finished up in 10th two places beneath Bath so potentially a good baptism fixture for Bath's campaign, as long as they don't repeat last season.

The first outing on the Rec for the Blue, Black and white is game two. Pitting their wits against the only just surviving London Wasps. Wasps managed by the skin of their teeth to salvage their top flight status by narrowly pipping Falcons to the penultimate side in the league, eventually seeing Falcons becoming a championship side. A few significant signings going Wasps way may see them have a stronger season and dig theirselves out of the bottom of the pile.

With two of what people may consider to be easier fixtures (but do not underestimate) out of the way then enter the arena.... Saints. Bath's last premiership encounter with Northampton at the Rec was not of the prettiest scoreline, Bath going down to the sound of a 6-26 defeat. Saints finished the quartet of sides in the playoffs although being eight points adrift or third place Sarries. If the two opening fixtures see Bath taking the the victories it could see them in good stead for the Saints bout.

What has become very apparent through all the fixture list for Bath is the end of the season will be no easy running. To face Quins away, Tigers at home then the finale against Sarries away is no mean feat to say the least. The last three premiership champions back-to-back will take a huge effort from any team, hopefully by then Bath should of done enough to ensure at least a top four Finnish.

The expectations are their for the new beginning let's hope the reality is aswell.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Thanks to the Heroes

In the 2011/12 season we regrettably bid adieu to some old friends through retirement.

Regrettably Lewis Moody was forced to retire due to a string of injuries and felt he could no longer punish his body anymore. The inclement injury downfall at bath began when a knee ligament injury was sustained during the Bath fixture against Aironi, where Bath ran out victorious winning 56-16. Moody was ever hopeful he would be fit to run out for England in the 2011 six nations unfortunately this was not to be and missed the entire tournament.
While gaining fitness Martin Johnson stated if fit he would still represent England as captain at the world cup. Selected Moody travelled with the band of Roses down to New Zealand, much to the surprise of many. Following the world cup he announced his retirements from international rugby.
An injury peppered season for Bath followed and on march 6th 2012 he signed off from all rugby with immediate effect. Sadly leaving only small memories of genius in only his 15 appearances for Bath and the realisation that we never saw the true class of Moody grace the turf at the Rec.
A true legend with a glittering career including 223 caps for Tigers scoring 165pts, 15 caps for Bath and 5pts, 110 caps for England with 45pts also 5 lions capsgetting 5pts. Not to mention captaining his country and gaining a world cup winners and runners up medal. Not a bad little career.

Andy Beattie or Beastie as he's fondly know as also had to call it a day on his rugbying days after he failed to recover from an ankle injury. Unfortunately Beastie received a nasty knock while playing against Glasgow during a Heineken cup match in January.
13 days after Moody hung up his boots Beastie followed suit and announced his retirement from the game.
Beastie joined Bath in 2001 after four years at Exeter during his uni years. Since joining the Blue, Black and White he managed to become a double centurion turning out over 200 performances for Bath notching up 85 points to his credit.
Misfortune hit Beastie's career with injuries. In 2005 while playing for England A against France A down at the Rec Beattie suffered a broken leg and missed half of the remaining season returning to take his place in the 2005/06 campaign. A true servant of the club and a huge fan favourite a big loss to the game.

Possibly the 'biggest' of the fans favourite who comes in the shape of Duncan 'Belly' Bell was the third of the retirees to announce the end was nigh! Unlike the other retiring clan Belly made the decision that this was to be his last season and was to bow out but not due to injury. After his announcement to quit at the end of the season Belly unleashed a candid revelation that for the past decade he'd been suffering from heavy depression. It was a very open and frank admission and earned the 19 stone prop more respect amongst the rigging world.
On April 12th Belly got the chance to have his last run out at the Rec in front of his adoring fans soaking up the adoration and calling an end to a nine year run for Bath. Started as a Bath mini had moved about a little before making the return to the Rec. His Pro career began Ebbw Vale for a season before a good four year spell at sale running out 78 times, also racking up 68 caps to Pontypridd.
Belly was turned down by the IRB for eligibility to play for Wales and subsequently in 2005 received the call up for England in the six nations taking his first cap against Italy, following it up with cap two opposing Scotland, all in all Belly scooped five caps for England.
Let's hope we still get to see him down the Rec supporting the team who's fans cherished him as a player.

After the season was done and the new coaching regime in place we had the news that a young sprightly David Flatman was also having to say farewell to the game, also as Moody and Beastie did due to injury. Just as Bath's pre-season training was about to begin Flats revealed it was he time to finish participating in the sport, unusually for a prop having to retire from a hand injury as opposed to a neck or shoulder injury.
A promising young prop representing England schools and moving on to the colts started his professional era with a five year stint at Sarries before the move to Bath. Flats picked 8 picked up eight caps for England and hadn't it been for injuries would of easily picked up more. In the nine years he graced the turf at the rec from 2003-12 he mustered up over 160 caps for Bath. What was to be Flats last season he managed to execute a sublime pirouette landing gracefully over the line for his first try for Bath, much to the jubilation of the crowd.
With Flats remaining as a backroom participant of the Bath team I'm sure we'll still be graced with plenty of his journalistic skills and banterous tweets. Another legend of the Rec lost but nit forgotten.

As a few of the old guard are departing the field of play there's only but a handful left teaching the young guns how to play the game.
One of these such players is Bath, England and Lions hooker Lee Mears. Since joining Bath's academy back in 1997 he's pledged is allegiance to adorning the Blue, Black and White colours of Bath. Waiting until 2004-05 season to really stamp down his first team place and becoming the reliable hooker that saw him to an England call up. His call up led to 45 international caps and his one lions cap, even getting a try for the Roses. The dawn of a new era starting next season will see Mearsy still in place nestled in the middle of the front row for Bath. The following season will also see Mearsy become a double centurion as his tally is now sat on 197 caps.
With his announcement this week he is to hang up his international boots and concentrate on club rugby it's a stark reminder we may not be graced with mearsy's passion and spirit in the field of play. The past few seasons has seen him fighting off a recurring bicep injury but we can hope to see him tread the pitch for a few more years to come.

The sign that these guys are retiring in there early to mid 30's just indicates the strain the pile upon their bodies for the love of the game. For this reason alone we must admire, salute and thank for the pleasure their pain has delivered!