Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Is pleasure followed by pain? New ground new Prices?

It's a rigmarole that has been going on for a very long time, the redevelopment of the Rec. It's been a saga that has confused many a Bath fan, as we want Bath to play there but need an up to date ground. Yes I want the Rec to be redeveloped but how much of a price will it cost the Bath Faithful?

Ticket prices through rugby have been increasing over the years since the turn of professionalism, but how much more can the fans sustain the increases? A point was raised how much Sarries were charging for tickets at their new all singing all dancing Allianz park, a premium seat could of set you back £70 in a premiership fixture. When you look along the lines of Manchester United who have the most expensive seat in the house priced at £52, suddenly it seems that rugby is becoming a more expensive outing than its richer counterpart football.
One amazing price range that amazed me is the cost of an England rugby ticket to go and see them take on the French.......between £40 and £98 a seat! I wish to take my children to watch an international fixture at the beloved HQ, but with a price like that its an expensive little hobby. Even looking down the line the dearest seats at Murrayfield can set you back a tidy sum of £75.

So with these figures out there a concern for me would be a new Rec possibly could see a price increase with the possibility pricing supporters out of making so many journeys down to support Bath. With Bruce Craig announcing in the chronicle that the Rec will become a "world class" arena an be "well worth waiting for". As all Bath fans know the Rec is in desperate need of a revamp to say the least, the facilities and general state of the ground are not that of a premiership rugby team. For years it's been a debate that has rolled on and in April we will finally have the answer "will the Rec finally be redeveloped into the top class stadium Bruce Craig has the vision of it becoming?" Lets all hope so!

This Friday sees Bath take on their fiercest local rivals Gloucester, always a big game in which all fans like to see but unfortunately this home tie falls on a Friday night at eight PM. Tickets for this match you would feel would of been flying out the door left right and centre and a capacity crowd should be in place, although the timing would suggest some of the travelling Bath supporters may find transport difficult to sort out and a possible overnight stay may be needed. Surprisingly the terracing sardine stand is sold out where as in the 6X stand still has space. But why would the covered, best seats in the house still be available? Could it be the £52 price tag attached? But the price is the same for everyone including junior and concessions. If I was to book a seat for myself, my son and my brother who normally go to watch the games it would set me back £156! Two adults and a junior to watch a game of rugby on a Friday night, yes I love to watch Bath always have and always will but is that price tag justified? Spaces available in the uncovered Novia stand still available but also attached to a £45 price tag to sit uncovered with a forecast of rain and low temperatures, again justified price probably not in many people's eyes. So as a true comparative price scale you could spend the same to go to Old Trafford and sit in a well facilitated ground (sadly watching football) or at the Rec, only complication of that choice is the choice of sport.
A stronger value for money is to grab a season ticket in which there is obviously a money saving way of doing it for the long run, but in our current economy not many people have that kind of expendable money to spend at one occasion. Also an issue is if you are unable to attend every fixture and make regular trips down to the Rec a season ticket is not a viable option so individual matches may be your only choice.

Many of Bath's home fixtures this season are yet to be full sell out matches, with such games as Gloucester this you would expect. So has weather, match timings or is it just due to cost that has played a part in this? This season we have seen many different offers on tickets to aid getting bums on seats so it seems that Bath have acknowledged there could well be an issue with this, but ticket offers at times have also aggrieved the season ticket holders who have shelled out their pennies upfront. Bruce Craig's vision of an 18,000 seated arena could be an interesting prospect but if they can't fill the current ground with supporters will a larger capacity be a bigger challenge? With a new stadium will it bring bigger ticket prices then aiding the vicious circle of more fans being unable to afford the trip to watch their beloved team they support.
Sadly this isn't just the debate of whether the ground will face the redevelopment but more to the vicious circle of 'if the fans will be able to afford to fill it?' The ground needs pulling kicking and screaming into the top flight of rugby to match the clubs aspirations that play there but to what cost of the avid supporters?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Are we losing the respect for the Referee?

