Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bath bid farewell to a trio of fans favourites

It's a sad day when a club bids fair well to one of the fans favourites but it's even worse when we have to say good bye and good luck to three! 
With the season drawing to the end the Northampton Saints game will be Bath's last home fixture of the current campaign and the last time we will have three great servants of the club wearing the famous Blue, Black and White colours of Bath. Nick Abendanon, Tom Biggs and Anthony Perenise will be signing off from the Rec before moving on to pastures new. 

Tom Biggs is coming to the end of four years with Bath after joining from Newcastle Falcons, a huge loss for Bath as he is on his way to Worcester Warriors.
Biggs began his rugby career at Leeds Tykes when he was discovered by, now England head coach, Stuart Lancaster who signed him up for their academy. While out on loan to Harrogate injury problems for Leeds earned him a call back to Tykes. Four tries in his full debut season and then finishing the season helping Leeds remain in the premiership and earning a Powergem cup winners medal, beating Bath in their first loss at Twickenham in a final.
Two more season at Leeds in which he was their top try scorer and earned himself a place in the England U21's team, although a torn ligament surgery on his shoulder hampered his Saxons call up before getting his first of four Saxons caps against Italy in 2008. In 2009 Biggs signed for Newcastle and after a season playing for the Falcons it was announced he was moving to Bath.
Within his first season for Bath he secured his place in the Bath fans hearts, his hat trick against Wasps in the St George's day match at Twickenham being part of his 11 tries in 25 games making him one of the highest try scorers in a season for Bath. His pace, guile and tenacity made him one of the most exciting wingers in the premiership and every time he has the ball in his hand there is an expectancy of him crossing the line. Biggs isn't all about the tries, he also is a player who can deliver a huge tackle, bearing in mind his size in comparison to some of the players he is never scared to make that big hit and encapsulates the phrase 'punching above his weight'.
The announcement that Biggs was changing codes and moving to Hull FC stunned the Bath faithful as such a huge talent within Union was leaving the game. Biggs moving to league this season has seen him disappear off of the Bath team sheet, with only a handful of first XV games and featuring in the Bath United team. Sadly for Tom his move to league has since fallen through and due to salary cap and signings for next season Bath are unable to offer him a contract which has seen him make the move to Warriors for next season. 

The rampaging Samoan tight head Prop Anthony Perenise joined Bath in 2011 from super rugby team the Hurricanes. His bullocking runs have been something to behold, he's a player who will  get over the gain line. Perenise had also played for the Highlanders before the Hurricanes and his Super Rugby experience shows, with the fast paced and powerful games in the Southern Hemisphere game it's enabled him to bring a little extra to the Premiership and Bath.
Perenise has certainly had his fair share of tries while at Bath, his latest the first in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi final victory against Wasps. The most memorable has to be his try in Baths 5 try haul against Northampton Saints in 2012's LV=Cup 46-14 Win, it's not very often you see a unit that size throwing out a goose step is something to behold. 
A very technically able scrummager with such power has seen him become a regular in Baths first team squad, if not starting a brilliant impact substitute to bring on. At 6ft and 18st 8lb he is also a very mobile prop with a huge turn of pace for a big man any team would welcome him into their side, which is what Bristol have done. Announced earlier this season that the seven time capped Samoan will be making the short journey to join the ever increasing list of players at Bristol, he is surely going to make a huge impact there as he has at Bath.

Another huge loss to the squad is Nick Abendanon who has been part of Bath for nine years, but is going to be making his way to Claremont next season. Seeming to be in the form of his life at the moment it's a shame he's leaving Bath and our shores to cross the channel to France, but recognition has been shown as he's signing for one of France's most prominent teams at the moment.
His dynamic runs, sometimes so dynamic perhaps he doesn't even know where his feet are taking him. Abendanon is one of those players with that extra little bit of trickery up his sleeve, with the ball in hand you just know you are about to see something special. 
Abendanon has an ability to find spaces where there doesn't to appear to be any, great awareness and has been not only good at going forward but pretty handy at pulling off a try saving tackle or two. 
Unfortunately for Bendy injuries haven't been on his side and quite often they have come at totally the wrong time, a player who definitely should have more international caps under his belt than he does. His reputation as a player who has been known to make some big errors has also hampered his progress, a reputation that if you see him play regularly you'll know is unjust, those days of being unpredictable are long since gone but an English call up has evaded him. 
Working his way from the Bath academy, playing over 200 games for the club and amassing a tally of 185 points, being such  a stalwart for the club his move has shocked and saddened a great deal of the Bath faithful. Abendanon's hopes are to sign off his Bath career with some silverware under his belt and with the Amlin Challenge cup and potential play off spots still to go, his hopes could still become reality.

