The Aviva Premiership season is almost upon us and more scrutiny than most will centre on Todd Blackadder's start at Bath
If you can work out what the next number in this sequence is then you should probably get a job writing a horoscope column in a newspaper or apply for a maths professorship at Oxbridge.
It is 8, 3, 4, 4, 4, 8, 7, 5, 2, 9 and each figure denotes where Bath have finished in the regular season of the Premiership over the last 10 seasons.
That is the same Bath who won six league titles between 1989 and 1996, won 10 domestic cups and were Kings of Europe in 1998 after their heart stopping win over Brive in Bordeaux.
Since that they have won nothing at first team level, apart from the European Challenge Cup in 2008, which is a pretty poor return for the club that gave us Jeremy Guscott, John Hall, Roger Spurrell, Andy Robinson and the rest of them.
This season’s launch was held at Twickenham last Thursday and Todd Blackadder , the man charged with launching Bath’s season, was there just a week after being introduced to his players.
He had also had a look around the Rec where the pictures of former internationals adorn the walls in the bar looking down on proceedings like disapproving ancestors and they are the elephants in the room. The New Zealander has been down this road before and not wholly successfully – but he has learned a bit.
When Blackadder took over at the Crusaders, in New Zealand, in 2009 ,he inherited a side that had won seven Super Rugby titles and had a more than adequate stack of big name players on the pay-roll and a lot of former players in pictures looking down on him. And that is almost what he faces at Bath.
At the Crusaders Blackadder, who had won a few titles with the side as a player, coached them to four semi-final defeats and one loss in a final, to the Waratahs in 2014, and he admits the ghosts of the past haunted him.
“At Crusaders, it almost became a burden when you talk about the legacy and great names on the wall, especially for young guys coming in,” he says. “All that is great, but it’s about this team creating its own legacy. It’s about this team making its own stamp.
“When I look at pictures and think how many of our guys now and how many of this group will have their picture on the wall? It’s great to embrace tradition and legacy – I’m a huge believer in that – but it is about this team expressing themselves and I want these guys to play for this club for the rest of their lives if they carry on performing.”
At Bath the past victories are a lot more distant and Blackadder has found a squad who finished last season in disarray and with their confidence shot to pieces. They closed their campaign with three defeats out of five and did not get out of their group in Europe but a look at the squad list shows Blackadder is not exactly embarking on Mission Impossible.
Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson all played in England’s summer wins over Australia and Darren Atkins, Zach Mercer and Jack Walker, recently signed from Yorkshire Carnegie, were all in the Under-20 World Cup-winning squad. Chuck in the likes of Francois Louw, Dave Attwood, Matt Banahan, who is playing better than he did when he was an international, and David Wilson and the Bath boys have a few things going for them.
And that is without factoring in the other newcomers such as Taulupe Faletau, Luke Charteris and Kahn Fotuali’i and the possibility of Crusaders’ centre Robbie Fruean arriving in the West Country so Blackadder has a bit to work with.
Mike Ford had most of that lot to work with last season, and after being runners-up in the Premiership the year before, most supporters were looking at having a real crack at the title but instead of the chaos attack of a year before it was just chaos.
There was the Sam Burgess fiasco, Amanaki Mafi had a bust-up with a club medic and Alafoti Fa’osiliva was sacked after being charged with assault.
On the pitch was not much better but Ford said just before he left that none of it was the players fault so Blackadder and his head coach Tabai Matson have half a chance. But talk of last season has been banished as everyone starts with a clean slate.
Blackadder added: “I know what it is like to experience disappointment and it can actually quite galvanise you. What I have sensed from the players and the club is they really want to be going forward in a new direction.
“They want some stimulation, they want some belief. There has been no talk of what happened last year which to me is quite refreshing and shows that the future is more important than the past. That is really important when you are surrounded by such legacy but this is a special team because it is the first team we have all been together in – so we are looking at it through that lens.
“There’s no point trying to eat the elephant in one mouthful. We’ll chip away and take small bites slowly. Hopefully by the end of it of it we’ll have given ourselves a chance.” If Bath do give themselves a chance, and they should with the squad they have got, the elephants in the room might not be around much longer.