Bath's Gold standard
August 22, 2012
Gary Gold barks orders at Bath's picturesque training base, Farleigh House © Getty Images
Bath's slogan in the run up to the Aviva Premiership season has been 'a new beginning', but supporters of the club can be forgiven for taking it with a pinch of salt.
The success of the team back in the 1980s and 1990s is still, to borrow Plato's analogy, the omnipresent flickering shadow of flames on the cave wall.
Charged with implementing this 'new beginning' is former South Africa assistant coach Gary Gold. Coping under pressure will be nothing new to him - he's worked in one of world rugby's biggest cauldrons and was also handed the task of turning around Newcastle Falcons' season last term. They failed in their quest to stay up but Gold drew praise from all quarters for his efforts.
Rather than ignore Bath's previous success in an attempt to cut loose and build a new dynasty, Gold is keen on embracing it. The club has lost a number of stalwarts in the past two seasons - with Duncan Bell, David Flatman, Danny Grewcock and Andy Beattie all retiring - but rather than brushing them under the carpet, learning from the past is key to moving forward in Gold's view.
"[Former Bath winger] David Trick is our president and he's a great guy," Gold told ESPN. "Guys like Jon Callard, Stuart Barnes, Jerry Guscott, Phil de Glanville have given so much and it'd be great to chat to them about what they did.
"The game's very different and I'm not asking for them to come in and wave a magic wand but it would be good to get a feel of what it was like. Back in those days, the Rec was a fortress and it was a difficult place to come and play and we need to aspire to make it like that again."
You could forgive Gold for being stand-offish when it comes to media dealings - having spent the majority of his career in South Africa, where sport is intrinsically linked with politics. It is quite the opposite. He's an engaging individual and refreshingly honest too. It is that concept of honest hard work that he wants to translate onto the field.
He's brought in Toby Booth, Mike Ford and Neal Hatley to supplement his backroom staff, figures who have all worked at the coalface of the sport, and blended that with modern facilities. Bath train in the picturesque surroundings of Farleigh House, and Gold will not apologise for such a luxury - a stark contrast to the conditions that Guscott et al had to work in at their antiquated Lambridge base.
"We're very privileged to be working out of a great venue like Farleigh and while it's appealing to the eye it's got to be a place like any other," he said. "When you come into work and you pass through those gates the guys have a massive responsibility to the Bath supporters to produce a team with a fighting spirit.
"I've used this analogy before but I don't think Manchester United and Chelsea apologise for the state of their facilities and I'm not about to for ours. If anything, it's probably created an environment where there are no excuses and that's more about the message that I want to get across."
Gold is very concise about the style of play that he wants his team to produce. When asked, he simply says "a winning one". His predecessors seemed to focus on one aspect more than another - John Connolly's side was built around a dominant forward pack (which flourished in the wet), while Steve Meehan's excelled in running with ball in hand (floundering in the wet, but ripping defences apart in the sun).
While Gold is reluctant to claim that Bath will definitely be in the top four come the end of the season, Heineken Cup qualification must be a priority for them after they missed out last term - regardless of the style eventually employed.
"We'll adopt a pragmatic approach - there are a number of factors that we need to address," Gold said. "While I'm happy with the squad, it's one that we've inherited so we will have to play to the strengths and then bring in variables like opposition, weather and referees. When we've put that into a melting pot then we should get a style that's suited to us and should win games.
Bath pack down in front of Farleigh House © Getty Images
"I don't think we're quite there yet if I'm honest, we've still got a hell of a lot of work to do but I think we're heading in the right direction. For us it's so much less about making these big predictions and over-promising and not delivering, I think the Bath faithful just want to come and be proud of their team and that's a good starting spot for us.
"I think they just want to come away and think, 'Shit, that was a good performance, they gave it their all and they gave 100% of themselves for 100% of the time'. If we do that more often than not then we'll win."
One of Gold's first actions as Bath coach was to re-appoint Stuart Hooper as captain. Springboks flanker Francois Louw was in the mix, but Bath have chopped and changed their skipper every season since the days of Steve Borthwick and the decision to retain Hooper suggests continuity rather than all-out change is part of the Gold renaissance.
It is decisions like that - and the appointment of a five-man coaching staff - that make it seem like this could really be a new start. Gold labels the Premiership "the toughest league in the world" but, with him at the helm, this current crop of Bath players may just be on the verge of making memories of their own.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.