All three players have proved theirselves at the club and for that reason is why they are so well received  at Bath and why so many fans will be sad to see them go. Players come and players go in the modern era of rugby but it's always a shame when three such talents move on, three great players who will be missed and I'm sure all supporters of Bath will thank them for the memories they've left and wish them good luck! 

Pictures courtesy of onside images

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Cardiff bound ~ Northampton Saints vs Bath Rugby but are the fans??

8pm Friday the 23rd of May destination Cardiff Arms Park, a definite entry for your diary. Two  clubs will fight it out for the Amlin Challenge cup - Northampton Saints will square up to Bath Rugby.

Two hotly contested semi-finals between four English sides and all former winners of the competition; Northampton Saints vs Harlequins and Wasps vs Bath Rugby, saw victories for Saints and Bath to set up the final at Cardiff Arm Park.                                 

Both sides have had their share or European success, both winning the Heineken cup and Challenge cup. Bath making the Heineken cup final just the once but becoming the first English club to win the competition in the 1997/98 season, with a tense thriller against Brive just pipping it 19-18. Saints had their victory two seasons later becoming the second English team to be crowned the top dogs in European rugby, they also made the final in 2010/11 but lost out to Leinster 33-22.
Northampton and Bath are tied on Challenge cup victories at one a piece, Bath in 2007/08 season after two losses they managed to beat Worcester....... Saints won it the very next season beating Bourgoin.

Northampton qualified for the Amlin Challenge cup after failing to make the knock out stages of the Heinekan cup after some very inconsistent results, losing heavily to Leinster at Franklins Gardens the following week they returned the favour by beating Leinster 9-18. Also losing and beating Castres they finished second in their pool just missed out on making the top eight and dropped into the Amlin. 
Once they entered the Amlin cup they drew Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell stadium, Saints first half performance totally blew Sale away and the game was almost won after 40 minutes. At half time Saints were 5-28 up and Sale had it all to do, the second half come back wasn't to happen with only one score for either team, finishing up 14-28.
Saints semi-final saw them face their second premiership team in a row, Harlequins travelled to Franklins Gardens for the first of the two Semis and Saints carried on where they left off against Sale. A strong performance form Northampton although Quins did attempt a come back from being 18-3 down, Quins managed to break the Saints defence once clawing back to 18-10 but Saints managed to thwart any further scores and securing their journey to a Cardiff for the final.

Bath missed out on Heinekan cup rugby this season by finishing 7th in the league, so decided to make the best of the second tier European club rugby cup. Bath finished unbeaten in the pool stages after beating (some very comprehensively) teams that really were obviously of a lower standard to the Premiership side. 
Bath finished as top seeds after the pool stages and secured a home fixture facing their opponents from their Heinekan cup victory, not such a close game this time as Bath brushed Brive to one side with a 39-7 victory. 
Bizarrely in ERC rulings the semi final destinations are drawn and even though Bath hadn't yet lost a game and were top seeds Wasps got the home draw and Bath had a trip to High Wycombe to play at Adams Park. Wasps started the brighter of the two sides in what was a fairly even first half. A try from Perenise, penalty and conversion from Ford it looked like Bath would have the lead at half time, but a late try from Helu added to Goode's 2 penalties and he happily converted giving Wasps a 13-10 lead at the break. Bath and ex-Wasps hooker Rob Webber grabbed a brace of tries which seemed to give Bath a strong lead, Wasps hit back with a flourish scoring through Johnson setting up a frantic finish. Bath held on booking their trip to Cardiff winning 18-24.

