Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Earlier this week I managed to meet up with Bath back row player Mat Gilbert. Fresh from a convincing victory against Saracens Storm the night before we caught up in one of his locals (it's ok Mr Gold he was drinking coke).

Mat has had an interesting career so far, Hartpury college and playing in Gloucester 'A' team, 2 stints in Italy, Llanelli and Scarlets and now residing at Bath Rugby. Mat was very open and honest with his answers as he explains things haven't totally gone to plan at times in his career.

Congratulations on another great performance last night, another win and again another try!

It's just being in the right place at the right time!!

You're playing some great rugby at the moment and with every game having a solid performance, doing your job and grabbing a few tries. How are you enjoying your rugby at Bath?

The tries I've scored this season have come off of driving from the lineout, a big team effort a big forwards effort. And obviously I'm just lucky enough to be the one who gets the ball down.
Tom Dunn got one last night and Anthony Perenise got one against Falcons, it's just a great forwards effort and everyone knows that in the team.
All if the supporters and press see it as 'Mat Gilbert try' but amongst the player's and coaching staff see it as a forwards performance.
I love Bath, it's a really good club. I came from Scarlets so I'm used to a big club, with a lot of tradition and expectations.
There's a really good group of guys and good coaching and management set up, yeah it's a really good club to be at.

There's a great depth in back row players for Bath this season is the completion to get a place tough between the players?

Yeah massively! You look at Fran├žois Louw who's probably one of the greatest open sides in the world, Fearsy fit, Matt Garvey has joined the club and made a huge impact, and also Leroy (Houston) as well. So fortunately every at the moment is on top form which pushes everyone else and everyone pushes each other, so we're lucky enough to be able to create that environment where we can push ourselves to be the best we can be to get selected.

You're becoming a favourite with the fans and many are championing you for more first team starts, does the fan support drive you on towards gaining more first XV appearances?

Fans are very important for the club, yeah it's nice to have support on Twitter and I do try my hardest to respond to as many as I can. It's the same as when I was in Wales, I tried to keep a good dialogue with the fans, I think it's important because really they're ultimately the one's paying our wages.
I do try my best to engage with people, I suppose it's the way I am and the way I've been brought up.

You're very proud of you Hartpury roots, with such success in rugby it's not surprising, was Hartpury the driving force behind you wanting to be a professional player?

Yeah massively! I went to a military school in Dover, as my father was in the army. I played through under 7's up to under 18's and county rugby, when I went to Uni I loved my rugby but didn't think of it as a career.
I applied to go to UWE, they looked at my CV and thought it better if I went to Hartpury. I turned up at Hartpury and the wealth of talent was phenomenal. In the first year I played for the club on Saturdays in the Gloucester premier league. With players like Dan Norton, you look at the Gloucester back line with Trinder, May, Sharples they all come from Hartpury.

The season after you moved on to Aghero you became top try scorer, for a back row that's pretty good going, was the lure to come back to Britain for a bigger challenge with Llanelli an easy choice?

I didn't realise I was the top try scorer, had no idea of that just scored a few. That was a great year in Aghero in Sardinia, I'd just left uni and didn't have any direction in life I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I didn't want to go to work but then this offer came up to play in Italy, the offer also came up with another lad from uni. It was challenging, the level wasn't great but we had a great time. Aghero is a lovely place and the other international player there I'd played with at academy level, so I knew him, so the three of us had a good laugh and just passed the ball between us. The rugby wasn't great but it really was a lovely place to live.
It got me away, after four years in Gloucester and owning a house there it was very difficult to leave. With being a Hartpury for four years  I thought 'right I've got to leave Hartpury now'. Because I had the tie of the house  I found it difficult to accept offers from championship sides, I didn't want to go and rent a house somewhere else, going to Italy helped me to break all ties.

With Llanelli you progressed to playing for Scarlets and even got to play in the Heineken cup, you received much acclaim there, what led to you leaving and heading back to Italy?

I had no choice. It was not through my choice to leave.
They ended up with a shortage of second rows, Dom (Day) obviously left everyone seemed to desert them from the second row. My contract hadn't been renewed, it had been agreed in principal but hadn't been signed, and with a loaded back row and shortage of second rows they needed the money to buy more second row players.
Unfortunately it left me without a club, I wanted to stay in Wales. I did everything I could to stay with Llanelli, but you can't help with budgeting and I had no part in their bigger picture.

