Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags: Bath RFC, Heineken Cup, Rugby Tactics
From The Sunday Times October 22, 2006
Here is an interesting story of how a team won the European Cup and some of the mental toughness needed.
Caught in Time: Bath win European Cup, 1998
By Nick Cain of the Sunday Times
By the time Bath reached the 1998 Heineken Cup final against Brive on January 31, they had already had a beast of a season. Not only had they had to weather the unsavoury fall-out from a Simon Fenn ear-biting furore — which resulted in one of their props, Kevin Yates, being banned for six months — they had also endured a poor first half of the season in the Allied Dunbar Premiership.
Their captain, Andy Nicol, says the club was besieged on all sides, ridiculed after an unsympathetic fly-on-the-wall documentary and deeply embarrassed following the injury to London Scottish flanker Fenn, with the Tetley’s Bitter Cup mischievously renamed the “Tetley’s Biter Cup” in some quarters. “There were some tough times, including conceding 50 points to Saracens, and then being knocked out of the Tetley’s Bitter Cup at home by Richmond the week before we played our Heineken Cup semi-final against Pau,” recalls Nicol.
By that stage Bath fans were deeply frustrated by the sharp decline in the club’s fortunes after a period in which they had dominated the English game, winning 10 domestic cup finals from 1984 to 1996. So frustrated, in fact, that they were calling for the heads of Andy Robinson, newly installed as coach, and his player-coach assistant, Jon Callard.
Callard remembers it well: “There was a ‘Robinson and Callard Out’ campaign, and I’ll never forget after the defeat by Richmond. As the crowd left the Rec, one bloke shouted at us: ‘You bloody pair, we’ve spent £700 on trips to France, and we want our money back’.”
The turning point, according to Nicol, was a crisis meeting in the week before they beat Pau 20-14. Even so, Bath arrived in Bordeaux for the final as overwhelming underdogs against Brive, who were not only the reigning European champions — they had smashed Leicester a year earlier in the final in Cardiff — but who also had arrived to defend their title after edging out the aristocrats of French rugby, Toulouse, in the semi-finals.
Victor Ubogu, the Bath tighthead prop who symbolised their defiance during a match-turning seven-scrum siege on their own line early in the second half, says the side’s self-belief never wavered, especially as they had already won at home against Brive in the pool rounds. “What everyone forgets is that Bath had never lost a final, and many of us in that team were part of that culture,” he says.
The Bath players were all struck by the sizzling atmosphere generated in the 37,000-capacity stadium, with the 7,000 travelling visiting fans battling gamely to be heard among the overwhelmingly French throng. Nicol was aware of the tensions generated by the fighting that had occurred in the pool round between Brive and Pontypridd, including a vicious bar-room brawl. “The Stade Lescure was being redeveloped for the soccer World Cup, so we had to change in a school just behind the ground, and there was an incredibly long tunnel down which both teams had to walk side by side,” he says. “I remember turning around and looking at the two massive packs separated by a line of stewards, all about 5ft 3in, and I had a little chuckle. I thought of delivering a few stirring words, but decided against it because things might have kicked off, given the trouble between Brive and Pontypridd.”
Considering the quality of their backs, Brive, who had a comfortable 15-6 half-time lead thanks to the goalkicking of Christophe Lamaison, surprised Bath with the sterility of their tactics when they had the English side trapped in their own 22 after the break. “Their scrum-half, Philippe Carbonneau, kept looking to the Brive coach for direction and he kept saying, ‘Go for the scrum’,” says Nicol. Ubogu says that it broke Brive, not Bath. “Ronnie Regan, Dave Hilton and I knew that if we were driven over, it was game over, and on the seventh scrum I said, ‘We’ve got to drive them off the ball’. We did it, and won a penalty, but we were shattered. Then I looked at their scrum, and they were in bits. It was the turning point.”
Bath came back with a try, Dan Lyle and Jeremy Guscott making inroads before Guscott put Callard over. The drama was not over. An Alain Penaud drop goal and a Callard penalty pushed Brive out to 18-16 before Callard struck the winning penalty 80 seconds into stoppage time. Bath had one last scare. Nicol fumbled; from the scrum Lisandro Arbizu missed a point-blank drop goal, but Bath held on for the most famous English club win on foreign soil. Their celebrations went on long into the night in a Mexican bar in Bordeaux, but not before they had stunned their supporters, and Brive’s, by wandering into a McDonald’s for their celebration dinner.
Guscott takes up the story: “There was a mix-up with the post-match dinner, so we pulled in for Big Macs in the city centre — the look on the faces of the supporters as we came in with the cup was priceless. But it had to be doubles — we’d just won the cup.” [The numbers refer to a photograph, which is not carried on the website]
(Note this article is from 2006!)
1 Dave Hilton Still going strong at 36, the former Bristol butcher propped for Scotland before becoming a key part of the “Bris” revival.
2 Ricky Pellow Cornish scrum-half who went on to Exeter, Worcester, Manchester and Cornish Pirates. Now a fitness/skills coach at the Rugby Football Union’s southwest academy.
3 Richard Butland Works in Canada as a mechanical engineer. Benched against Brive, the fly-half then spent two seasons at Stade Français.
4 Matt Perry Bedevilled with injury since touring Australia with the 2001 Lions, “Pezza” is still England’s most-capped full-back. Now in his testimonial season with Bath, he was bumped by Jon Callard for the 1998 final.
5 Nigel Redman The England U20/Academy coach and also a tactical analyst for Sky TV. He was at the core of a pack that refused to buckle.
6 Jon Callard Recently upgraded to kicking/catching coach for all England international teams, he scored all 19 points in the final.
7 Russell Earnshaw Integral to Doncaster’s push for promotion, Earnshaw was an athletic flanker who got on for the last 10 minutes of the final. Has property rental interests.
8 Jeremy Guscott Sunday Times rugby columnist, BBC commentator and peerless former England and Lions centre who still cannot believe that he gave Callard a scoring pass with the line open.
9 Martin Haag Underrated Bath lock who, as Bristol forwards coach, has again showed that he knows his trade inside out.
10 John Mallett Forced into retirement by persistent back injuries, “Shep” (after Shepton Mallet) teaches rugby and physical education at Millfield.
11 Nathan Thomas Part of the Scarlets back row, arriving via Cardiff and Leeds Tykes. Hoping to add to his nine Wales caps.
12 Phil de Glanville Called “Hollywood” because of his matinee-idol looks, the former England centre works for Sport England as a business development manager.
13 Mike Catt Evergreen playmaker who went on to become a 2003 World Cup-winner. Captain of London Irish.
14 Eric Peters The Scotland back-rower was benched in the final before retiring due to injuries. He works for King Sturge, a property services company.
15 Ieuan Evans The lethal Wales and Lions wing is part of Sky TV’s rugby squad as well as being a newspaper columnist.
16 Andy Nicol A BBC TV and radio commentator. He also works in finance.
17 Andy Robinson The former Bath coach is England’s head coach.