The stage is set for Bath Rugby to take on Northampton Saints, the final to be staged at Cardiff Arm Park in the shadow of the Millennium stadium where the Heinekan cup will be held the following day. With the ground being dwarfed by the it is a good analogy of the cup, the second tier European cup living in the shadow of the first tier. It is fair to a standard that the Amlin takes second Place to the Heinekan cup, and with the smaller of the two venues the fans will not be deterred from cheering on either Bath or Saints in the hope they will come away with a European trophy........or Will they?

As soon as both teams qualified the supporters were hungry for that ticket where they may see a victory, both sets of fans wanting to get their hands on a ticket to pack the 12000 seats and create an atmosphere that could lift the roof off of it's neighbouring stadium. The news is then broken to the expectant fans that the ERC have made potentially one of the biggest errors of ticket allocation in the sport, they released the tickets for general sale in September and have only held back less than 1000 tickets for each club to allocate to the wanting fans. So the bubbling atmosphere that could of been has been snubbed out by a farcical decision by the ERC. 
So how can you get your hands on one of the remaining gold dust tickets? The clubs will be releasing them for sale to their season ticket holders first and then what 'may' be left (not a chance) will go on general sale, so sadly if you are a non season ticket holder there is more chance of seeing a Dodo riding a unicorn down the streets of Pompeii than getting a ticket now, unless you visit a ticket selling site and pay the bumped up over priced tickets that people are now selling taking advantage of genuine and hopeful fans. 
So congratulations to the ERC who have managed to annoy, upset and disappoint almost the entirety of Bath and Saints fans!! What could of been a great spectacle of two of English's finest teams playing a final for the first time on an artificial pitch cheered on by their travelling fans has the potential to be a damp squib. 

Annoyance is also stirred for many when you see a stadium such as Twickenham given a semi final of the Heinekan cup where only 25000 spectators saw Saracens comprehensive victory over Claremont. A poor turn out for a London club playing in London, not to quite fill 1/3 of the ground. To see so many empty seat at such a prestigious ground and game, then to see it's a near enough impossibility to get a final ticket for the lesser of the two European cups just fuels the fire.

If you are lucky enough to already have a ticket or manage to get a ticket congratulations, make sure you cheer loud and proud because if those who bought tickets and their team isn't there,they don't manage to sell their ticket and decide not to go it could be a very empty stadium!!! 

Well done ERC!!!!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Saints could hold the key to the Bath trophy cabinet?

Bath have have risen like the Phoenix from the flames this season and are in a very strong position for being rewarded with some long awaited silverware, but can Northampton keep the lock firmly shut on the trophy cabinet at the Rec.

In their quest to reap the rewards of their efforts Bath could potentially meet Saints on three occasions in their possible next six matches. For the eternal optimists amongst us this is the remaining games that Bath could be competing in.

Definite fixtures -
Wasps ~Amlin cup ~ 27th April
Saints ~ Premiership ~ 2nd May
Quins ~ Premiership ~ 10th May

Possible extra fixtures -
Play off semi ~ 17/18 May (Saints)
Amlin final ~ 23rd May (Saints)
Premiership final ~ 31st May (???) 

A top four finish for Bath has been on target for the majority of the season and with only two fixtures left in the league competition Bath aim to remain in the running. The main competitors for 3rd and 4th places are the current holders of those positions; Bath and Leicester Tigers, although hot on their heels are Harlequins. Saracens are sat at the top of the pile and Saints nestled underneath needing only four points from their last to games to secure second, both sides will have the home advantage in the semi-final play off, but who will face who?