You originally came to Bath from Mogliano as injury cover, before securing a full contract. I understand you weren't entirely happy at mogliano and with the Amlin Challenge cup fixtures coming up how will it feel playing against them?

In regards to the time scale and what happened with Scarletts I wasn't left with a great deal of choice, most clubs had done their recruiting. I had a few options of a couple of championship sides or go to Mogliano. I did a bit research and previous players were saying it's a great club, they were in the Amlin cup and saw it ad a bit of a window. I didn't think the standard wouldn't be great but if I put in some good performances there could be a route back to the Rabo or even the premiership, so my sole focus was to perform well in the Amlin and try to to get back to a decent standard again.
My levels if expectations of Mogliano were too high, coming from a highly professional club like Scarletts then going to a fairly basic almost amateur setup made me realise it wasn't what I wanted and wasn't going to make my career.
After say six games, two of which were Amlin, I had a discussion with the club and mutually agreed to terminate my contract. It was easier to come home and find a club, your much more appealing as a free agent.
I preferred my time in Aghero over Mogliano but I did get on with the guys, my main problem was with the coaching structure and the way then went about coaching, not the personalities. So when they come over I'll be able to have a little dialogue with them in my basic Italian. It won't be difficult to play them, I'm in a much happier place now. It was interesting when they got pulled out to play us in the Amlin and I realised we would play and it's a good chance to stick two fingers up as we beat them.
No to be honest I'd much rather play against Scarletts would be better rivalry and competition.

You've also represented the English deaf rugby team and Barbarians, I'm pretty sure the dream is there to manage to reach the EPS team and play at Twickenham again.

Every boys dream!!
I've always said 'If you don't aspire to play for your country then you shouldn't be playing at all.' every boys dreams of playing for their country no matter what the sport, how high I'm off that I don't know but obviously it would be fantastic.

Being a deaf top flight rugby player you are often called an 'inspiration' and many look up to to you, do you treat it as normality and at times frustrating that your always referred to as 'Mat Gilbert the deaf rugby player' rather than just 'Mat Gilbert the rugby player'?

Yeah some times, I've done interviews before where it's been 'your deaf this, your deaf that'! You know but basically I'm the same as everyone else in this game, I haven't got here because I'm deaf, in fairness it's probably been harder to get here. Yeah basically I'm Mat Gilbert the rugby player who happens to be deaf not Mat Gilbert the deaf rugby player. It's something that's always going to be with me, it's part of me but it doesn't define me.

We are all aware of the huge amount of banter that goes around the club, but you seem to be caught up in quite a bit of it. Two points in this are-
1) what's the deal with you and Dom Day over the towels???

Well it doesn't happen often here but when were playing together in Wales basically every day my towel was wet, it probably wasn't always Dom, but it's happened a few times here and I change next to Dom so I blame him. It's not the end of the world I can live with a wet towel.

2) a lovely picture was released on Twitter from Micky Young, will you be looking to get any payback?

That machine is designed to stretch your back out, so you lock you feet in and it tips you upside down. I was wary of there being a few people around, it happens to a few people you're tipped upside down and but for me the culprit took it to the next level, took my shorts down attached them to the foot holding and left me stranded. It's just some good humour but it terms if payback we'll have to see, but I've been at the club long enough to know not to hang upside down when there's too many people around.

You are seeming pretty settled around the area, especially even turning out for a game of cricket at Hinton Charterhouse, are you seeing a long turn stay in and around Bath?

Yeah we're in the middle of buying a house in Bath. I've got a two year contract now and hopefully I can push on and prove my worth to the club then with luck that can get renewed.
We love the city, my brother lives in Bristol, Fiona's parents live in Salisbury, her brother lives in Gloucester and all my old Hartbury friends are around the area so it's a great base to make.
Even if things don't work out and I have to move on it's great to have a house in the city and it's very beneficial to us.
I love living in the village at the moment, all the guys have been really supportive. Just popping up to the post office and having a chat it's great.

What do you see the full potential for Bath over the next few seasons are?

The management team have done a great job in recruitment this year, they've done a lot of hard work and some structural things have been put in place. Ultimately the club wants to push on, driving and pushing on with what we've got. Where the club goes...who Knows, obviously other clubs are progressing as well. You look at clubs like London Irish bringing in James O'Connor, the players are coming in. It won't get any easier we just have to make sure we can do is to be in the best possible position to compete, which Bruce, Gary and Mike are trying to do.

