By Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World
BATH SHOULD be out of the Heineken Cup they are still in it because of the biggest shocks of the 2009-10 season, anywhere in the world.
Bath lost 22-18 at Ulster but the rugby world almost fell off its axis in Italy as Aironi beat Biarritz 28-27. Let’s say that again – an Italian side that was only formed in the summer won their first match ever and it was against last season’s Heineken Cup runners-up. Rugby is an extraordinary game.
Ravenhill is still one of my most favourite venues and it was rocking again for this Heineken Cup encounter and with the whole crowd on their feet in the second half to drive their heroes on to the line.
Ulster won but in a mistake strewn first half they almost gave it away as Bath race into an early 15-3 lead. No side should ever lose a 12-point lead and the fact that Bath did must be worrying for the club and coaches.
The penalty count killed them at Ravenhill as they conceded 15 to 5, allowing Ian Humphreys to kick 17 points and win the game.
But as the table shows should they beat Ulster with a bonus point on Saturday the group is wide open, presuming Biarritz win with a bonus as well.
The lack of attacking craft is the key element that is missing at the moment but I would definitely persevere with the experiment of Matt Banahan at 13. I know he drops a few but the guy has an abundance of talent and is learning yet another new position. Stick with him – he’ll come good but please let’s make sure he’s picked at 13 for the next 18 months. Give him a chance to learn the position!
Have a look at some of Matt’s highlights
It was also great to see Lee Mears careering around the field and stealing ball at the breakdown. He had a nightmare on the 2009 Lions tour but is getting back to his best. Good on him!
I hear that Berrick Barnes may be near the top of Bath’s shopping list. Memo to Bruce Craig: If Berrick is seriously considering making the move to the west country break the bank for the young man as he is not only quality through and through but a good bloke as well. Have a look at Berrick below and get out the cheque book!
It was a real shame that Bath have allowed Luke Watson to slip through their hands and back to South Africa as Watson is the sort of player you can rebuild a club around and having seen Bath play a few times this season they are in serious need of rebuilding on and off the field and what I hear about Craig I gather he is the man to do it.
They need to leave the Rec for another Bath city centre venue pronto as the ground isn’t up to National Division Three standards and they need a big clear out on the playing side if they are to compete not only with the top four in England but with the best in Europe as they used to do.
And while we are talking about breaking the bank the first man Craig should see on Monday morning in Danny Grewcock. Why on earth is he hanging up his boots at the end of the season? He was magnificent (again at Ulster) and to see him charging down the field in the second half to tidy up an Ulster kick proved to me he still deserves a place in the England squad. Forget about retiring – sign on again!
For Ulster they are starting something special. The ground is moving on leaps and bounds and in Johann Muller they have a leader for everyone to follow. And if there is a better blindside in the world than Stephen Ferris at the moment then I haven’t seen him.
They lack experience in the back line and attack with youthful experience and without the steady hand of a 50-cap star. That’s what they need to go to the next level to create an environment for their promising youngsters.