One of the most important things in rugby is respecting the referee, its always been the one thing that separates rugby from so many other sports. One of the first introductions into rugby is you never argue with the ref and call him 'sir'.
While watching football you will see players surrounding the officials trying to influence them, continuous protests from players, supporters and even coaching staff in rife in the game and unfortunately is now accepted.
In rugby only the captain and player involved in infringement are allowed to speak to the referee and generally only the captain is allowed to approach the referee and ask any questions.
In my opinion this is what makes the game of rugby so great, it teaches discipline and respect. Whether you're playing mini or top flight rugby the attitude from players should always be shown in the same context. As the professionals display this discipline it also aids the young contenders follow replicate their heroes behaviour, aspirational behaviour is educational behaviour, players must lead by example.

Sergio Parisse to his detriment has recently discovered that verbally abusing a match official certainly is not a wise move, now serving a 30 day ban after carrying out that action. A harsh lesson to learn but also a strong message to send out, this will not be tolerated in the game. Parisse has by far been the strongest player in the Italian team through the first couple of fixtures of the six nations, but now that force and leadership has been removed from the Azzuri. The strength of the punishment is demonstrated in the fact his banning period is longer than Cian Healy who was handed a three week suspension for an attempted stamp on the ankle of Dan Cole in the Ireland v England fixture. Evidence of respect the man in the middle!

Over the last few seasons refereeing decisions are starting to become more scrutinised and a referees performance is becoming as important as the teams playing the game itself. Fans now know as much about the officials as they do about the teams, their preferences on penalising scrums, playing advantages and many are even picked by supporters for favouritism or opposing a team. So why have we gone from accepting the word of the referee to questioning him and almost doubting his credentials to officiate a game, what has changed and is is it possible for it to return to the "good old days"?

The RFU appear to feel that there is an issue with this due to the action earlier this season against Richard Cockerill and Conor O'Shea for post match comments regarding the officials performances. Both have been issued a letter of warning stating they will have to curb their comments or face disciplinary actions for bringing the game into disrepute. A bold move by the RFU and for many a possible welcome step, an attempt to reinforce the respect of the referee is an attempt to draw back the original ethos of the game.

There are many points of view for contradicting the officials calls and why they are so heavily scrutinised, the list of judges is ever growing ranging from fans, players, coaches and television pundits. Many have suggested that the power of recent years has been diminished from the referee as the IRB have become so stringent with their laws, yes the laws are there to improve the game but the referees interpretation of those laws is waining. Citing committees and the TMO have become much stronger and are there to aid referees but also highlight decisions missed or errors made by the officials, to a point that the referee could become slightly isolated and gain their self a reputation for making poor decisions.

For the reversal of the argument do the referees at times do their self any favours? Recent fixtures have highlighted that some officials seem to be being influenced by the crowd. The crowds are becoming more vocal towards the officials in shouts of 'forward' or the one I personally hate 'off off off', and sadly it appears they are taking note and listening to the crowd and administering sanctions reliant on the chants.
Understandably to walk out in places such as Welford Road, Kingsholm, Adams Park etc must be a very intimidating experience, but to be a top flight referee surely you are expected to be able to ignore such pressure? If they succumb to such pressure that truly states they are not doing a professional job and this failing should be highlighted, therefore they should become fairly scrutinised and face their own sanctions? In a possible melodramatic sense if somebody is under performing in their job how long will they stay in that position?
Unfortunately we have witnessed a few decisions of late that can draw upon the argument that a refereeing reshuffle may be needed? A TMO decision handing a penalty try in which some may consider as harsh and a potential covering tackle may of come in if a trip had not occurred. An inexperienced official who unfortunately didn't seem to have a grasp on scrummaging and repeatedly penalised the team moving forward intact almost seeming quite hapless through the majority of the fixture. We also witnessed a harsh yellow for not retreating 10 at a tap and go even with no warning? Yes it is fair to say everybody has an off day but some errors seem basic fundamentals of the game yet error and judgement still go amiss.