You're performing great with the United team playing in the 'A' league, finishing top of the table shows there's more commitment towards it this season.

This season there's a really good vibe about the club, people want to play rugby.
When I was at Hartpury playing in the Gloucester 'A' team it wasn't very good. They had a few university guys playing, a few old boys but the full time professionals weren't interested, they just didn't want to bother with the Monday night's.
Now it's a case of the boys wanting to play, wanting to perform. You look at the team that was put out last night, international players not going out there thinking 'why the hell am I playing on a Monday night?' everybody is buying in to it, you've got to get as much game time.

Its been brilliant talking to you and hopefully you'll get Gloucester in the next round of the 'A' league, I understand their game is next Monday.

Yeah hopefully a few Hartpury boys will be out! Cheers thank you.

 pictures courtesy of Chris Clemence. @Chris_Clemence

Monday, 28 October 2013

Could Bath be moving in the right direction

This season seems to be one of the most open campaigns, as the majority of teams have the ability to beat each other.

A possible exception to that would be Saracens and Saints who just appear to be that next level above. With the fixture between both sides at the weekend and Saints managed to even make Sarries look ordinary. It was a total masterclass on what the other premiership teams are aiming to reach.
When you weigh up the teams from third to eleventh in the league they all be playing on an almost a level playing field. But sitting at the top of that tree of teams is Bath Rugby, and things do look to be moving in a positive direction.

Six rounds of the Aviva premiership have passed now and Bath are sitting third behind Saracens and Saints winning four from six, one of the two losses coming from the top of the table Sarries.
Many Bath fans will say with the team selection against Sarries they went to Allianz Park with the belief they would not win, almost damage limitation, saving players for the following fixture against London Irish and gain a full five points. The second half against Sarries was a strong performance but sadly the damage was already done.
The other loss came at the hands of Sale Sharks, a victory orchestrated by a very in form Danny Cipriani.
Both losses came on the road whereas the home form has been impeccable with victories over Tiger's, Irish and the latest triumph in the local Derby against Gloucester.

The Gloucester tie is a big game in any Bath fan's calendar, and to take the spoils brings big smiles with extra bragging rights.
There was plenty to take from the Gloucester game, such dominance from the forwards although not completely reflected on the score board. Regardless of views of performance, decisions and how the game went Bath won which is the importance of such a fixture.

A huge positive note with Bath is the immense depth in the squad, this has become evident when it comes to Aviva 'A' League. The starting XV to take on Saracens Storm in the 'A' league is littered with players ultimately who could walk into the first XV.
15. Nick Abendanon
14. Richard Lane
13. Horacio Agulla
12. Ollie Devoto
11. Tom Biggs
10. Gavin Henson
9. Chris Cook
1. Charlie Beech
2. Tom Dunn
3. Kane Palma-Newport ( c )
4. Will Spencer
5. Ryan Caldwell
6. Tom Ellis
7. Mat Gilbert
8. Will Skuse
A seriously strong looking 'second' string team.

With one away win under their belt in the premiership which came on a damp evening in Newcastle on the opening weekend of the season, with round seven comes a trip to Sixways against Worcester Warriors, can they grab their second victory on the road?
With Warriors struggling at the bottom of the table holding only two points, a victory looks like they're in with a very good chance, although nothing should ever be taken for granted.
A win with a try scoring bonus point will help to keep Bath in third spot while taking the  a breather in the premiership for the LV=Cup, leaving Bath in a good position and a good platform to build for the rest of the season.

Ok let's possibly not get too over excited, but from the signs so far a top four position isn't a too much to hope for from the Bath fan's, to become champions is a little too big a step but they're definitely taking strides in the right direction.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Ross Batty- Rugby, KO's and the Beard!

After a few season at Bath rugby now Ross Batty is now really starting to develop himself into the squad and becoming a regular in the first team.

Formally of Newcastle Falcons and Rotherham he joined the ranks at Bath in 2010, when then forwards coach Martin Haag showed faith in him after getting to know Batty when he was coaching the England U18's side in which Batty featured.

Photo courtesy of http://www.onsideimages.com/

I was lucky enough to grab a few words with Ross earlier this week before Bath start their European campaign this weekend against Bordeaux. I managed to discuss his early days from school to Newcastle Falcons and about his KO against Tigers. 

