Monday, 31 March 2014

It can be a torturous task being a rugby fan!

We make many decisions in life, one massive choice is which sporting team we will pledge our allegiance. The moment we make that final choice we accept the up's and downs that will be thrown our way in exchange for our devotion. 

As Bath fans we've certainly had our fair share of the roller coaster of emotions, from the Heineken Cup to relegation, but the big or small issues still arouses our passion.
This season has already tested us, the Gary Gold saga was a major test of our commitment; a great draft of players, the team suddenly clicking and getting results, Gary Gold moved upstairs to DOR leaving Mike Ford to take the helm as head coach. All in all looking good for Bath, as supporters we had plenty to coo about, then from nowhere the news Bath and Gary Gold had parted company. A bizarre situation that sideswiped the majority of the Bath faithful, but as all passionate fans we eventually move on (not completely happily) and keep the faith in our beloved team.

A true test for any avid fan is when you get a multitude of issues cumulate at once, and in the last week there has been an abundance coming at the Bath rugby community. 
- Thursday we were handed the news that Bath would not be allowed more ground to redevelop the Rec.
- Friday we had the loss to Sale Sharks featuring the now infamous "scrum gate".
- The latest news has aggravated the season ticket holders and raised a recurring subject, price reductions on tickets to draw more fans to the games. 

                  The now infamous scrum fiasco- courtesy of @onsideimages 

It's hard not to dwell on a game where so many things happen that cause a team to lose. It's fair to say that Bath certainly didn't make the most of the opportunities that were handed to them, yet Sale and Cipriani certainly took their chances. It could be easy to blame George Ford for missed kicks, but it's a team effort and the loss can't be put upon his shoulders. If the points had been scored then Bath would of been comfortable winners, even though potentially being the weaker team in the first half, but one man can't shoulder a teams blame.
What we did witness in the game was the biggest scrum farce ever seen on a professional rugby pitch; 5m scrum leading to 7 penalties to Bath, 2 resets and a yellow card for a future Bath player Henry Thomas, but no penalty try! The letter of the law states that a scrum must be moving backwards to be deemed a try scoring opportunity and thus awarding a penalty try, with Sale continuously collapsing the scrum it didn't allow the scrum to move no penalty try. Dean Richards should of looked at this sensibly and common sense should of prevailed, Mr Richards should of dealt with this accordingly and awarded a penalty try as Sale were spoiling purposely, to top it of he did even indicate after the fourth penalty he would award a penalty try after the next one.......but as we all know he didn't.
Hindsight is a fantastic thing, the only thing we can use from it is to possibly learn from it and move on, onwards and upwards as they say.

One of the most painful issues for Bath fans comes with the Rec itself, for what seems to be an eternity Bath have wanted to redevelop the ground and give the team a ground worthy of their stature. Bruce Craig has stipulated from the moment he took charge that unless Bath got the redevelopment he would consider, at worse case scenario, to move away from the Rec. With the Rec being such an iconic ground, set in the most stunning of back drops in the premiership nobody wants to see Bath leave.......well Almost nobody! 
Hopes and belief have been slowly brewing that the proposed 16000 capacity ground could actually happen, always sceptical but always hopeful. Plans drawn and released for public viewing, could this be the moment we had all been dreaming of............sadly no! No more space is to be granted to Bath Rugby to create a far more aesthetically pleasing stadium, so for the time being the NIMBY's are once again winning. 
What's next for the ground? Bath aim to appeal but worse case scenario leave the Rec, leaving it as almost dead space, other than Bath Rugby how much does it really get used? If Bath Rugby move to what detriment will it have to the local economy? An example of the effect is the Royal Oak in Widcombe, with the loss of the rugby in Bath they could face to lose £70-80k a year, think of the other watering holes that take great bonus' from match day- The Boater, The Pultney Arms, The Pig and Fiddle to name but a few. 
I for one and also probably joined my a huge army of Blue, Black and white Faithful hope Bath win the appeal and not see nearly 150 years of tradition disappear. 