A large concern for many comes with the youth rugby, with the game becoming more and more popular the young players look for inspiration from their elders. With general attitudes towards the referees children will learn and take this on board, and continual disregards of the officials decisions how much respect will be left by the time they hit adult rugby? An eight year old watching now in ten years time what will be the evolutional passage? I've noticed of late how the feeding of scrums has filtered down from the professional game down into junior rugby, so showing that youth mimics their idols. If the future of rugby players or supporters see that the Referee is not respected by likewise players or supporters could we eventually lose the one thing that still makes rugby the gentleman's sport we know and love?

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Is a resurgence finally happening at Bath

First things There any Bath fans not smiling at the moment? I for one am loving the Bath form of late.
It's not often your hear of Bath scoring 104 points split through three fixtures. They've scored five tries hitting 32 points in two matches and 40 points with four tries. The trip to Gloucester saw a 5-32 victory and Worcester's journey to the Rec gave them a 32-9 win backed up with London Irish being on the end of a 40-16 trip to the Rec.
A resurgence in form seems to be coming Bath's direction and the sense of seeing the Bath we've wanted to see and believed was there is becoming apparent.

Many will say lets not get carried away with a handful of victories in a row, two Amlin, Two LV=cup and now two Aviva Premiership wins to add, but even through those matches a visible improvement has shown. There has been some fixtures this season that have gone a miss from poorly executed kicks allowing teams to run at Bath, the defence can only handle so much pressure. A mixture of close games both wins and loses but also some matches that really didn't go to plan have had the naysayers compelling Bath to more of a relegation side with the occasional call of coaching changes, just a little premature don't you think!

Bath have had a very good run in the Amlin cup and marched on as the top seeds only to be drawn Stade Francais in the next round, so all hasn't been so dreadful. After the last two Amlin fixtures Bath had two LV=cup games against Chiefs and Gloucester. News of Claassens receiving an injury meant that Gary Gold drafted in Peter Stringer as a short term cover. The moment Stringer walked upon the Rec to face chiefs for me was a huge turning point in the Bath style of play and has opened the eyes of many supporters, as we saw a sparkle of the abilities of the Bath back line when allowed to play.

So many positives in the Bath squad is now building, adding to Stringers appointment there is Rob Webber finally donning the Blue, Black and White and the introduction of Mat Gilbert. From watching the Gloucester, Worcester and London Irish fixtures the flow of play from 1-15 on the park was something to behold, ferocious rucking and scrummaging to the slick hands of the backs. It seems Gary Gold has finally started to drive Bath in the direction that we all want to see them move, getting that little extra from players that we'd seen flashes of but now coming into their own. Notably one player whose improvement is so visible is Kyle Eastmond who against Warriors seems to of found his place at inside centre, in fact the whole back line seemed comfortable with their positions.
There has been an issue over Donald's kicking but his handling and general midfield play against warriors I felt was exemplary, sadly the pressures he appears to be under are taking its toll. The form he showed the week before didn't follow into the exiles game and didn't make a good start before leaving the pitch injured. The negativity surrounding Donald I would imagine to now be having a detrimental effect on him and now affecting his game play, I always believed you support the player and encourage them to encourage performance excessive criticism plants doubt and can cloud the mind. One bonus with Donald's lack of form is there is a superb little back up plan in the guise of Tom Heathcote and a cracking all round player he's becoming, place kicking, handling and a generally good rugby brain appear to be developing.

Two players who I felt have come to shine are sadly only here as cover players, Peter Stringer and Mat Gilbert. Stringer's influence is noticeable on the field and with three tries already and lit up Bath's back line. Mat Gilbert has stepped up as a quality player settled in nicely to the squad, grabbing himself a well deserved try against Gloucester. Both these players have become admired players by the Bath faithful and all supporters would love to see contracts being offered to them on a permanent basis, certainly I feel would add an extra edge to the Bath squad.