Bath's last two games against Saints and Quins certainly make it easy to keep hold of the 3rd slot, but Tigers have to face Sale and Saracens, no certain victory for either side and may even let Quins nip in to the top four. As the league stands at the moment; 1st (Sarries) will play 4th (Tigers) and 2nd (Saints) draw 3rd (Bath).
The dream scenario for Bath to get into the play offs they will need to beat Saints at the Rec, then Quins at the Stoop which will lead them on the road to Franklins Gardens for round 2 of the battle with Northampton.
Saints 18-10 win over Quins in the first of the two Amlin Cup Semi-Finals means if Bath beat Wasps in their Semi-Final yet another bout between the two clubs will be set, this time in Cardiff at the Arms park. Saints for the bulk of the game were the team in control, with a man of the match performance from Fotuali'I who set up one try and scored himself and fully deserving the MOM award. Quins managed to fight their way back into the game, but it just wasn't quite enough. 

With so much at stake all of these possible games are hugely important, not just for Bath but for Northampton also, both clubs (as with all clubs) want to fill their trophy cabinets and these two clubs could stop the other. Over their possible three meetings pressure could be the deciding factor, and who handles it the best. Unfortunately of recent times the pressure seems to of got the better of Bath so this will be a huge test of their character. 

Unfortunately statistics don't speak in Bath's favour, only winning 10 out of their 31 league matches with Saints, with one draw in their match ups. So if your a believer of statistics Bath will go into the games as underdogs, and hope to upset Northampton's apple cart if they wish prevail and grab the much converted silverware. 
Saints have already been in the LV=Cup final this season and lost out to Exeter Chiefs, who won their first trophy in top flight rugby. Could Saints be a team that also can't handle the pressure, which could lead to some very tentative games between Bath and Northampton? 
Obviously all of this is hypothetical and Bath have to win their games to ensure their progression in the quest for the silverware that the club and fans have so been desperately yearning for! 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Tricky and Cooch relive a magical day 30 years ago at Twickenham.

On the 28th April it will be the 30 year anniversary of what many consider to be the beginning of the "Bath Rugby golden era". 

With Jack Rowell's arrival in the late 70's Bath had been slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with in English rugby, starting to compete on a level with the likes of Leicester, Bristol and Gloucester, proving they were no longer the smaller team in the West Country. 
In the 1983/84 season Bath found theirselves in the John Player Cup Final after beating Nottingham in the semi-final, aided by a chip from Prop Chris Lilley for David Tick to run onto and score.  Next step was the final in which they had to travel up the M4 to Twickenham to take on their local rivals Bristol. 
The final was an incredibly tense and close match which could of been won or lost by either side, luckily Bath won and Bristol lost becoming one of 'the' games in Bath's history. 


Bath; C Martin, D Trick, J Palmer, A Rees, B Trevaskis, J Horton, R Hill, G Chillcott, R Cunningham, R Lee, N Gaymond, N Redman, R Spurrell, J Hall, P Simpson 

Bristol; P Cue, A Morley, R Knibbs, S Hogg, J Carr S Barnes, R Harding, J Doubleday, D Palmer, A Sheppard, N pomphrey, P Stiff, P Polledri, M Rafter D Chidgey 

Bath were the more dominant of the two sides, showing their intent with a drop goal by Horton within 5 minutes of the kick off. The attack continued with Simpson coming off the back of the scum to score a try 18 minutes in, Bath had control although Palmer missed the conversion. 
Palmer also missed a 4 penalty attempts before Stuart Barnes got 3 points for the current champions, Palmer grabbed 3 points back and Bath's 7 point lead was restored giving Bath a 10-3 lead at half time.
The second half saw Bristol fight back, a tap and go penalty by Harding and Barnes taking a further 2 points the game teetered at 10-3. Bath were not done yet as Horton attempted another drop goal, only to miss and Simpson was tackled short of the line denying him and Bath a second try. 
The moment that will go down in Bath and Bristol's history happened in injury time, a break by Bristol looking almost certain to score, when Trevaskis tackled the legendary winger Alan Morley just before he caught the ball, with the referee awarding Bristol a penalty kick (some may say it should of been a penalty try). Barnes stepped up to win the game for Bristol with a 30m kick, but it was not to be, the ball sailed wide to the tune of the final whistle,10-9 and Bath were the champions and so the Blue, Black and White dominance began. 

