Tour Diary: Bath

Saturday: Morning and Afternoon

Egg, Palla and their better halves made their way across a snowy Belfast to the airport for the first flight to Bristol. In spite of the best efforts of the Hitlers (our clear plastic bags containing toileteries were the wrong size. Seriously) and the “restaurant” (Palla’s sausages were nothing short of vile) we made it across the Irish Sea.


Bags were dropped off at the Linton Travel Tavern Holiday Inn Express and the train to Lahn was merrily boarded. One stop later, twas Beautiful Bath. After a stroll around the Christmas market, collecting 4 currywurst, 1 cheese board and a mental list for Sunday; we chanced upon the Thermae Spa. After enquiring if Barnesy had checked in yet (“Who?”), we joined the beautiful people of Bath in the rooftop pool – a most excellent way to while away 2 hours.


Saturday: Evening and Night

Next stop was the outside of the Pig and Fiddle for the Munster match and a rendez-vous with Egg Spoon, Egg Cup, Miss Egg Cup and Tackle Bag. One Radge masterclass (TM) later, and we retired to the inside of the Pig and Fiddle for Sarries-Ospreys. Well, it was a rugby weekend after all…

By this stage, all were drooling over the prospect of a venison burger at Gascoyne Place – a pang not even copious amounts of wine could sate. After checking if Barnesy was eating (“Errrr, no.”), we discovered venison was off, but steak burgers were wolfed down with gay abandon. Picking up Ou Cacador and Senyoreta Ou Cacador, we headed towards the Westgate (thanks for the recommendation Stephen), sunk some digestifs (2 x double rum & coke + 2 x double vodka & white for £20 – high fives all round) and practised Samoa tackles.

Sunday: Morning

Fuzzy heads abounded in the am, but it was nothing a Bath Pasty and some coffee couldn’t sort out. A leisurely stroll down to the Rec was next – one of the highlights of the trip. Followed by the real highlight – the Rec itself.

What a ground – character, setting, charm – the place has everything. The match itself was fairly bitty – Leinster tried their best to throw it away, but ultimately Bath didn’t know how to win and Barnesy’s new favourite closed it out.

Sunday: Afternoon and Evening

The remaining highlights of Bath were on the agenda for our post-match stroll – the Circus, Queen Square and the Royal Crescent. Despite the increasingly grim weather, you couldn’t but love the place. The observation that there were 30 houses in the Crescent led us to the only logical conclusion – it was where the Bath squad lived. After knocking on number 10 looking for Beaver, it was back down town for some food.

A much more enjoyable than Saturday stroll around a half-empty Christmas market was next, and some gifts were procured – mostly for Mini Egg and Little Palla – lack-of-contact guilt was kicking in. One train, one automobile and one plane later, it was back to an icy Belfast for the final leg – 4 tired and happy campers slept well on Sunday night!

For the next episode, it’s Dublin this Saturday for Beaver in the Aviva.

Road Trip Reseach Report

Lovely Bath: we came, we saw, and Leinster did their best not to conquer, but did so in the end, thanks to Johnny’s composure and a good forward effort in the last 10.  But it was nervier than it should have been, and Sean O’Brien will be looking for somewhere to hide in today’s video session.  As for the town itself, suffice to say WoC were in awe of its multitude of wonders – from the setting of the rickety old Rec to the Thermae Baths and Royal Crescent, with many fine eateries and pubs in between, this is up there with the great rugby towns.  Throw in the last weekend of the Christmas Markets and you’ve got the perfect leisurely rugby weekend.  We’ll be back.  On with good week/bad week…
Good week
Munster and BJ Botha
With an aggregate points difference of +8 after three wins, this Munster team is not necessarily dominating opposition, but they know how to come out on the right side of tight fixtures.  Few fancied their massively depleted side to come out on top against a vaunted Scarlets outfit, but thanks largely to the scrummaging of their South African tighthead, and the obligatory Radge ‘masterclass’, they are now three from three and looking at a home quarter final.  They’re back in business.

Treviso

No longer the whipping boys of Europe, Treviso now have a draw and a win in their two home games so far.  Having been desperately unlucky to cough up a late levelling penalty to Ospreys last week, here they held their nerve to slay the ailing Basque club.  What’s most remarkable is that both games have been try-heavy, high-scoring affairs.  Treviso’s desire to expand their game is impressive in and of itself, but it is getting results for them too.  In Tomasso Benvenuti they have an attacking weapon in the backline, but on Saturday they left the scoring to the fatties.
The Big French Clubs

The middle-tier French sides have been indistinguished this year (Racing, Castres, Montpellier, Birritz) but they still provide two of the favourites.  Clermont Auvergne swatted Leicester aside and are firmly in control of their pool, while Toulouse asserted their superiority against a fancied Harlequins.  We were surprised at the bullishness of many English commentators before the game, and Toulouse duly showed Quins the level they need to get to.  They have an ominous look about them.

Bad Week

Rhys Priestland

We’ve been here before.  Mega-hyped young fly-half is deemed set for greatness, only to come up against the wily old master, Radge, and come off distinctly second best.  Erratic from placed ball, where he missed three from five shots at goal, he was moved from the 10 channel when Stephen Jones was brought on to try and get Scarlets back into the game.  He’s still a promising player, but not quite a Lions fly-half just yet. 