The team that lined up to start against London Irish was as close to the strongest and well accomplished side I've seen walk out in Blue, Black and White seen for a very long time. I'm sure many may make a few tweaks if they could but for me looking through the sheet there were few weaknesses, but many strengths. The front five of James, Webber, Wilson, Day and Attwood would worry any side backed up by Louw, Fearns and Skirving that is one tidy pack. Then you come to the back line of Stringer, Donald, Eastmond, Banners, Biggsy, Agulla and Bendy suddenly your looking at a very strong competitive side and playing that way. So are we moving towards the side Gary Gold is wanting or is there still more to come, either way the progression is starting to look good. I'm hoping all the anti-Gold people are now starting to get behind him, Toby Booth, Neil Hatley and Mike Ford to show the faith that many have and realise they are taking the squad forward. A sign that the squad is now working as a unit as opposed to a field full of individuals was how the bonus point was gained against Irish. Playing and adding relentless pressure until the final whistle to ensure they get the fourth try needed, then seeing the reaction from the players and supporters as Perenise dropped over the line.

The next two fixtures are almost pivotal on whether Bath can grab a top six finish and place theirselves in the Heinikan cup next season. Saints and Gloucester both nestled slightly above Bath in the table, Saints three points above and Gloucester just one above them. These are more so important with Bath final run of the season, having Quins (A), Tigers (H) and finishing of with Sarries (A) makes every point a necessity. In fact at this stage of the premiership all of the games from now on are becoming just as important. We can not forget the other two fixtures sandwiched between Gloucester and Quins, Sharks (A) and then looking for a little pay back for the loss at the Kassam London Welsh make a trip to the Rec.
It is too early to start getting over excited and predicting all things good in the Blue, Black and White camp but for a moment lets revel in the steps forward Gary Gold's men are making, if it does continue you never know we could get to see Bath get some decent air time on ITV's Premiership highlights.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Back to back LV wins sees Bath march into the Semi's

Two back to back LV=Cup wins for Bath has seen them barrel their way into the semi-finals when it was looking like a long shot for them to do so. A big ask, but an inspired move from Gary Gold helped spark the ignition of Bath to drive forward and gain their place in the last four.

With the RBS Six Nations due players were to be drafted out for international duties either be first teams or 'A' teams respectively many teams were to be light on players, also many squads concentrating on Premiership, Heineken cup or even Amlin teams decided to rest a few elite players for LV=Cup fixtures. Bath also struck with the loss of Claasens through injury were left with Chris Cook and Mark McMillan, two young scrum halves with a huge task of holding the fort until the return of the more experienced Claasens can make his return. With this news Gary Gold looked to an old favourite of his and drafted in Irish scrum half legend Peter Stringer.

Off the back of two successful Amlin cup wins and confidence slowly returning to the Bath faithfuls minds Bath get two local derby matches in the LV=Cup, home to the ever improving Cheifs then away to Kingholm to face their old foes the Cherry and Whites. Two fixtures that are becoming more and more important and now seen as must win games, to help drive Bath forward into the last leg of the premiership and hope to resurrect a top six finish.