One large contentious issues that keep arising is one for the season ticket holders, ticket offers to help push sales and help fill the ground. Games on Fridays and Sunday seem hard to fill (take note BT Sport). 
Sundays game against Brive isn't covered in the season ticket package, so season ticket holders have to buy the tickets as  do non season ticket holders. The tickets are offered to STH before members and then go on general sale, this is to allow them to be able to guarantee their normal seat, the seats they have secured for the whole season. This offer to them would seem as an advantage for them and rewarding them for continuing support to the club, in actual fact it isn't an advantage and could been seen as a punishment. Due to the STH getting the first call on tickets it also means they have to pay full price, only for a week before the game to see ticket offers with a reduction and undercutting the price they have payed. A prime example is the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter final against Brive this Sunday, one season ticket holder payed £28 to get her seat she sits in week in week out, now as it's a rerun of the 1998 Heineken Cup final in which Bath won the club are offering the tickets for £19.98. With all of the Friday night and Sunday games this season many STH are finding it ever increasingly difficult to get to the games, and if they travel added expense for possible accommodation is added. So a club that is wanting to build a bigger ground with more seating is actually punishing the people who religiously support the club. 
I for one am a fan of ticket offer as it does offer fans who ultimately can't always afford to go to the game a chance to see their team live, but reimburse the STH accordingly as they ultimately are the backbone of the crowd. It is quite a big issue and I feel the club need to sit up and listen to them, as many fans are now contemplating not renewing their ST's as they feel it could be more cost effective to buy the offers. We all love the club and that's why we keep coming back and wearing the clubs colours with pride, but don't bite the hand that feeds you. 

It is safe to say we all want to see a brand new ground in exactly the spot it is now, filled with adoring fans all cheering on the Bath Boys and becoming that 16th man! Let's hope our dreams do come true!   


Big thanks to Patrick from @onsideimages for supplying the photos

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Guest Blog- The 5m Scrum Fiasco

So I have had a couple of days to think about what happened on Friday night at the Rec and I am still angry for several reasons. 

The first and maybe most important reason is that we failed to kill off a game with three chances. Now, I am not laying the blame solely at the golden boot of our little maestro this season George Ford as both drop goals seemed to be taken very early and a lack of composure/confidence in our own ability to secure the ball and get him into a better position with a little more safety may have helped. I would rather watch Fordy run the game at the gainline so superbly as he has done this season than watch the robotic figure of Owen Farrell at Sarries, but that being said 'Faz' I think would have seen that game off.  This maybe down to the amount of international time he has had to develop that international state of mind - So Mr Lancaster give George more time please.

The second reason for my anger/frustration is what everyone was talking about after the game - myself included, and there are a number of things to think about. I think a big finger needs to be pointed at our stand in captain of the time Dave Atwood (who i rate highly for the record) and I will come back to why shortly. 

Thanks to the wonderful world we live in and the beauty of social media and technology I was able to get confirmation from two well respected referees Jonathan Kaplan and Nigel Owens about why the penalty try was not given. According to both of them the old rule of persistent repetition of rule breaking is not enough for the referee to go under the sticks for the penalty try, the rule states that probability must be brought into the referees decision making. Therefore if Bath had been pushing the scrum back and it was collapsing then the referee could give a PT, but Sale were collapsing before the 2nd push was coming after the hit and stopping it from going back, and even when the push did come it was being wheeled and popping up causing reset.
Mike Ford after the game made a great point, how can a scrum go back if it was continually being brought down?! My argument to mr Dean Richards would be this, because the Sale scrum was under so much pressure and forced to being brought down, surely that was increasing the probability of Bath scoring had the scrum stayed up?!
So for arguments sake the 14 minute 5 meter line debacle could have gone on until the entire front row had been sin binned and we went to uncontested scrums.

So this is now why I look at our decision making and leadership. The only reason I can think that we took scrum after scrum is because we felt we had the advantage and were going to get the penalty try, why didn't stand in skipper Atwood simply ask the referee for confirmation as to what needed to happen for it to turn to a penalty try. As soon as the referee gave the indication that the scrum would need to go forward we could argue that we weren't being allowed to OR change the plan and go for the lineout and drive over. This could have gone on for the duration of the half and still not seen the penalty try given.