Starting off your career with Newcastle Falcons working your way through the ranks from the academy, then moving on to Rotherham, how did it feel to get back into the Premiership with Bath? 

Brilliant, fantastic, it was a great chance to sign for a big club. I really enjoyed my time at Rotherham. It was great to play in a tough league, championship rugby week in week out and to be part of a team and then to move to Bath was a fantastic opportunity. 

Training alongside side such players as Lee Mears and Rob Webber has this helped with your development? 

Mearsy spent a lot of time with me and it was absolutely incredible, always there and always willing to help me out, he's that type if guy who wants you to do well. He put a lot of faith in me, giving me plenty of tips. He's got a wealth of knowledge and an incredible CV, he's been there done that and done everything you could possibly want to do in the game, somebody you'd really like to learn from. 

What was it that made you make the change from Prop to Hooker?
I started out playing in the back row, but moved into the front row. With my build I was not really going to be one of the big guy props like Davey Wilson, with my back row experience hooker was the right choice a mix between prop and back row. There's so much more to think about as hooker, with the line outs, scrums and still getting about the pitch to the break down, a really enjoyable challenge. 

You went to Bernard castle school, which is well known for its sport especially Rugby, is that where you found your passion? 

I suppose yeah it did come from there, well definitely helped it. It was a great school and had a really good set up, they were definitely there to encourage you and help drive you on. Definitely a big part of my game and love of the game.

How has is it been linking up with some of your ex-Falcons team mates at Bath. 

In the rugby world everybody knows each other as you play against each other and get to know the guys from other teams. But moving club and meeting up with fellow team mates can help, linking up with Davey Wilson again as we were in the academy together and now Micky Young has signed there's a few old familiar faces.

While you were at Falcons you were part of their Middlesex Sevens winning team, did you find that beneficial to your game play?

Sevens is a tough game, but is really helpful with adding extra to your game. Due to my old back row play I was ok at getting around the field and it helps sharpen up your awareness and skills which you can move into your normal game. It's great fun to play a good learning tool but also really hard work.

How was it to get back to play at Kingston park for the first game of the season and win so well, in Newcastle's individual weather system?

Ha yeah it certainly is an 'individual' form of weather up there! A Friday night, under the lights and in that rain it was going to be a tough game. So glad the way we played and how well we dealt with the 'washing machine' weather. To take any win there is hard work with such a strong crowd, a great way to start the season.

Watching it on TV I was certainly glad I wasn't playing in that.

Yeah certainly was fun, you definitely had the right idea staying at home watching it, some of us weren't that lucky hahahaha.

During the Tigers match you unfortunately got knocked unconscious. The silence around the ground showed great respect and obviously a lot of concern, it's never nice to see a player in that situation. How much of that day can you remember?

Not a lot to be honest! I can remember going in for a tackle and then about four hours later. Apparently my girlfriend was sat beside me at the hospital and I looked at her several times as though I didn't know her. I've been told by many of the guys that I was out for a while but really don't know much about it. 
The messages of support and get well soon I received on Twitter from the players and the fans was amazing, it really showed a great sense of family that surrounds the club which is what makes it so special to be apart of it.

Twitter is really good for us fans as we are able to communicate with you guys and get an insight the the club, especially the banter that goes on.

The banter between the boys is brilliant, they're a great set of guys and it's a pleasure to play with them. Because of the banter and enjoyment it makes it a pleasure to go to work in the morning knowing your going to have a good laugh with some of your mates.

On the note of banter lets get onto the beard!!! How much ribbing do you get? 

(Laughs) yeah I do get a lot of stick about it, with plenty of nicknames to go with it one being tramp! But to be honest I don't think it'll be around for too much longer as the girl friend really isn't a fan, and at times you need to keep them happy.

But the beard is almost becoming synonymous with you like Biggs and his hair.

Haahaa I don't think I've quite hit the heights of Biggsy's hair but thanks! I'll see how it goes but don't think it will last too long.

Thanks for taking the time out to speak to me, do you think you'll feature on Saturday against Bordeaux?

Been a pleasure and yeah I'll get a good run out it should be a great game, the French clubs are always tough so we'll have to be at our best.

A big thanks to Ross for taking time out to talk to me and hopefully the beard can stay and he can carry on looking like Bath's ginger version of Chabal! Good luck at the weekend and let's hope the Bath European campaign can't start with a good win and continue through the rest of the competition.

Allez Bath!!