Game one sees the ever impressive Exeter Chiefs who's progression from their promotion to the top flight has earned them much accolade and made them a team to be wary off. Looking like an exciting game two new faces lined up at the start, the long awaited debut of Rob Webber and an introduction to Mat Gilbert.
Bath still unbeaten against Chiefs had no intention of losing that crown struck first after five minutes through a Heathcote penalty. A match that many thought would be a hard fought battle and a real nip and tuck game were not wrong in the first half. Both sides cancelling out each others points, nearing half time the scores were square at six a piece. Two minutes before the break saw Mark McMillan go down injured and have to be replaced, enter the next debutant of the day.....Peter Stringer. A brief glimpse before half time demonstrated the second half might liven up a little, fast and accurate ball off the back of the ruck showed Bath may certainly take this to the Chiefs.
In the first half Bath had defended hard at times against Chiefs now the roles were to be reversed. A huge lift in pace led by Stringer saw the ball whipping out wide and spreading through the Backs, this is the type of play we'd dreamt of seeing all season. The pressure became relentless and only time would tell before the scores would come. A kick able penalty was turned down and Heathcote went for the corner instead, showing Bath's intent to break the Chiefs defence. Batty (Webber's half time replacement) threw into the line out initiating a strong rolling maul which was held up just short, with a little nip down the blind side Stringer darted over to score his first try in Blue, Black and White.
Bath were now in full stride 11-6 up and the bit between the teeth, more and more pressure mounted from Bath and we only had to wait six minutes before we got the points on the board. Almost identical to Bath's first the second mimicked it only on the opposing side of the field, and spotting that blind side gap once again was the 'new boy' Stringer bursting over for try number two and a 16-6 lead.
I can't remember the last time I saw a player make such an impact in a game, with the final score remaining 16-6 Bath's pressure remained the same through the second half. Seeing the fast and accurate distribution from Stringer it demonstrated what we've been missing down at the Rec, for many we hope he can pass on some of his experience and expertise to the young pairing of scrum halves and help turn them into future Bath legends.

A monkey that has been riding on the back of Bath has been their form against Gloucester, with a trip to Kingsholm a win is required to progress through to the semi-finals. Bath not having a victory against the Cherry and Whites at Kingsholm since 2006 showed the velocity of the task in hand. Although Bath not winning up there for so long there seemed to be a positive resurgence of belief that this task was very doable. Bath started out with the intention stamped down that they were to prove they can score tries, instead of going for the three pointers Bath wanted to make their early pressure show and penalty kicks for touch were the order of the day.
One try ruled to be held up as Rob Webber crossed the line made it feel that it was only a matter of time, then when Andy Hazell received a ten minute rest on the naughty step for up ending Webber this gave Bath another advantage they required. Another kick to touch, clean ball, slick hands from the back line and left Woodburn and open corner to slide in for the first score of the day.
Hazell's return to the park was short lived as he swapped places with Tom Savage who got his marching orders for ten minutes for pulling down in the line out. Gloucester stood firm this time and managed to fend off the relentless pressure being steeped upon them from Bath. Filtering into the final ten minutes of the opening half saw the pressure being reversed and Gloucester started to take the driving seat eventually crashing over from a well worked maul and equalling the score.
On reflecting the first half worry that Bath may have wasted so much pressure and Gloucester had the bit between their teeth and may take control through the second half, could it be an almost but not quite performance from Bath?
Gloucester came out with the same fight and looked like they were over for a second, luckily defence stayed strong and forced a penalty. This seemed the turning point in Baths fortunes as handling through the backs saw the game soon to be deep in Gloucester territory eventually forcing Sharples into touch. Off the back of a line out the Bath handling continued ending up with Abendanon crashing into the corner for try number two.
The only kick at goal for a penalty was grabbed by Sam Vesty and now Bath had their tales up and were now insistent on making the most of the upper hand at Kingsholm. He link up between the back line now in full flow saw three more tries to come Bath's way first up saw new boy Mat Gilbert pop up through the middle taking his first try in Blue, Black and White, this saw the the shed faithful realise they'd seen enough and a mass exodus opted to make their way to the local in preparation for the RBS six Nations game between England and Scotland.
Rokoduguni was the on the score sheet with a fantastic turn of pace and quick feet scooping up a bonus point try and hitting the final nail in the coffin for Gloucester. Yet now Bath still had more, if your going to do it do it properly. Stephen Donald was released through the middle and with a firm hand off it was now his turn to grab another five points for Bath.
A win for Bath at Kingholm by 5-32 was a big positive for them and demonstrates when the ball is opened out how quick they can move and how clinical Bath are able to perform. Chris cook took over the duties of Stringer late on in the second half and carried on the quick distribution allowing the game and players to keep flowing, seems Cook is learning the Stringer way.