On another point the IRB need to change the scrum somehow, it is killing the game. 14 minutes on a scrum (8 minutes of gametime) is too long, despite how tense it made the situation for a rugby purist - imagine the thought process of a casual viewer or maybe somebody taking their children to their first rugby game. Its the equivalent of watching a corner be reset for 8 minutes in football or a golfer spending 14 minutes to lineup a shot. It is dull and they need to come up with a solution, one idea is that the first time a scrum is reset the clock goes off and it only comes back on when the ball has left the scrum and therefore the scrum is completed. Any other ideas should be sent to the IRB as this is a case and study of why the scrum laws are wrong at the moment.

At the end of the day we should have been smarter and it will undoubtedly be a learning experience for Mike Ford and the boys, but when you get the opposition director of rugby admit we were unlucky not to get more out of that you know you have been unfortunate. Teams will employ this sort of anti rugby tactic against us as we want to play an expansive brand so we must learn to have other strategies. Confirmation needs to be clear on certain rules for players and supporters to prevent the scrum fiasco from stopping our beautiful game becoming ugly! Onto Brive...

Matt Johns 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Five rounds, Four teams and Two places!


The Aviva premiership is now building up to the business end of the competition, five games left and the third and fourth play off spots are still looking to be hotly contested.

Four teams are in a sub competition for the final two play off positions, with Saracens and Northampton Saints looking to be secure in first and second.
Bath are currently in third although Tigers are equal on 54 points, and only separated by points difference. Nipping at their heels are Sale and Quins who both can't be ruled out of those making the play offs. 
All four teams have some difficult and very important games left, we could see some some interesting "do or die games".

Bath have been many peoples surprise team this season, drawing lots of plaudits and still very much a developing team. With a wealth of young talent Bath seem to be improving game by game, even the learning curve they received against Saracens at the Rec will also help drive them forward hoping to chase the Play offs. 
Bath's remaining fixtures are far from easy, wins and even bonus points will be tough to gain, but it is within their grasp. Having to play two of the teams who are also competing for a top four position, second place Saints and their West Country counterparts Gloucester, all makes for a difficult run in to the end of the season. Worcester Warriors who unfortunately haven't had the rub of the green this season will be classed as Bath's easiest game, yet Warriors still chasing that first elusive win will not make it an easy game for Bath.  

Tigers have had quite an indifferent campaign this season, as last years champions they have potentially under performed for the majority of their games; yet still sit in fourth matching Bath in points. 
Injuries have certainly hampered Tigers this season, which has left them searching further down their ranks to find replacements. With returning players from injury or international duty Tigers tails are lifting and has seen them pass 40 points in their last two premiership ties, the clinical display in which they dispatched Chiefs saw them back to the Tigers we've been used to. 
The five remaining fixtures for Tigers are definitely the harder set of games within the four contenders, playing the top two teams plus two of your competitors for the play off spots which may well hamper their final flourish.

Sale are on a recent run of one loss in six premiership games, as are Bath, both of the the teams loss has come at the hands of Saracens. Sale at the beginning of the season were tipped as a mid table team, yet have raised the bar in their game this year. 
Their recent win over Saints has shown their intent of chasing a top four finish, Steve Diamond has certainly pushed them on in this campaign, with belief and expectations running high. 
With Danny Cipriani hitting some of his best form and the try machine Mark Cuato still showing no sign of tiring of crossing the line, the team headed up by captain Dan Braid are seeming relentless in their drive to be considered one of the big clubs in the Premiership.

Quins on paper should be flying high at the top of the table, but with inconsistent performances, close wins and players on international duties they find theirselves in sixth place. With their returning 6 Nation players; Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Joe Marler and man of the moment Mike Brown, they can look to take the final five games by the scruff of the neck and push for a top four finish. 
As with the other three teams it's not an easy run in to the finish line, nine points behind with five games to go is a big ask. Still left to play Sale, Tigers and their final game against Bath the play offs is looking like a very difficult task. 

As a Bath fan I am trying to look at this objectively and without my Blue, Black and White tinted glasses on, but I am looking at this as a fan of the game as opposed to a supporter of a team.
Looking at the remaining fixtures for the four teams I've made my predictions on if the teams will win or lose plus how many points they may well be taking away from the game ie W-4.
Cast your eyes over the table bellow see my predictions and feel free to agree or disagree. 


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Friday night lights- The rock and hard place of success

They say that success comes at a price, and this season it could well be that the Bath Fans may well be paying that price.