Giving their views and memories of the game and that period in time at Bath are two huge legends in the Blue, Black and White- Gareth 'Cooch' Chilcott and David 'Tricky'Trick. 

The John Player Special Cup win 1984 symbolises the start of what was to become "Bath's golden era". What expectations did you have on the day of the final?

T- If I’m to be totally honest I had high hopes and low expectations. In the seasons leading up to the match, Bristol were the stronger team and a win was always going to be hard to achieve. Having won the match, I can’t recall ever going into any subsequent game thinking we could possibly lose. The victory certainly had profound effect on my mental approach to rugby.

C-The 1984 cup was the first cup we won, but the golden era I believe started two seasons previous, when Bath became a unstoppable force in British Rugby, the odd fluky win in Wales on a wet midweek game turned into a regular occurrence, and we started to set the standard for most clubs, the big guns of Bristol and Gloucester were also falling to Bath.

How much of the game can you still remember?

T- My most vivid memory is the final penalty kick which saw Stuart Barnes (then of Bristol) narrowly missing the target. Seconds later the final whistle blew and our captain Roger Spurrell ran over to Stuart, rubbed his head, (possibly kissed him) and said, “thank you”. We won 10-9 I think, so the kick was vital. I have an extremely hazy recollection of the coach journey back to Bath, but do remember it was a lively trip down the M4. My over-riding memory is how tight the match was from the first minute to the last.

C- I remember the game well, from Barnsey's missed kick to Baths back row dominating the loose and a strong front five performance that more than held its own, Horton was his usual jinky self, and it would I believe been a injustice if Stuart's kick would have snatched it at the end.

What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room after the game?

T- I have no recollection of the changing room after the game. I know it would have been noisy, I can guarantee John Horton would have said, “Never in doubt” a few times and Richard Hill would have said, “All in a day’s work”.  I do remember the following day, going to Jack Rowell’s house (coach) drinking a lot of his wine before moving on to Lansdown Cricket Club, with the John Player Cup, for a few beers at lunch time before moving on the The Recreation for a few more and then finally going out to The Boater & then The Pulteney Arms to celebrate!

C- Fantastic atmosphere and most of the lads stayed on the pitch with the fans for a long while after the game as I remember the Bath supporters just invading the pitch at full time.

To T- You already had a few seasons under your belt at Bath before the cup win, you were taken in by Jack Rowell as an 18 year old, did you imagine then Bath would become the force you did?

Quite simply – NO, I had never even heard of Bath before I started playing for them. I was in my final year of school at Bryanston in Dorset and the school selected 6 games they wanted me to play in and made me available for Bath for the rest. One thing I remember when I started was how inconsistent we were, one week we’d win by 30 points and the next lose by 30. However, every year season was an improvement on the previous one in terms of victories & losses, culminating in the cup winning season of 1984. The rest as they say is history…

To C- You already had a few seasons under your belt at Bath before the cup win, and arrived just before Jack Rowell, how much did he change the club and drive it into the force you became?

Jack gave Bath, targets and goals, he got the best out of players collectively and gave us the belief that we could compete with the best etc.

Do you still keep in contact with any of the other players from back then?

T- I do and we always remind each other of how great we were. There’s an old saying, ‘the older you get, the better you used to be’. Many of us are godparents to each other’s children and we see one another at least once a year, although I keep in better contact with those who still live locally. We all shared some very special times during our rugby careers.

C- We all keep in touch and bump into each other when we can.

To C- When Stuart Barnes joined, did anybody mention the missed kick?

All the time, every hour on the hour !!!!

To T- The John Player special cup was the pinnacle tournament at the time, now as the LV=cup does it  you its now seen as a developmental tournament and lost its stature?

It does surprise me as I always considered the winner of the cup to be the best team in the country. I suppose it’s inevitable now the game is professional and other competitions, such as the Premiership & Heineken Cup (soon to be revamped) generate far more money for clubs than the LV cup.

A big thanks to Tricky and Cooch for helping me relive this huge part of Bath's history and celebrate the time when Bath became the dominant force we came to know and love! 

Also enjoy- Bath v Bristol cup final 1984 - The Big build up