From the result of these two fixtures its enabled Bath to progress into the semi-finals to face Quins at the Stoop on the 9th March, another fixture where Bath could capitalise on Quins having players out on international duties. I know pining this these wins on the introduction of Stringer is a little ambitious, he needs the players around him to carry out this free flowing game. I just feel its proof we need keep faith and belief in Gary Gold as this is an inspired signing and he is aware of what will take Bath forward.
Onwards and upwards!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Where's the television Love!

Rugby has always been a popular sport but things changed in 2003, the moment 'that kick' went over and we all saw that iconic moment of Martin Johnson raising the Webb Ellis cup above his head, the sports popularity stepped up a whole new level! Suddenly children had new heroes and wanted to emulate the World Cup winning stars. Just one little issue with aiding the popularity of the coverage.

Almost 10 years down the line has the coverage of rugby catapulted into the lime light.....easy answer no! With BT taking on the mantle for the premiership next season we are now left waiting how accessible will it be to us and how much will we now have to pay for the privilege of watching the team we love? To watch most things oval ball related you need a Sky TV and ESPN subscription at the moment, but with that you get internationals, Premiership, Sevens and even down under for the Super 15. Terrestrial viewing allows us World Cup, RBS Six Nations and highlight shows and they are few and far between, so to watch some rugby on TV it's a hard task to do.

ITV's highlights show is one hour of tv a week covering either Aviva Premiership, Heineken cup, Amlin cup or the LV=Cup, but their footage is dictated by either Sky or ESPN. If a fixture is not screened live there are only a handful of cameras there for highlight purposes so as with Bath's latest fixture against Gloucester the highlights lasted only 30 seconds even though Bath were fighting for a LV=Cup semi-final, where as the Scarlets v Tigers game was given the full highlight treatment even though the match had no importance. What added more insult to the avid rugby fan was that the show due to be screened on ITV4 at 9o'clock Sunday evening, as the African cup of Nations ran over the show was dropped back an hour. So one of our only rugbying shows for which we look forward to was relegated because of a game of football between two foreign countries, that realistically has no relevance to the British public?

It is not only ITV that decide to neglect the rugby world, the BBC are having a good go at this as well. Leading up to the RBS Six Nations the BBC morning news handed the delightful news that Alice Cooper was taking part in a golf tournament but omitted to inform on any Six Nations news even though the tournament was but two days away. The BBC do draught in some good pundits for their Six Nations coverage and its almost hard to fault their live coverage, the problems arise with their highlight scheduling. The timing of the highlight shows were extremely intriguing and certainly not there to encourage youngsters to take them in. If you wished to watch Highlights of Wales v Ireland and England v Scotland you couldn't watch one of the most exciting fixtures of the weekend Italy v France, BBC One had live coverage and BBC Two showed the highlights. There luckily was a further highlight show 1.45 am on BBC One after celebrity American apprentice while the four hour extravaganza of the American supper bowl was on BBC Two. Fear not BBC decided to allow us one more bite of the cherry playing out the highlight show once again BBC Two at 1.30pm when children are at school, well done BBC for bringing it to the masses and allowing children to enjoy rugby of the highest calibre.

I am fully aware of recording devises or finding the programmes on the Internet but why should we have to, why are the rugby spectating public being shunned by the British media? With more encouraged viewing of a ever increasing popularity sport it will help bring even more spectators encouraging more to go to live matches and bringing more revenue to the clubs. Do we aspire for our children to watch footballers behaviour demonstrating a lack of respect to officials and opposing teams or do wish to see them learn the discipline that is installed in rugby? I know which way I lean towards.

Rugby is an exciting sport followed by many yet football is predominantly the larger sport in this country. As a rugby fan that confuses me as in rugby England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are far more superior forces than they are in football so is it not time that the media got behind the sport encourage its growth in popularity, finally support something that in our own nations we are actually good at.