Bath this season are going from Strength to strength and are making encouraging signs for the future. Currently sitting in 3rd in the Aviva Premiership, Quarter finalists of the Amlin cup, also making the Semi finals of the LV=cup and winning the Aviva 'A' league, their progression is becoming all the more apparent.
This season has seen some good rugby being played by the boys in Blue, Black and White, from the power in the back to the open running of the backs. This leads to an attractive team to watch and more television airtime coming their way, but at what cost does that come to the faithful fans, some of which travel huge distances to watch their beloved team?

When you glance your eyes across the fixture list for Bath this season it makes interesting reading! Including preseason matches but Excluding possible further Amlin matches and potential Play off games, at he end of this season Bath will have played 37 fixtures-

Home Thursday- 1
Home Friday- 5
Home Saturday- 11
Home Sunday- 3

Total- 20

Away Friday- 6
Away Saturday- 7
Away Sunday- 3
+1 to be confirmed against Quins

Total- 17

If you look at those fixtures only just over 50% of the home fixtures have been played on a Saturday! 
There are many season ticket holders who travel from outside of Bath and are faced not only with travel issues but also the possibility of finding accommodation for a Friday or Thursday night game. Some children attend Saturday games and enjoy seeing their heroes playing live, yet evening games mean that some of the younger ones cannot attend, a loss for the future Blue, Black and White faithful. 
The infamous Friday night traffic of Bath is a pure delight normally, with a home game thrown into the mix it just becomes that little more entertaining staring at the bumper of the car ahead of you.

The most alarming of the fixture list are the away games, with only 7 of the away games being played on a Saturday, this also leads to huge travel issues for the fans? A Friday night in Newcastle or Manchester aren't the easiest destinations to get to, leading to people not going or having to take time off of work. The Home advantage (as shown in the 6 Nations) becomes a huge benefit, but taking as many travelling fans to an away game can help ease the pressure for the travelling team. 

The latest change of fixture has been the Northampton Saints game which has been moved from a Saturday to a game under the "Friday Night Lights". This has caused a huge element of upset for many of the fans, yes yet again a Friday game but which Friday it is.......Friday 2nd of May, the Friday of a bank holiday weekend. Schools break up, people trying to get away for the first long weekend of the "summer", all this will add to the extra hassle of travel and also extra cost involved with accommodation, especially with Bath being a tourist destination. All in all not the best option for a rearranged fixture because of television.

There is a flip side to this as well, always positives and negatives. With more games being televised there also are many positives. 
More airtime for Bath Rugby brings more revenue to the club, which hopefully the club may be able to pass on down the line to the supporters (hopefully).
It also means that supporters who can't afford a season ticket or even go to all the home games they will able to watch Bath live. There are many fans who can't get to all the games so the ability to watch them play or the more often is a huge bonus to them. 
More people watching Bath will encourage the #BathFamily to grow and encourage more to take the plunge and visit the Rec to watch Bath play. 
Also it can help draw more people to go to their favourite watering hole and enjoy the game on a screen with friends over the occasional alcoholic beverage. 
With more travelling fans coming into Bath it will also aid the local economy, another reason to keep rugby at the Rec!

BT Sport have taken a novel approach to this seasons schedule; by not speculating at the start of the season by picking the games to be shown, they have opted to choose games of interest as the season progresses. A great option for fans of the game, as they get to see more competitive matches, unfortunately an inconvenience of many supporters who have to leave arrangements to the last minute or even totally change plans.

So as you can see for every downside there is an upside, but is it rewarding the ever present! But how can there be a win-win solution with this, sadly there isn't one. We all dream of our clubs becoming a successful, competitive and winning team, sadly with that at times there is a price to pay. We want Bath to becoming the force it once was and are enjoying the direction they are moving, it's a positive vibe that is filling the Rec at the moment with the enjoyment of watching good Rugby emerging from Bath.
Although perhaps the club itself could look into solutions to ease the pain of the suffering season ticket holders, who do invest a lot of time and money into the club. Enjoy the club moving forward but don't lose sight of the ones who have been there through the arduous journey so far! 

So however you look at this situation Bath Rugby really are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and have to choose what they feel is best for the club.......what Would you do?