Pascal Gauzerre

He being the ref from Sarries v Ospreys.  Some very poor calls indeed, and Ospreys will feel a little hard done by in what was a very entertaining game.  Called back for a non-existant forward pass when they looked to have broken clear, Ospreys conceded a soft try directly from the resulting scrum.  Then, in the second half, we’re still dubious as to whether Chris Wyles grounded the ball for the final Sarries try.  At the very least, Gauzerre should have gone upstairs, but simply awarded the try.

Weeks Five and Six

The double headers falling between the top sides in each group is a double edged sword.  Exciting in Rounds Three and Four of course, but by the last two rounds, many pools will be settled.  Munster, Leinster and Toulouse will be home free, and Sarries, Cardiff and Clermont could join them by winning on the road next week.  There could be uncharacteristically few groups going to the wire.

Double Trouble

After a brief and extremely entertaining interlude of domestic action – more of Harinordoquy Pere and Saints-Leicester fisticuffs please – the HEC resumes with some mouth-watering double headers to look forward to.

The December home/away trysts tend to remove some of the fog from the HEC – from around 14 mixed contenders, you tend to end up with two teams with home quarter-finals more or less guaranteed, another two with qualification virtually in the bag, and a few teams eliminated from contention, leaving six or so to slog it out for the rest.

Last season, Munster never recovered from two stodgy showings against the Hairsprays, especially as Toulon beat London Samoa twice to take charge of the pool; and Leinster never looked back following two impressive performances to whack and bag Clermont, a team that had all but beaten them on their own patch the previous year.  That Leinster only won the head-to-head by a point underlines that it’s all about coming out on top, no matter how slight the margin.

Remarkably, in every pool, the top two meet back-to-back- the first time this has happened. Any team that does the double can expect to be firmly in the driving seat for qualification as a result, and a points split among the front runners could let one of the stragglers regain some initiative. So, what do we foresee?

Pool 1: We think a horrendous injury list in the back division is going to make a losing bp very hard to come by for Munster in Llanelli, and a winning one all but impossible the following week. Strangely, aloof and cranky though he is, Munster’s bete noir Romain Poite may come to their rescue here.  They might get an edge come scrum time and they’ll hardly be writing letters of complaint if the ruck area is slow and messy.  5-5 looks a safe bet, probably putting the Scarlets in poll position. If Castres give up completely, 9 points is possible for the Saints – and with a home game against Munster to come, they may not be dead yet.
Head-to-head cliche to avoid: ‘You write Munster off at your peril.’

Pool 2: We like Cardiff, but Embra have shown mightily impressive fortitude so far – there might be a trade of home wins here, and the prospect of a Scottish side being alive in January for the first time in forever. We’ll guess 5-5. The other two are gone we reckon, although Racing have three bps racked up already, so if they are interested, they might stay in contention by doing “Irish” twice.
Head-to-head cliche to avoid: ‘Cardiff are riding the crest of Wales’ newfound positivity.’

Pool 3: Our away trip to Oooooooooooooooohh Bath with our better halves is causing huge excitement in Cordite Mansions. The Rec is a great ground, but hardly Fort Knox – anything but two wins for Leinster will be a surprise. The pool will be all but won by then, leaving the other three to fight out over an Amlin slot.
Head-to-head cliche to avoid: ‘Oooohh, Bath will simply run it from anywhere.’

Pool 4: Leicester are top, but Clermont are in the driving seat. Clermont thrashed Leicester at home a few years ago, going 40 points up after 50 minutes (and nearly giving away two bps at the end) and the Tigers are unlikely to get anything from France. Welford Road is a different story, but Leicester aren’t the force of old – you could see a surprise …. 8-1 to Clermont. Ulster, meanwhile, need 10 points from Aironi to make up for the “lost” bp in Leicester – and they might only get 9.
Head-to-head cliche to avoid: ‘Welford Road, what an impregnable fortress’

Pool 5: Sarries-Ospreys is the leaders battle, and a model for a 5-5 split, but what Biarritz do might have more bearing on the pool – the hard-fought (literally) win over Bayonne may have kick-started their season, and 10 points would not be a seismic shock, leaving them 1 win away from a quarter-final.
Head-to-head cliche to avoid: ‘Once again, Biarritz have landed a plummy draw. How do they do it?’

Pool 6: Quins are in dreamland this season, but even one win over the mighty Toulouse would be a coup. Toulouse don’t tend to extend themselves in the group stages, but we just can’t see Quins beating them – 8-1 to Toulouse. Connacht really fancy a shock at home to Gloucester, and they might just get it. Rumours of Eric Elwood doing rain dances on Eyre Square are abounding. Revenge might be ugly next week, but Connacht won’t care – 6-4 to Gloucester, moral victory for Connacht.
Head-to-head cliche to avoid: ‘Toulouse, the aristocrats of Europe…’

Although we will probably be completely wrong, but won’t care while we hang out Barnesy in the Christmas Market. Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhh!!